Lemon balm helps with anxiety and cognitive performance. In addition, it has other surprising health benefits, including helping with cancer, reducing pain, and weight loss. Read this post to learn more about the many health benefits of lemon balm.
What is Lemon Balm?
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb known for its calming and anti-inflammatory effects.
The main active constituents of lemon balm are [R]:
- Volatile compounds – geranial, neral, citronellal, and geraniol
- Triterpenes – ursolic acid and oleanolic acid
- Phenolics – rosmarinic acid, caffeic acid, luteolin, naringin, and hesperidin
Mechanisms of Action of Lemon Balm
- Increases GABA in the brain by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks down GABA (GABA transaminase). GABA produces a calming effect, improves mood, and reduces stress [R, R, R].
- Binds to nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in the brain. Both types of receptors are activated by acetylcholine and play roles in enhancing memory and alertness [R, R, R].
- Prevents the formation of blood vessels by inhibiting VEGF-A, which can combat obesity and help treat cancer [R, R].
- Activates the proteins caspases-3 and-7, causing cancer cells to self-destruct [R, R].
- Reduces inflammation by reducing TNF-alpha. It also suppresses inflammatory proteins (IL-1 and IL-6) [R, R].
Lemon Balm Benefits the Brain and Mental Health
1) Treats Panic Attacks and Rapid Heart Beats
Fourteen days of lemon balm supplementation (DB-RCT) reduced the frequency of rapid heartbeats and decreased anxiety in 55 patients [R].
2) Reduces Depression and Anxiety
Lemon balm has anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects in rats. By increasing GABA levels, lemon balm reduces anxiety, increases calmness, and improves mood [R].
Lemon balm completely eliminated anxiety in 14 people with stress (pilot trial) [R].
Also, a combination of lemon balm and valerian root significantly reduced anxiety in 24 healthy volunteers (DB-RCT) [R].
3) Improves Sleep Quality
Lemon balm alone or in combination with valerian improves sleep quality in patients suffering from menopause symptoms and insomnia.
Lemon balm improved insomnia in 85% of people with anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances [R].
4) Improves Memory and Brain Function
Lemon balm improved performance and memory in healthy participants (DB-RCTs). Thus, lemon balm may help treat diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, which are characterized by memory loss and learning disability [R, R].
In one study (DB-RCT), lemon balm improved cognitive performance and mood in 20 healthy participants [R].
Moreover, lemon balm increased accuracy and attention in cognitive performance tasks in 20 college students [R].
Lemon balm improves memory and brain function by binding to nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in the brain. Both types of receptors are activated by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and play roles in enhancing memory and alertness [R, R, R].
Metabolic Health Benefits of Lemon Balm
5) Helps with Weight Loss
6) Helps with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by inflammation, high blood sugar, and fat.
In mice, lemon balm helps treat fatty liver disease by activating enzymes that break down fatty acids. Lemon balm also reduces the activity of white blood cells and inflammatory cytokines in the liver [R, R].
7) Aids in the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes
8) Has Anti-Cancer Effects
Lemon balm kills brain cancer cells in a cell-based study. Citral in lemon balm activates cancer cell self-destruction (through caspase-3) and increases cancer’s sensitivity to chemotherapy by inhibiting the drug-resistant gene MRP1 [R].
Lemon balm shrinks breast cancer tumors. Lemon balm induced the self-destruction of breast cancer cells and reduced the size of breast tumors in rats by decreasing antigen KI-67 (a protein that is associated with cell growth and reproduction) [R, R].
Lemon balm reduces the size of prostate cancer tumors.
Lemon balm prevents the growth of prostate cancers in cell models by inhibiting the growth of blood vessels that feed the tumors (VEGF-A).
Lemon balm also decreases the activity of the enzyme human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT). Telomeres are added on to ends of chromosomes by telomerases, but as aging occurs, telomerase activity decreases. hTERT is overactive in cancer cells and necessary for tumor growth [R].
Other Health Benefits of Lemon Balm
9) May Help with Hyperthyroidism
10) Has Anti-Microbial Effects
Lemon balm oil has antimicrobial effects against yeast and harmful bacterial strains (E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Staphylococcus) in cell-based studies.
11) Combats Cold Sores and Herpes
Lemon balm helps treat oral and genital herpes caused by the herpes simplex viruses (HSV-1 and HSV-2).
Rosmarinic acid in lemon balm prevented HSV-1 (oral herpes/cold sores) attachment to cells for both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant strains in a cell model study. The volatile oils in lemon balm also inhibit the replication of HSV-2 (genital herpes) [R, R, R].
12) May Reduce Pain
13) May Reduce Inflammation
Lemon balm reduces swelling caused by injury and inflammation in mice. It reduces inflammation by lowering oxidative stress.
14) May Protect the Skin Against UV Rays
15) Treats Infant Colic
Infant colic is a common condition that occurs in the first four months of life. Colic is excessive irritability, fussing, or crying in otherwise healthy infants.
Lemon balm significantly decreased average daily crying time after 28 days in 200 colicky infants and reduced colic episodes through its calming effects and by relaxing the gut [R].
Common side effects of lemon balm are [R]:
- Stomach pain
- Increased appetite
- Reduced alertness
- Eye pressure
Topical application can cause [R]:
- Redness of the skin
- Burning sensation
Patients with thyroid problems are recommended to avoid taking lemon balm since it may interfere with thyroid function. Caffeic acid in lemon balm directly inhibits thyroid-stimulating hormone [R, R].
Lemon balm should not be taken with [R]:
- Barbiturates – lemon balm increases the hypnotic effect of barbiturates.
- Sedative agents – a combination of lemon balm with sedatives may result in additive effects.
- Glaucoma medications – lemon balm may increase intraocular pressure, which diminishes the effects of glaucoma medications.
- Thyroid agents – lemon balm reduces thyroid stimulating hormone concentrations.
- Nicotine and Scopolamine – may prevent drugs from binding to nicotinic and muscarinic receptors, therefore blocking the effects of the drugs.
- Antidepressants (SSRIs) – lemon balm interacts with antidepressants by inhibiting concentrations of serotonin.
- Tea – one cup of tea several times per day as needed
- Tincture – 2 to 6 mL three times per day
- Liquid extract – 60 drops per day
- Capsules – 8 to 10 grams per day
- Cream – topically for up to four times per day for 5 to 10 days [R].
Some users report grogginess.
Lemon balm extract provides soothing relief and relaxation, but also works as a mouthwash, disinfectant, and helps to combat herpes outbreaks.
Lemon balm tea is a great alternative to take before bedtime to calm nerves and for a restful night of sleep.
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