The aroma of lavender naturally brings a sense of calmness and pleasantness; no wonder it is one of the most commonly used essential oils in aromatherapy.
The flower was used for therapeutic purposes in the Roman and Greek culture. There are different types of this flowering plant:
• Lavandula latifolia (Mediterranean grass-like lavender)
• Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender)
• Lavandula stoechas (French lavender)
• Lavandula x intermedia (a cross between the first two)
Lavender essential oil is extracted primarily from the flower heads and has a sweet aroma. Traditionally the essential oil is used as an antibacterial and antifungal agent, as a sedative and anti-depressant, as a carminative and to treat burns and insect bites.
Traditionally French lavender is used to relieve headaches. One of the main reasons to use the flower’s essential oil for a migraine is its ability to calm the nerves. The essential oil contains compounds such as linalool, linalyl acetate, 1,8-cineole B-ocimene, terpinen-4-ol, and camphor.
Research suggests that compounds in the essential oil act like benzodiazepines and increase the effect of neurotransmitter GABA in the amygdala. This aids in relieving stress and anxiety. It also has a pain relieving effect.
Does Lavender Essential Oil benefit in Migraine?
The study by Sasannejad et al. in European Neurology, 2012 is the first study in humans to assess the effect of lavender essential oil in migraineurs.
47 individuals with a migraine headache were involved in the study and assigned to treatment and control groups. The treatment group was asked to inhale the essential oil for 15 mins while the control group was asked to inhale liquid paraffin.
2-3 drops of essential oil were applied to the upper lip and effects for the next 2 hours were observed.
The patients were asked to record the severity of a headache and related symptoms for next 2 hours.
A 3.6 point average reduction in headache severity was seen in the lavender oil group while only 1.6 point reduction was observed in control group.
In the treatment group, 74% of the patients experienced a reduction in related symptoms of a migraine such as nausea, photophobia, osmophobia, etc. 92 headache attacks showed a partial or complete response to the essential oil.
Though the essential oil was not compared to any standard treatment, Dr. Greger has compared the therapeutic efficacy of the oil with conventional treatments for a migraine in his video. And the effectiveness demonstrated in this study is promising.
Quick Gist: Inhalation of lavender essential oil can help alleviate secondary symptoms of a migraine and aid in aborting migraine attacks. More clinical trials are required to investigate the mechanism of action of the essential oil in natural migraine treatment.
Other Benefits Lavender Essential Oil for Migraine
Various research studies have explored the medicinal benefits of lavender oil, and these could be of relevance to migraine relief
1. It naturally reduces inflammation and pain
Traditionally lavender oil has been used an antispasmodic to help relieve pain. Migraine attacks present with intolerable pain and also have underlying inflammation in the brain.
Essential oil of the flower, as well as leaf extracts, exerts an anti-inflammatory effect in the animal model. They reduce inflammation, swelling as well as spasmodic pain.
Recent investigations suggest that the essential oil is as effective as steroid dexamethasone in reducing inflammation. It also has anti-nociceptive action (reducing painful sensation) comparable to the opioid painkiller, tramadol.
Ghelardini et al. have proven that components linalool and linalyl acetate present in lavender essential oil confer an anesthetic property to the oil. These properties may aid in the reduction of pain in a migraine attack.
Quick Gist: Compounds present in lavender oil have anti-inflammatory, analgesic and anesthetic effect. This can be beneficial in aborting migraine attacks.
2. It regulates brain activity and chemistry to induce relaxation
Lavender aromatherapy modulates the activity of amygdala and hippocampus (parts of the brain related to fear processing and memory respectively).
It’s active components linalool and linalyl acetate, when applied topically, are easily absorbed by the body and help relax the nervous system.
Consumption of lavender oil based lozenges is found to regulate the brain waves to induce a state of relaxation with a reduction in anxiety, improvement in memory and mild sedative effect. However consumption of lavender oil is not proven to be safe.
A study published in The Journal of Medical Association, Thailand demonstrated that lavender oil aromatherapy reduced physical symptoms of stress such as increased heart beat, blood pressure, and skin temperature.
It was also observed that the oil increased the theta and alpha brain waves to induce a state of relaxation.
The flower’s essential oil inhibits abnormal excitation of brain cells and exerts a sedative and relaxing effect that may be beneficial in aborting migraine attacks.
A recent study published in Frontiers In Pharmacology, 2017 proves that lavender essential oil interacts with various neurotransmitter receptors and regulates their activity.
It particularly acts on serotonin receptors. These are of importance in migraine therapy as serotonin agonists such as triptans are used to inhibit migraine attacks. (Read Understanding Migraine)
Quick Gist: Inhalation of lavender oil induces a relaxing and sedative state by regulating brain waves and brain chemistry and can help mitigate symptoms related to a migraine.
3. It reduces stress and anxiety and improves sleep
Chioca et al. have proven that the essential oil mediates anti-anxiety effect by regulating the neurotransmitter serotonin and is also found to attenuate serotonin syndrome caused by high doses of serotonin modulating anti-depressants.
Lavender oil aromatherapy for 4 weeks is found to improve sleep quality especially in case of mild insomnia.
Silexan is a proprietary formulation comprising a capsule containing lavender oil. In a study, 221 individuals with an anxiety disorder were treated with silexan (80 mg/day) or placebo.
Individuals treated with lavender oil experienced a 16 point reduction in anxiety and 5 point reduction in sleep quality index (lower scores mean better sleep). 76.9% individuals responded to the treatment compared to 49.1 % in placebo group. 60.6% treated with lavender oil experienced remission.
Quick Gist: Lavender oil is proven to anti-anxiety effects similar to that of benzodiazepines. It also helps in improving sleep quality. These findings are relevant towards prevention of tension headaches that can progress to migraine attacks.
Osmophobia in a migraine: Do certain odors worsen your migraine? Can Lavender oil worsen migraine?
Osmophobia is sensitivity or aversion to certain odors. This is a result of dysfunction associated with our sense of smell. This is a common occurrence in a migraine. Few sensitive odors include that of perfume, leather, stale smell, cigarette smoke, spices, and coffee.
A recent study published in Advanced Biomedical Research, 2017 states that osmophobia occurs in 84% with a migraine headache with aura, 74% of migraine patients without aura and in 43.3% of tension type headache.
Osmophobia starts 30 minutes before the attack for 22.7% of the patients. The most frequent offending odors as identified by the study were that of perfumes, foods and cigarette smoke.
This is a frequent occurrence in case of migraines than tension headaches; hence it is considered as one of the diagnostic factors that can help differentiate between migraine attacks and tension type headache.
But osmophobia has been dropped as a diagnostic factor from the International Classification of Headache Disorders, despite a large amount of evidence available that links this condition with a migraine.
Osmophobia in a migraine is found to be linked to anxiety, depression, and phonophobia (increased aversion to sounds).
The high frequency of osmophobia like symptoms in a migraine brings a concern about using lavender essential oil for migraine relief.
Though lavender has a pleasant aroma, in case of osmophobia its odor may worsen a migraine and nausea in sensitive individuals.
A study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, 2015 puts forward some interesting findings. Their data suggests that what one identifies as a trigger factor for a migraine is just perceived as trigger factors due to increased attention to stimuli. They are premonitory symptoms of a migraine.
Certain odors are identified as trigger factors for a migraine but it is quite possible that certain changes in brain and nervous system activity which occurs before migraine attack increased sensitivity to the odor.
The reason to mention osmophobia is that inhalation of lavender oil may not serve as a natural remedy for a migraine for all. For those sensitive to perfumes, inhalation of lavender oil may worsen related symptoms of a migraine.
In such a case one must limit exposure to lavender oil or avoid its use completely.
Quick Gist: Osmophobia or aversion to odors is common in as many as 74-84% migraineurs. Inhalation of lavender essential oil may not suit individuals experiencing this phenomenon, and hence one must exert caution in such case.
How to use lavender essential oil for a migraine?
The study assessing the benefits of lavender essential oil for a migraine used a regimen where 2-3 drops of the oil were applied to the upper lip, and inhalation exposure was for 15 minutes.
You can consider mixing 2-3 drops of organic lavender oil with one tablespoon of a base oil such as olive oil and apply it topically on your temples or forehead.
You can also mix 2-3 drops of essential oil in boiling water to inhale the steam. You can also use a diffuser.
Oral consumption of lavender essential oil is not recommended. More research is required on oral lavender oil supplements.
Lavender teas are also available in the market, but not much is known about its safety.
For migraine treatment, it is best to stick to lavender essential oil aromatherapy rather than oral consumption. If the smell suits you, I would highly recommend keeping a pot of lavender plant in your space.
Topical application is found safe in most cases, but there have been reports of skin irritation. Please conduct a patch test prior.
Excess inhalation or in case of osmophobia, side effects like nausea, vomiting, headache or chills may occur.
Traditionally lavender oil is used as an emmenagogue, hence it is advised to avoid it pregnancy and lactation. This is not proven by research.
If using herbs or essential oils, please consult a herbalist or aromatherapy specialist for advice on drug interactions and adverse effects.
Lavender essential oil has calming and relaxing effects which can be beneficial in aborting tension type headaches and relieving anxiety and depression in a migraine.
Since only one study has been conducted regarding its efficacy, we need to wait for more rigorous research before we can conclude that lavender oil is truly an effective natural remedy for preventing migraine attacks.
Also, researchers need to take into account, the occurrence of osmophobia or sensitivity to odors in a migraine. In such patients, inhalation of some essential oils may worsen a migraine and related symptoms.
Do share your experience with the use of lavender essential oil in a migraine.