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Integrative health myths & facts: lavender & cancer

Lavender is a flower native to the Mediterranean area. The name comes from the Latin “lavare,” which means “to wash.” Lavender has been used in many folk medicine traditions for anxiety, insomnia, depression, headache, as an antiseptic and much more. Lavender is commonly used in aromatherapy, and the dried flower is also used to make teas and extracts.

But is lavender of any use for cancer patients?  There is no evidence of any curative effect for treating cancer. However, there is mixed evidence about lavender’s ability to relieve some of the symptoms that cancer patients face.

According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (2016), data regarding the use of lavender for anxiety is conflicting. Some evidence suggests that taking a lavender-containing capsule orally improves anxiety in some patients, but evidence regarding the effectiveness of lavender capsules compared to other conventional therapies is limited. The efficacy of lavender oil as aromatherapy for anxiety also has conflicting evidence. There is some preliminary clinical evidence from a study of women with postpartum anxiety suggesting that using an aromatherapy combination of lavender and rose essential oils for 15 minute sessions, twice weekly for four weeks, can reduce anxiety scores compared to no treatment. However, other clinical research suggests that that adding lavender oil for an aromatherapy massage in patients with advanced or terminal cancer does not improve anxiety scores compared to no massage treatment or compared to inert oil alone. Interestingly, in a clinical study of nursing home residents, attaching a pad with lavender oil onto the neckline of clothing daily for one year reduced fall risk by 43 percent and the number of falls per person by 49 percent.  Clinical research suggests that adding lavender oil for an aromatherapy massage in patients with advanced or terminal cancer does not improve pain scores compared to no massage treatment or compared to massage with inert oil alone.

Please keep in mind these important warnings:

  • Lavender oil can be poisonous if taken by mouth (NCCIH, 2016).  It can also interact with several medications including blood pressure medications and central nervous system (CNS) depressants such as barbiturates (pentobarbital and phenobarbital, for example) and non-benzodiazepine sleep medications (Ambien and Lunesta, for example).
  • When lavender teas and extracts are taken by mouth, they may cause headache, changes in appetite and constipation (NCCIH, 2016).
  • There is a potential for allergic reaction if applied to the skin (NCCIH, 2016).

Before taking any supplement, it is important to first speak with your doctor to make sure it will not interfere with your treatment or interact with other medications.  

Sources: 

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database 

Written by: Massey Communications Office

Posted on: August 26, 2016

Category: Prevention & control