Throughout history, people have used herbs that help them stay more calm during stressful times.
If they also need to be physically active and mentally productive during those stressful times, they have discovered that lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) can be helpful for most people.
Research has progressed from studying the anti-anxiety effects of rosmarinic acid (a primary effective compound in lemon balm) with animals, to studying humans with diagnosed anxiety disorders, to comparing lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) with modern tranquilizers.
A study in Italy tested 20 volunteers reporting stress (14 women and 6 men between the ages of 18 and 70 years old) who were diagnosed with mild to moderate anxiety disorders, and had not taken related drugs for at least 10 days prior to the experiment.
The volunteers received a daily dosage of 600 mgs. of a hydroalcoholic extract of Melissa officinalis lemon balm standardized to contain more than 7% rosmarinic acid and more than 15% of hydroxycinnamic acid derivatives.
This preliminary study was open label without placebo control and continued for 15 days.
The volunteers reported no adverse events from lemon balm during the 15 day test.
Compared to the baseline evaluation, 70% of the volunteers (14 out of 20) achieved complete remission of anxiety symptoms.
Areas showing significant improvements included
reduced emotional instability,
reduced intellectual disturbances,
reduced feelings of guilt or inferiority,
reduced obsessive compulsive symptoms,
reduced negative interpersonal relationships, and
reduced eating disorders (Cases J et al: Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances, Med J Nutrition Metab December 2011, p211-218).
Significantly fewer heart palpitation attacks and anxiety
Researchers studying cardiovascular activity recruited 71 human subjects with reported heart palpitations and gave them a water extract of lemon balm leaves for 14 days.
While only 55 people completed the two week study, they reported a highly significant reduction in heart palpitation attacks, both in frequency and in severity.
They also reported a significant reduction in anxiety compared to placebo and there were no serious side effects noted (Alijaniha F et al: Heart palpitation relief with Melissa officinalis leaf extract: Double blind, randomized, placebo controlled trial of efficacy and safety, J Ethnopharmacology February 2015).
A study in Serbia found that Melissa officinalis lemon balm is used for multiple symptoms including anxiety, insomnia, and depression (Stojanovic N et al, 2017).
While animal testing cannot match anxiety diagnoses in humans, experimental models have identified anxiety-like behavior in mice and rats using elevated plus mazes, open field testing, or unfamiliar environments.
One animal study found that lemon balm extract improved reactions to the stressful elevated plus maze testing without altering activity levels that were exploratory or related to circadian activities (Ibarra A et al: Effects of chronic administration of Melissa officinalis L. extract on anxiety-like reactivity and on circadian and exploratory activities in mice, Phytomedicine May 2010, p397-403).
When testing rosmarinic acid alone with animals, researchers found that the lower doses of rosmarinic acid (the primary compound in lemon balm leaves) produced an anti-anxiety effect without changing their basic locomotor behavior.
The researchers also reported that they found no genotoxic or DNA damage to their brains (Pereira P et al, 2005).
Another animal study tested different dosages of lemon balm extract and compared gender-based responses in rats.
The researchers included a comparison of the effectiveness of lemon balm to two tranquilizing prescription drugs.
Animals were tested either one hour after either lemon balm or drug administration, or after 10 days of daily lemon balm or drug administration.
The researchers found that lemon balm was as effective as one prescription drug, but less effective than the other in reducing anxiety-like behavior.
In addition, they found that females showed some improvement even at the lower lemon balm doses, but the male rats were only responsive to the highest dosage of lemon balm (Taiwo AE: Anxiolytic and antidepressant-like effects of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) extract in rats: Influence of administration and gender, Indian J Pharmacol March 2012, p189-92).
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