Chamomile Tea: Benefits and Side Effects
Chamomile Tea Benefits: Real or Superstition?
It can be hard to work out what the real benefits of drinking chamomile tea are and what is just hearsay, superstition, and legend. The use of this herb dates back to ancient Egyptian and Roman times, so this tea has had a long time to develop a reputation. In this article, we will examine the legends about the benefits of chamomile tea and see if it is possible to separate fact from fiction.
Scientific Evidence of the Benefits of Chamomile Tea?
In a nutshell, there is still limited scientific evidence that supports the claims of chamomile's benefits. Considering how many people use it (as a tea or in another form), there is a surprisingly limited amount of scientific evidence that it produces the health benefits it is known for.
In 2002, a large survey found that over 1.6 million Americans use some kind of complementary medicine. How many of these drink chamomile tea is unknown, but it shows how popular herbal remedies are in the US. In shops in the UK, the tea is ever-present alongside the normal traditional forms of English tea and it is a very popular drink. Could so many people be fooling themselves?
Some Studies Say There Is Not Enough Evidence:
A study which was published in Alternative and Complementary Therapies in June 2012 called "A Review of the Efficacy of Herbal Remedies for Managing Insomnia" looked into the evidence for various herbal remedies for managing insomnia (one of the main uses of chamomile). Researchers reviewed the evidence from previous studies of various herbs and found few studies confirming the herb's sedative effects and one that reported only marginal effects. This review concluded with the statement that more research is needed because most studies' results are either contradictory or inconclusive.
On its website, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a US government agency, states: "Chamomile has not been well studied in people, so there is little evidence to support its use for any condition. This is partly based on the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which does not have a great deal to say about the evidence for chamomile's healing properties either."
Some Scientific Evidence for the Benefits of Chamomile Tea:
Despite an apparent lack of information about how effective chamomile is as an herbal remedy, some scientific studies do exist that suggest it may have measurable benefits.
In 2009, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology suggested that the herb may have mild effects for people with generalized anxiety disorder.
Another study in 2005 led by British researcher Elaine Homles which was published in the January 26 issue of the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests two benefits: increased anti-bacterial activity and sedative effects. There were increased levels of hippurate in the body after drinking the tea, which indicated an increase in the body's ability to fight infections and colds. They also suggest it may help relieve muscle spasms by increasing the levels of glycine in the body, explaining why it can be helpful for menstrual cramps in women. Glycine is also known as a nerve relaxant, perhaps explaining its calming effect.
So what does this mean?
At least for now, there is not enough scientific evidence to confidently argue an indisputable case for the benefits of chamomile. The lack of evidence doesn't mean that there are no benefits, just that there is not enough scientific proof as of yet. In the coming years, there will no doubt be more studies conducted and we will hopefully discover the truth. For now, though, it may be better to draw your own conclusions based on your experience. Despite the lack of evidence, it may be that word of mouth and personal experience is what keeps people using the herb.
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Benefit #1: Chamomile Tea Helps You Relax and Sleep Better
Perhaps the most widely claimed benefits of the tea is that is it has a relaxing effect that is helpful for reducing anxiety and can even help with insomnia. If it does help people relax, then this would support its use as a natural sleep aid, since one of the most common causes of insomnia is an over-active mind due to stress, anxiety, and worry. In many ways, if people believe it is relaxing, then it may be having a placebo effect. Mind over matter does work sometimes! One important method of dealing with sleep problems is to develop a relaxing bedtime ritual, and drinking herbal tea could play an important part. Taking a quiet, relaxing moment to enjoy the drink could well work wonders.
Benefit #2: Chamomile Tea Helps Relieve Menstrual Cramps
As indicated in the study mentioned above, the tea may have the benefit of relieving menstrual cramps because of the muscle-spasm-reducing effect that the increase of glycine has.
Benefit #3: Chamomile Boosts the Immune System
Researchers found that drinking the tea leads to an increase of hippurate in the body which is a by-product of the breakdown of the plant compounds (phenolics) which can be associated with increased anti-bacterial action in the body. This then may lead to an immune system boost and an increase in anti-bacterial action and infection-fighting.
Benefit #4: Chamomile Soothes an Upset Stomach and Helps with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Another often-reported benefit is the herb's ability to soothe an upset stomach and even help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It is also sometimes used to help with digestion, bloating, excess gas, stomach flu, ulcers, or constipation. There is very little scientific evidence available for this, though.
Benefit #5: Chamomile Soothes Burns, Grazes, and Scrapes
If a very strong concoction of is used (steeping 2-3 teabags in a cup of hot water until the tea is room temperature and dabbing it on the affected area), it is said to have the benefit of soothing burns, grazes, and scrapes. Again, there is little evidence for this.
Other Purported Chamomile Tea Benefits
There are a few other benefits sometimes put forward, but they are not as commonly known as the ones mentioned above. The herb is often used...
- As a wound-healing poultice (cooled tea dripped onto infected areas). It has been used for conjunctivitis, for example.
- As protection from cancer. There is no evidence for this, according to the American Cancer Society.
- As an ointment for hemorrhoids.
- For help with headaches and migraines (although there is no scientific evidence to support its efficacy).
- To treat dark circles around the eyes. (Try using cooled chamomile tea and decide for yourself if this works).
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What Are the Side Effects of Chamomile?
There are three circumstances for which chamomile may be an unsafe ingredient: If you are pregnant, taking blood thinners, or have a ragweed allergy.
1. Chamomile and Pregnancy
Pregnant women are sometimes advised not to use the herb in oil or tincture form and to drink the tea sparingly. This is still hotly debated: Many herbalists and women who have used the tea during pregnancy will say that it is perfectly safe in small quantities, and indeed large numbers of women drink it to help with morning sickness. Furthermore, a Canadian study in 2009 found that there were no reported side effects to drinking the tea when pregnant.
However, a major piece of research led to some scientist recommending that women not use the herb during pregnancy was published in 2010 in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety. The researchers reported that in a sample of 392 pregnant women, 28% used herbal supplements during their pregnancy (chamomile being the most frequently used), and these women were more likely to experience miscarriage and preterm deliveries.
With the lack of clear evidence pointing one way or the other, the safest option would probably be to discuss it with your doctor if you are pregnant.
2. Chamomile and Ragweed Allergy
Chamomile is a relative of ragweed, with both being part of the Asteraceae family (as are the daisy and sunflower), and so people who suffer from ragweed allergies or hay fever are often advised to stay away from the herb in all its forms unless they know that it does not provoke a reaction in them. Again though, despite this warning in many sources, there are currently no scientific studies demonstrating that this allergy risk is significant.
3. Chamomile and Blood Thinners
Chamomile contains coumarin which can cause blood thinning and hemorrhaging in strong isolated doses. The issue is that there is the potential for interaction if someone is taking strong blood thinners such as Warfarin, or even aspirin.
Other Potential Side Effects of Chamomile
Other lesser-known side effects include:
- Nausea and vomiting—usually seen in people who take very large doses or who drink too much of the tea. How often this occurs is unknown. It may be that if you drink excessive amounts of any liquid you could feel nauseous and sick.
- Botulism—this is a very tenuous possibility for small infants (under 3 months) because the dried herb can contain small amount of botulism (even less than honey). Still, for this reason, some advise not giving chamomile to newborns.
- The risk of sedation if you are particularly sensitive to the calming effects of the tea, or if you are combining it with other sedative herbs or medication, alcohol, or illegal drugs. It is often advised not to drive or operate heavy machinery if you are sensitive to the effects or are mixing it with other relaxants. Again, there are no reports of car accidents due to chamomile tea, and its sedative effects are generally very mild.
Video to Help You Identify Chamomile in the Wild
How to Make Chamomile Tea
The most well known of all the possible benefits of the herb is that it simply makes a nice tasting cup of tea. Here is how to make a perfect cup.
The tea is usually made from either the German, Roman, or wild variety, with German being the strongest. You can buy tea bags and make like normal tea, or buy dried flowers and steep in a cup before straining. However, if you want to make tea from flowers you picked, here is how to go about it:
- It's best to pick the flowers in the morning. Pick the flower heads with the petals. (Do not use the leaves or stems.) Wash them gently and leave to soak in cold water for a couple of minutes. Remove from the water and strain the flowers carefully to remove any moisture. If you want to make the tea fresh, skip to step #4: Read on for instructions on how to dry the flowers to use later.
- Heat an oven to 200 degrees then turn it off. Place the flowers onto baking paper on a tray at the bottom the of the oven with the door slightly ajar for a couple of hours to dry them completely.
- When the flowers are totally dry, put them into a jar to store for 4-6 months. It's best to store them in a cool and dark place.
- When you want to make the tea, put a few flowers —around five flower heads is enough—into a cup and pour hot water over.
- Leave to steep for 5 minutes and then strain.
- Add honey or lemon if you like, and enjoy your cup of chamomile tea.
Final Word on the Benefits of Chamomile Tea
So all in all, it appears that while people have been using the herb for a very long time, scientists have not been able to find evidence to support the legends of this great medicinal herb. Whether science eventually backs up the many claims of healing properties remains to be seen. On the other hand, science has not shown that the potential side effects are common enough to be a serious concern, either.
So for now, word of mouth and personal experience seem to lead the way, and I suggest you make up your own mind.