There are plenty of ways in which to treat anxiety, a condition from which many of us suffer to a greater or lesser degree. Good quality sleep, low levels of external stressors, exercise, clean living, and often medical intervention will all help to keep your levels down.
However, supplementation can also help. And not all supplements are futuristic compounds of bizarre, niche ingredients sold for a fortune in little jelly capsules.
Sometimes, all it takes is a nice cup of tea (full disclosure, I’m British, so I’m maybe a little biased!)
Specifically, sometimes all you need is a nice hit of soothing chamomile tea.
Chamomile is a botanical, a herb. It smells faintly of apples, which is where it gets its name from – it springs from the Greek khamaimēlon, which roughly translates as ‘earth apple’. Its use is ancient, far more so than most herbs and traditional medicines. It is mentioned in ancient texts from Greece, Rome and Egypt.
Most commonly, we use two different chamomile varieties – Marticaria recutita, or German chamomile, and (Chamaemelum nobile), or Roman chamomile. German chamomile is more typically used in herbal remedies, however. It is included in 26 countries’ pharmacopoeia’s for its many benefits.
It is more potent than its cousins and brings about greater benefits. It is generally what you will be reading about when you read about chamomile, though Roman chamomile is more popular in some places (the UK, for instance).
Chamomile is fantastic for your mood and anxiety levels. A sleep-inducer and very mild form of tranquilizer, it may also increase the activity of your brain’s neurotransmitters – dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin.
The benefits don’t stop there, of course. It is a fantastic antioxidant ingredient. It has anti-inflammatory, angiogenesis, antidiarrheal, and anti-carcinogenic properties. It can protect the liver, and may be useful in many other medical contexts. Current research suggests that it may be good for mitigating the effects of ulcerative colitis, osteoarthritis, premenstrual syndrome and gastrointestinal disorders.
It may also be good for improving wound healing and aiding with skin irritation. It even contains analgesic (or painkilling) properties.
However, it is most commonly used for anxiety and sleep, which is what I want to focus on today.
Chamomile: An aid for anxiety and sleeplessness
As we’ve seen, chamomile is well known for its effects as a sleep aid. It is, after all, a mild tranquilizer. This is largely due to, or at least ties into, its ability to induce a sense of calm and relaxation. This is likely due to the antioxidant apigenin, which chamomile includes plentifully, and which chamomile tea in particular delivers in large quantities.
Apigenin will bind to specific neuroreceptors within a person’s brain. In so doing, they will elicit a sense of calm and lead to sleepiness and relaxation.
In fact, chamomile supplementation has been shown to be a lot more effective than a placebo, which is relatively rare with supplements meant to treat anxiety. Elderly participants in one study enjoyed significantly better sleep quality than the control group given the placebo.
Another study highlighted its efficacy in treating generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. Participants with mild to severe GAD used pharmaceutical-grade chamomile extract for up to two months, dosed at 1,500 mg per day. More than half (58%) of these participants met criteria for change in GAD-7 symptom scores by the eighth week. Participants noted significant improvement in their anxiety levels.
Researchers also noted clinically significant reductions in secondary outcome ratings for anxiety and overall wellbeing.
This suggests that chamomile elicits a clinically significant, measurable reduction in anxiety levels for those who typically struggle with GAD and similar symptoms.
How To Take Chamomile
You can buy plenty of chamomile supplements. It comes in many guises, all of them useful – extracts, capsules, topical creams, and so on. These are all worthwhile, especially if you want to take them in quantity, on the go.
I always encourage people to go with supplements in capsule form as they are just so convenient to take.
However, I personally prefer chamomile tea.
I want to put the benefits to one side for a minute. Regardless of its effects on your health, chamomile tea is a tasty, refreshing drink that is easy to prepare and incredibly pleasant, especially with a spoonful of honey mixed into it.
You can buy high quality chamomile tea bags online and in most health food stores. Many supermarkets will also stock it, though their offerings may not necessarily be such good quality or high dosage.
If you’re lucky, you can even buy chamomile in its raw form. You can certainly grow it, if you’re green fingered and have the space and facilities. Brew a few leaves in almost boiling water for a few minutes, run it through a tea strainer, and you’re good to go. For a really nice drink, try it with a sprig of mint.
Chamomile also makes a lovely addition to salads. However, this is more a culinary venture. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to consistently chow down enough salad augmented with chamomile to have a drastic effect on your anxiety levels (unlikely, not impossible).
If you’re drinking chamomile tea, aim for two to four cups per day for the best results. Consider swapping out caffeinated drinks like coffee or black tea for it, especially after midday. Drink it a little while before going to bed if you can. All of this will combine to optimize chamomile’s relaxing benefits and allow for improved sleep.
Dosing Chamomile Supplements
Of course, chamomile tea is only the start. It may be inconvenient to drink it so many times per day. You don’t want to be tied to the kettle. It also isn’t to everyone’s taste, which can make drinking it a chore. Also, if you’re using it to improve your sleep, drinking all that tea last thing at night might not be the best idea – there’s no point getting nice and relaxed for sleep if you’re then just going to have to keep getting up all night to use the bathroom!
Capsules probably represent the next best choice. They will give you all the benefits without any of the hassle. Always make sure to read the instructions on any supplements you get. As a rule, though, you will want to make sure that you’re getting between 400 to 1600 mg of pure chamomile daily. This should be spread throughout the day in pretty even doses.
You can also go for liquid extract. For this, you will need 1 to 4 ml at a time, two to four times per day. For tincture, aim for around 15 ml per dose, again going for about three servings per day.
Side Effects & Complications With Chamomile Use
Chamomile is a generally safe supplement to take. It is natural and gentle. However, there are some things to be wary of, things you should know going into it.
When to avoid chamomile
There are a few people who should either steer clear of chamomile, or at least consult their doctor before taking it.
Firstly, if you have any allergies to plants in the daisy genus, for example aster, marigold, chrysanthemum, ragweed, and, of course, daisy, you won’t want to take chamomile.
Chamomile is also a mild anticoagulant. If you have any kind of bleeding disorder or are on blood thinners, you should avoid it.
Pregnant women should avoid it as it can lead to miscarriage. Women who are breastfeeding may also want to avoid it.
There are also some medical interactions to be wary of. Though there is plenty of research left to do before we have a clear picture on chamomile’s effects on most medicines, it may potentially elicit drowsiness in those also taking antidepressants, barbiturates, narcotics, anti-seizure medications, and benzodiazepine.
As above, it should be avoided on blood thinners, such as aspirin, warfarin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. It should also be avoided by those on medicines that affect blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Chamomile may also upset hormone therapy as it is similar to estrogen.
If you’re on any medication, always consult your doctor before beginning a new supplement regime or taking a new form of traditional medication.
Chamomile side effects
There are few side effects associated with taking chamomile. Any side effects tend to be mild. However, they do occur and you should watch out for them.
- Common chamomile side effects include:
- Skin reactions like eczema and rashes
- Allergic reactions. These can be severe, such as anaphylaxis, throat swelling, or breathing difficulties
- Vomiting and nausea when taken in larger quantities
The Take Home Verdict
Always check in with your doctor or healthcare provider before beginning a new supplement regime. You may have an adverse reaction to chamomile. It may interfere with any medicines you are on or any preexisting medical conditions you may suffer with.
However, it is safe in the majority of cases. Two to four cups of chamomile tea per day, or a couple of capsules, will be perfect for most people.
Chamomile promises to be one of the most effective over the counter treatments for anxiety and sleeplessness going. It is easy to use, lovely to drink, cheap, and incredibly effective.
This article was written by: James Dixon – SOMA Analytics PT, Nutritionalist & Published Author
James Dixon is one of the key players in the SOMA Analytics’ team. He is a personal trainer and is educated to Masters level. He is a published author and is a keen advocate of high quality nootropic supplements. James enjoys helping others to reach their peak both physically and mentally and believes that expressing his knowledge through his writing is an effective way to positively impact the wellbeing of others on a larger scale.