Does chamomile work for anxiety, sleep problems and relaxation?

chamomile flowersThe pretty little flowers of the chamomile plant have been used to treat many health problems for thousands of years. Today chamomile is popular in many countries, including Europe. In the United States and Australia, chamomile is best known as a relaxing tea. Other common uses of chamomile are to help treat anxiety, sleeplessness, stomach pain, and gas. Some beauty products, healing creams and ointments also have chamomile added.

Although there is too little human research of chamomile to support its medicinal use, animal studies have found chamomile can reduce inflammation, speed wound healing, reduce muscle spasms, and promote sleep.

What is chamomile?
How can we buy chamomile?
How does chamomile work?
What is chamomile taken for?
What evidence is there that chamomile works for anxiety, insomnia and other problems?
Does chamomile have any side effects?
What medications can chamomile interact with?
Who should avoid taking chamomile?

What is chamomile?

Nutrition specialist Cathy Wong says chamomile is a flowering plant in the daisy family. It is native to Europe and Asia. The flowers are used medicinally.

According to MedlinePlus, German chamomile and English (Roman) chamomile are the two main types of chamomile used for health problems. They are believed to have similar effects on the body.

How can we buy chamomile?

We can buy chamomile as dried flowers (taken mostly as herbal tea), and in liquid extracts, capsules, tablets, and ointments and creams applied to the skin.

MedlinePlus says chamomile has been used as a douche, mouth rinse, tincture, and bath additive. Some natural medicines recommend a paste, plaster, or ointment with 3% to 10% chamomile flower heads.

How does chamomile work?

Chamomile contains chemicals that are, for example,:

  • antibacterial (kill bacteria)
  • anticoagulants (prevent blood from clotting)
  • antifungal (kill fungus)
  • anti-inflammatory (reduce inflammation)
  • antispasmodic (relax muscle spasms)
  • antiviral (kill viruses)
  • sedating (calming)
  • good for improving digestion
  • good for healing wounds

What is chamomile taken for?

Internally chamomile has been taken for many things, such as:

  • anxiety
  • stress
  • relaxation
  • sleep problems, such as insomnia
  • stomach and intestinal cramps
  • menstrual (period) cramps
  • gas
  • bloating
  • indigestion
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • cystitis
  • fever
  • colic
  • ulcerative colitis (inflammatory bowel disease)
  • chest colds and stomach flu
  • migraine
  • Crohn’s disease
  • muscles pain and spasms

Externally chamomile has been used on the skin and/or other parts of the body to help treat:

  • abscesses
  • canker sores
  • conjunctivitis and other eye irritations (eye rinse)
  • diaper rash
  • gingivitis (gum inflammation)
  • minor first degree burns
  • mouth sores and mouth ulcers
  • skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis
  • teething pain (mouth rinse)
  • wound healing

Visit MedlinePlus to see over 100 possible uses for chamomile based on tradition or scientific theories.

What evidence is there that chamomile works for anxiety, insomnia and other problems?

According to the UMMC, the most popular uses for chamomile in the United States are to help treat anxiety and insomnia. There have been few studies done on humans, but animal studies indicate that low doses of chamomile might relieve anxiety, while higher doses promote sleep.

The UMMC also says chamomile has been suggested as a treatment for gingivitis (gum inflammation) and mouth sores, but studies show conflicting evidence. When used as a mouthwash, chamomile has been found to prevent mouth sores linked with radiation and chemotherapy. Chamomile is often used in creams and ointments to soothe irritated skin, especially in Europe. Evidence suggests that chamomile might be a good treatment for eczema.

MedlinePlus says there is “unclear scientific evidence for this use” (“this use” referring to chamomile) for: sleep aid/sedation, heart problems, colds, diarrhea in children, eczema, gastrointestinal problems, hemorrhagic cystitis (bladder irritation and bleeding), hemorrhoids, colic, mouth ulcers/irritation, improving quality of life in cancer patients, skin inflammation, vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina), and wound healing. MedlinePlus also says there is “fair scientific evidence against this use” for post-operative sore throat/hoarseness due to intubation.

The website lists over 100 health problems and just before this list it advises that:

“The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.”

The list of problems includes anxiety, insomnia, and stomach, intestinal and menstrual cramps.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) says:

“Chamomile has not been well studied in people so there is little evidence to support its use for any condition.

Some early studies point to chamomile’s possible benefits for certain skin conditions and for mouth ulcers caused by chemotherapy or radiation.

In combination with other herbs, chamomile may be of some benefit for upset stomach, for diarrhea in children, and for infants with colic.

NCCAM-funded research on chamomile includes studies of the herb for generalized anxiety disorder and abdominal pain caused by children’s bowel disorders.”

Does chamomile have any side effects?

According to BBC News, Maureen Robertson, from the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine, says: “It’s a very safe herb to use.”

Drugs.com says: “Animal studies report low toxicity with oral ingestion of chamomile.” The website warns that “Allergic reactions to chamomile are commonly reported.”

According to MedicineNet.com, when used as directed, chamomile is not expected to cause serious side effects. In the unlikely event you have an allergic reaction, see a doctor straight away. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to chamomile can include a:

  • rash
  • itching
  • swelling
  • dizziness and
  • trouble breathing

If you notice any side effects, contact your doctor or pharmacist.

MedlinePlus says impurities in chamomile products are common and might cause bad effects, such as a skin rash. In large doses chamomile can cause vomiting.

The NCCAM warns that some people have eaten or come into contact with chamomile and then had anaphylaxis as a result. This is an uncommon but life-threatening allergic reaction.

What medications can chamomile interact with?

Before taking chamomile, check with your doctor if you are taking any herbs, or prescription and/or non-prescription drugs that might interact with chamomile, or you have any health problems that chamomile might worsen.

According to MedlinePlus, “chamomile interactions are not well studied scientifically.” The website says chamomile might interact with:

  • alcohol
  • antibiotics
  • anticoagulants or anti-platelet drugs such as aspirin
  • antidepressants
  • antifungals
  • antihistamines
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen or naproxen
  • barbiturates such as phenobarbital
  • benzodiazepines such as lorazepam (Ativan) or diazepam (Valium)
  • drugs that affect blood pressure or blood sugar
  • calcium channel blockers
  • cardiac depressants
  • cardiac glycosides
  • central nervous system depressants
  • diuretics
  • drugs for diarrhea
  • drugs for gastrointestinal problems
  • drugs for high cholesterol
  • drugs for ulcers
  • drugs using the liver’s “cytochrome P450″ enzyme system
  • narcotics such as codeine
  • respiratory depressants
  • SERM drugs like raloxifene (a prescription drug used for osteoporosis)
  • tamoxifen (a prescription drug used for cancer)

The UMMC advises that chamomile might interact with:

  • anticonvulsants such as phenytoin (Dilantin) and valproic acid (Depakote)
  • birth control pills
  • Fexofenadine (Seldane)
  • herbs with a sedating effect, such as valerian, kava, and catnip
  • drugs to treat insomnia

Who should avoid taking chamomile?

Chamomile should not be taken during pregnancy or breast feeding.

Wong says chamomile shouldn’t be used two weeks before or after surgery.

Chamomile is part of the daisy plant family. Other plants in this family include ragweed, daisies, marigolds, and chrysanthemums. People allergic to other plants in the daisy family are more likely to react to chamomile than people not allergic to these plants.

MedlinePlus advises that chamomile might cause drowsiness or sedation. Use chamomile with caution when driving or using heavy machinery.

MedlinePlus also says that chamomile might increase the risk of bleeding. Caution is advised in people with bleeding disorders or taking drugs that may increase the risk of bleeding. The dose might need changing, and an increase in blood pressure is possible.

According to MedicineNet.com, caution is advised if you have diabetes, alcohol dependence or liver disease.

written by Nyomi Graef

References:
Camomile tea for aches and ills, 2005, BBC News,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4183549.stm

Chamomile, 2007, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health,
http://nccam.nih.gov/health/chamomile/ataglance.htm

Chamomile, 2010, Drugs.com,
http://www.drugs.com/npp/chamomile.html

Chamomile – oral, 2005, MedicineNet,
http://www.medicinenet.com/chamomile-oral/article.htm

Chamomile Tea: New Evidence Supports Health Benefits, 2005, ScienceDaily,
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050104112140.htm

German chamomile, 2010, University of Maryland Medical Center,
http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/german-chamomile-000232.htm

Roman Chamomile, 2010, MedlinePlus,
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/752.html

Somerville, R (Ed.), 1997, The Alternative Advisor, Virginia, USA: Time-Life

Winter Griffith, H, 1995, The Vitamin Fact File, London, UK: Diamond Books

Wong, C, 2009, Chamomile, About.com,
http://altmedicine.about.com/od/herbsupplementguide/a/Chamomile.htm

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2 Responses to “Does chamomile work for anxiety, sleep problems and relaxation?”

  1. [...] Does chamomile work for anxiety, sleep problems and relaxation? | Extra Happiness [...]

  2. This is really good information about Chamomile.

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