Last week I wrote about the herb valerian and how it might help some individuals suffering with insomnia. A very recent study (1) investigated the herbal remedy passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) for the treatment of sleep disturbance in 41 individuals. In the study passionflower in the form of a tea preparation was investigated but passionflower is also available in the form of supplements, tinctures and tonics. The researchers of the study found that sleep quality was significantly better with passionflower compared with placebo tea. They conclude that (1) “These initial findings suggest that the consumption of a low dose of Passiflora incarnata, in the form of tea, yields short-term subjective sleep benefits for healthy adults with mild fluctuations in sleep quality.”
Traditionally passionflower has been used as a herbal sedative and sleep aid as well as for its anxiolytic, anxiety reducing, properties. Anxiety is a problem that impacts many individuals and I have previously written about some natural solutions to anxiety which can be found here: including the benefits of walking, chamomile, Ashwagandha (or Indian Ginseng), antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids.
A review paper last year looked at nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders (2) based on the results the authors concluded that strong evidence existed for the use of passionflower for the treatment of anxiety symptoms and disorders. The review comments that several studies involving the biochemical makeup of passionflower have been conducted and between the 1970 s and 1990s passionflower was listed as an official plant drug by the pharmacopoeias of America, Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland, Egypt and India. Passionflower contains many hundreds of different phytochemicals (bio active plant chemicals), it is difficult to elucidate which specific biochemicals are responsible for the active, anti-anxiety, properties of passionflower. So, although passionflower supplements often produce positive results, identifying the active ingredients can be difficult. It is also possible that some herbal passionflower remedies may be ineffective due to not containing the active anti-anxiety components.
One of the studies (3) included in the review paper compared the use of passionflower supplements to oxazepam in patients with GAD (generalised anxiety disorder). Oxazepam is a prescription medical drug used to treat anxiety symptoms and insomnia (marketed under brand names such as Alepam, Medopam, Murelax, Noripam, Opamox, Ox-Pam, Purata, Serax and Serepax). The results showed that Passiflora extract and oxazepam were both effective in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. In fact no significant difference was observed between the passionflower and oxazepam at the end of trial. Oxazepam did show a rapid onset of action, however, significantly more problems relating to impairment of job performance were encountered with subjects on oxazepam. The authors of this study conclude that “The results suggest that Passiflora extract is an effective drug for the management of generalized anxiety disorder, and the low incidence of impairment of job performance with Passiflora extract compared to oxazepam is an advantage. A large-scale trial is justified” (3).
The authors of the review paper (2) say that evidence does suggest that passionflower is an effective anti-anxiety agent but that studies have, to date, been conducted in different types of individuals and that more research is needed to prove its usefulness in anxiety related disorders. There are many herbal preparations containing passionflower, such as these available to buy. If you are experiencing anxiety symptoms it is important to visit your medical doctor where you can discuss the option to try passionflower containing remedies as a treatment. If you do try passionflower supplements please follow the dosage guidelines carefully, there is some evidence to suggest (2) that in some cases passionflower may cause dizziness, drowsiness and confusion.
(1) Ngan A, Conduit R. 2011. A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Investigation of the Effects of Passiflora incarnata (Passionflower) Herbal Tea on Subjective Sleep Quality. Phytother Res. 2011 Feb 3. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3400. [Epub ahead of print]
(2) Lakhan SE, Vieira KF. 2010. Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review. Nutr J. 9:42.
(3) Akhondzadeh S et al. 2001. Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam. J Clin Pharm Ther. 26:363–367. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2710.2001.00367.x
Written by Ani Richardson