Jasmine: The natural Valium?

New research suggests the little white flower packs a punch similar to prescription anti-anxiety drugs. How is that possible?

In what's being called the first scientific proof that aromatherapy works, researchers in Germany have concluded that the smell of jasmine, a small white flower that's been used homeopathically for years to calm the nerves, is just as effective as Valium — at least, on lab mice. Could doctors someday prescribe a daily whiff of this fragrant flower?

Why did scientists focus on jasmine?

Initially, the study's researchers examined hundreds of fragrances to determine their effect on GABA receptors, which play a role in transmitting signals to the brain's limbic system. Of the fragrances tested, only jasmine created a tangible change in brain chemistry. The scent acted "as strongly as sedatives, sleeping pills and relaxants" without known side-effects such as "depression, dizziness, hypertension, muscle weakness and impaired coordination," according to the (London) Telegraph.

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How does jasmine affect the brain?

Scientists say the neurotransmitter GABA helps regulate over-excitement, promoting relaxation and relieving anxiety. When scientists infused the cages of lab mice with the fragrance, they "ceased all activity" and would "sit quietly in a corner" — evidently soothed, if rather slothful.

How might the study's findings change modern medicine?

Proof that jasmine alters brain chemistry might pave the way for mainstream acceptance of aromatherapy as treatment. "Applications in sedation, anxiety, excitement and aggression relieving treatment" may be in the little flower's future, said Professor Hanns Hatt, who helped conduct the story. That said, it's far too soon to equate the effects with Valium, says Britain's National Health Service website. "People taking prescribed medication for anxiety should not change their treatment based on this study."

Sources: The Telegraph, Science Daily, National Health Service (UK)

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