Passion flower, also known as passiflora, is a nourishing and healthy fruit grown in tropical and subtropical regions. It has been widely used as a medicinal herb to alleviate sleep and nervous disorders in tropical countries and Native American cultures, and has become a popular treatment for insomnia and anxiety in Europe.1
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In fact, passion flower is approved by the German Commission E in the treatment of insomnia and nervousness. Passion flower is classified as a nervine relaxant herb that is beneficial for anxiety, insomnia, tension headaches and irritability.2
Based on cellular and animal studies, as well as human clinical trials, the medical literature supports a role for passion flower and other nervine herbs as effective alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs in the management of stress and anxiety.3
Researchers don't know exactly how passion flower works, but they theorize that the flavonoids and alkaloids regulate neurotransmitters that reduce anxiety. Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout your brain and body. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance.
Neurotransmitter levels can be depleted many ways. It is estimated that 86% of Americans have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels. Stress, poor diet--protein deficiency, poor digestion, poor blood sugar control, drug use (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine can deplete them.
A recent study found that when passion flower is given to patients before outpatient surgery, no other medication is necessary to reduce their anxiety.
Sixty patients were randomized into two groups that received either passion flower or a placebo 90 minutes before surgery. A numerical rating scale was used for each patient to assess anxiety and sedation before, and 10, 30, 60, and 90 minutes after receiving passion flower. The results showed that the anxiety scores of the passion flower group was significantly lower than the control group.4
A double-blind study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics in 2001 evaluated 32 people suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), the most common anxiety disorder. The primary symptoms of GAD are excessive anxiety and worry.
The patients were given daily doses of 45 drops of passion flower extract or 30 mg of oxazepam, a common anti-anxiety drug. After four weeks both groups showed a significant decrease in their anxiety symptoms. Although oxazepam worked more quickly in alleviating symptoms, those who took it had significantly more job performance problems.
The results suggest that passion flower extract is an effective drug for the management of generalized anxiety disorder, and the low incidence of impairment of job performance with passion flower extract compared to oxazepam is a huge advantage.5
In another study, researchers gave passion flower extract to alcohol-addicted mice undergoing alcohol withdrawal. The herbal extract reduced the mice's withdrawal anxiety by up to 90% compared to mice that received no treatment.6
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Krenn L. Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata L.)--a reliable herbal sedative] Wien Med Wochenschr. 2002;152(15-16):404-6. (In German)
Movafeqh A, Alizadeh R, Hajimohamadi F, Esfehani F, Nejatfar M. Preoperative oral Passiflora incarnata reduces anxiety in ambulatory surgery patients: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Anesth Analg. 2008 Jun;106(6):1728-32.
Akhondzadeh S, Naghavi HR, Vaziian M, Shayeganpour A, Rashidi H. Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trail with oxazepam. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics (2001) 26, 363-367.
Dhawan K, Kumar S, Sharma A.Suppression of alcohol-cessation-oriented hyper-anxiety by the benzoflavone moiety of Passiflora incarnata Linneaus in mice. J Enthnopharmacol. 2002 Jul;81(2):239-44.