A lot of women experience changes in mood and physical discomfort in the days before menstruation, and this can negatively affect family, friends, and working relationships. These premenstrual symptoms (PMS) vary in severity, and typically include irritability, anger, mood swings, depression, tension or anxiety, abdominal bloating, breast pain, and fatigue (Rapkin and Wilner
2009). There are very few treatments that are effective against PMS, and many women turn alternative therapy for relief.

Essential oils are volatile plant materials, with a long history of use in supporting women’s health. Lavender oil therapies have been used to help women cope with labour pain, ease post-caesarean pain and menstrual cramps, and reduce postpartum depression and anxiety. To discover whether lavender might also alleviate symptoms of PMS, a study was conducted on a small group of 17 Japanese college student volunteers. None of the volunteers took oral contraceptives to control menstruation, and none were pregnant during the study. Although none of the volunteers suffered from severe PMS, they did experience mild-to-moderate symptoms before menstruation.

Volunteers were tested during the week before their menstrual period. They were asked to sit in a quiet, comfortable, temperature-controlled (25°C) room. Each volunteer was asked to relax quietly and comfortably for 10 minutes while electrocardiograph (ECG) electrodes measured their heart rhythm. The volunteers then completed a standard mood questionnaire, after which a controlled dose of lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia) was added to a diffuser so that the scent could be inhaled for 10 minutes. An ECG was taken at regular periods for the next 30 minutes. On
another day of their premenstrual period, each volunteer was given the same test, but water was used instead of lavender, as a “control” for the results to be compared against. The intention here was to enable the researchers to disregard any effects that the test procedure in general may have had on premenstrual symptoms – sitting for half an hour in a quiet room is quite relaxing, after all!

The ECG results were used to calculate heart rate variability (HRV), which is a measure of activity in the autonomic nervous system, involved in stress, depression, and anxiety. Previous studies have shown that HRV is lower in individuals experiencing these symptoms. Combined with the mood questionnaire, researchers used HRV to investigate whether short term lavender oil inhalation caused any changes in mood or autonomic nervous system activity during the premenstrual period.

Researchers found that inhaling lavender resulted in a significant increase in HRV “HF power” compared to inhaling water – indicating that parasympathetic nerve activity increased. The parasympathetic nervous system is the part of the autonomic nervous system responsible for slowing the heart rate and promoting digestion. When the questionnaires were analysed, it was apparent that scores for depression-dejection and confusion – common premenstrual emotional symptoms – decreased significantly after inhaling lavender, compared to inhaling water. These mood changes persisted for up to 35 minutes after aroma stimulation.

Together, these results indicate that short-term inhalation of lavender fragrance effects autonomic nervous system activity and emotional symptoms during the premenstrual phase. It is unclear how lavender essential oil achieves these effects, but previous research has indicated that licareol and linalyl acetate, both major scent components of lavender, may be responsible (Kuroda 2005, Shimizu 2018). Inhaling lavender aroma has been shown to act on nerve synapses where it may have a
sedative effect (Herz 2009).

This was a small study, and it only included women with mild-moderate PMS symptoms, so future studies are needed with larger groups of volunteers with a wide range of ages and PMS experiences to fully understand the value of lavender for PMS. Having said this, these early findings suggest that if you struggle with PMS during your menstrual cycle, then sitting in a quiet, calm environment with the Emgoddess blend Hecate in the air is one way you can manage your symptoms. It certainly can’t hurt!

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Shimizu K. Effect of aromatherapy on premenstrual syndrome—Verification of linalyl acetate.
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