The complex compounds found in infusions of chamomile (Matricaria recutita) flowers have long been known for their ability to support relaxation and anxiety reduction.(1)
But now researchers report that chamomile extract also seems to support “clinically meaningful antidepressant activity that occurs in addition to its previously observed anxiolytic [anxiety-reducing] activity.”
A trial of chamomile supplementation, led by neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, MD, at the University of Pennsylvania’s Depression Research Unit, is reported in the Sep-Oct issue of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.(2)
Participants in the placebo-controlled trial were all patients at U Penn’s Family and Community Health clinics, and included three groups, diagnosed respectively with:
1. Anxiety with current depression;
2. Anxiety, and depression in the past;
3. And anxiety with no noted current or past depression.
Mood was tracked based on baseline and periodic Hamilton Depression Rating scores (HAM-D).
The research team observed a “significantly greater” improvement in mood for all who received chamomile, by comparison with the group receiving a placebo.
The benefit was observed even in the anxiety sufferers with no diagnosed current or past depression, though their mood improvement was less pronounced.
As the authors note, identification of inexpensive and effective alternatives to anti-depressant medications can be a very important way to help the large proportion of those suffering with depression and anxiety who currently go untreated – sometimes because of the cost or side effects of these drugs.
Why might chamomile support the body’s mechanisms for balancing mood and anxiety?
An increasing body of evidence points to the role of systemic or chronic inflammation in mood disorders.(3)
And recent research lends detail to chamomile’s traditional use since Roman times for promoting a balanced inflammation response:
• In 2009 a study at Case Western Reserve University determined that chamomile supports the body’s mechanism for inhibiting production of the potent inflammatory enzyme COX-2 – an enzyme that makes inflammation & pain-causing molecules, and one of the two most important inflammatory systems in the body.(4)
• A second study by the Case researchers in 2010 found that chamomile supports the body’s ability to inhibit the inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) inflammation pathway – which involves production of the inflammation-triggering molecule nitric oxide, and is the second major inflammatory system.(5)
• And a Johns Hopkins team discovered in 2005 that these two major inflammation pathways, formerly thought to be separate, are in fact “cross-linked” (and have been dubbed the “iNOS-COX-2 system”). Providing an opportunity, they suggest, to find means of downregulating this system without - or with lower doses of - anti-inflammatory drugs such as the COX-2 inhibitors.(6)
Note: People who have allergic responses to ragweed pollen, chrysanthemums or asters may have cross sensitivities to other members of the Asteraceae family, such as chamomile, echinacea, milk thistle and feverfew. Chamomile may interact with the medications warfarin or cyclosporine.
1. “A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral Matricaria recutita (chamomile) extract therapy for generalized anxiety disorder,” Jay D Amsterdam, MD, et al. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, Aug 2009(4):376-82. (Used Hamilton Anxiety Rating scores - HAM-A.)
2. “Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) may provide antidepressant activity in anxious, depressed humans: An exploratory study,” Jay D Amsterdam, MD, Andrew B Newberg, MD, et al. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, Sep-Oct 2012; vol 18(5) pp 44-49.
3. For example, “Inflammation link spurs new treatments for depression”, Jul 14, 2011;
“New Theory Links Depression to Chronic Brain Inflammation”; Science Daily, Oct 20, 2010; and “Could Inflammation in the Gut Be Linked to Symptoms of Depression?” Joseph Mercola, MD, Oct 2011.
4. “Chamomile, a novel and selective COX-2 inhibitor with anti-inflammatory activity,” JK Srivastava, M Pandey, Sanjay Gupta, Life Sciences, Nov 4, 2009.
5. “Chamomile: An anti-inflammatory agent inhibits inducible nitric oxide synthase expression by blocking ReLA/p65 activity,” N Bhaskaran, Sanjay Gupta, et al. International Journal of Molecular Medicine, Dec. 2010.
6. “iNOS-based inflammation pathway is cross-linked with COX-2 pathway,” MedicineNews.net, from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions news release, 2005.
Note: This information has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is general information, and is not intended to take the place of professional medical advice, or to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it with your professional healthcare team.