7 benefits of chamomile experts want you to know

Chamomile for what ails you

Drinking chamomile tea is an oft-cited home remedy for better sleep – brew a cup before bed and feel sleepy and relaxed by the time your head hits the pillow.

But the benefits of tea go beyond calming restless minds. And all thanks to the small chamomile flower.

Chamomile is an herb that produces small white flowers that may seem insignificant, but have been used throughout history to make teas, tinctures, and liquid extracts.

“Chamomile has been widely used for many ailments throughout the ages, especially prior to modern medicine,” said Brenda Braslow, a Colorado-based registered dietitian-nutritionist with the nutrition tracking app MyNetDiary.

She lists headaches, anxiety, insomnia, skin conditions, and reproductive disorders as among the conditions that chamomile is used to treat. That, and stomachache.

Chamomile is traditionally used for a variety of gastrointestinal ailments, including digestive disorders, ‘spasm’ or colic, upset stomach, flatulence [gas]ulcers and gastrointestinal irritation,” said Vanessa Rissetto, a registered dietitian and co-founder of Culina Health in New York City and Hoboken, New Jersey.

What is chamomile?

The herb is part of the Asteraceae family, which also includes the purple coneflower (Echinacea), marigold, daisy and sunflower.

There are two main varieties of chamomile. English or Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum noble) is native to Western Europe and North Africa. German chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla) is usually found throughout Europe and Asia.

Both are similar in their medicinal properties, but their growing needs and appearance are a little different. German chamomile usually has feather-like leaves, while Roman chamomile has foliage more reminiscent of a fern.

Chamomile can easily grow unnoticed in a backyard or in the wild, with unassuming flowers that can’t compete with its more showy cousins.

The tea you drink is made of those flowers, each small and white with a yellow heart. They are harvested and dried before being sold as loose-leaf tea or scooped into tea bags.

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Chamomile Benefits

Chamomile contains compounds that can improve your health.

“The petals contain many bioactive chemicals, such as apigenin, quercetin, and nobilin, which have been shown to have a range of potential benefits, ranging from calming effects to aiding sleep to starving cancer to reducing gastrointestinal distress,” says William Li, MD, a physician, scientist, and author of Eat to beat sickness.

Braslow agrees that chamomile may help your health. “Chamomile tea is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds,” she says.

But before you load up on the tea, know this: Research on chamomile benefits is far from conclusive.

While there are some short-term studies highlighting chamomile’s effects, more long-term studies and trials in humans are needed before scientists can draw concrete conclusions.

Still, the eight potential chamomile benefits below might convince you to brew some chamomile tea tonight.

Relieves menstrual cramps

Every month, give or take, women may have some unpleasant cramps because of their periods.

Chamomile has antispasmodic properties, meaning it can relieve pain from muscle spasms.

“Chamomile contains a bioactive chemical called spiroether, which has an antispasmodic effect. This is believed to be why chamomile can help relieve menstrual cramps,” says Dr. Li.

More than 20 clinical studies have been conducted on chamomile as a source of relief for premenstrual cramps, and there is some evidence that it may reduce the severity of PMS symptoms, he says.

Can help the heart

“The antioxidant activity of chamomile may also protect the vascular cells that line blood vessels, which is critical for heart health,” says Dr. Li, who is also the president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, which focuses on drugs related to the growth of new capillary blood vessels in the body.

The main antioxidants are flavonoids, plant compounds found in many fruits and vegetables. They are believed to provide health benefits.

“It has been suggested that regular use of flavonoids consumed in food may reduce the risk of death from coronary heart disease in older men — and chamomile has a fair amount of flavonoids,” Rissetto says.

(Follow the heart health tips from these heart doctors.)

Helps you sleep better

Chamomile is often associated with insomnia and for a good night’s sleep.

“Chamomile has been shown to improve sleep quality, especially in the elderly. The effect is thought to be due to the bioactive apigenin that binds to the benzodiazepine receptor in the brain,” says Dr. Li. “These are the same brain receptors that get activated by drugs sometimes used to help sleep, such as Xanax and Valium,” says Dr. Li.

In 2014, a randomized control study was conducted in 77 elderly people in a nursing home to test whether chamomile extract could improve sleep quality.

The results, published in 2017 in the Education and health promotion magazineshowed that chamomile had calming properties.

Still, more studies are needed before we know for sure whether chamomile can help you catch some z’s.

Improves digestion and upset stomach

For centuries, chamomile tea or herbal tea has been drunk as a folk remedy to relieve stomach upset and aid digestion.

“Chamomile has been used by people for centuries to soothe their stomachs and to treat a variety of digestive problems, including upset stomach, gas, and ulcers,” Braslow says.

The same properties that make chamomile a good choice for menstrual cramps also help with abdominal pain.

“The antispasmodic properties of spiroether, which is found in chamomile, help explain its benefits for stomach upset,” says Dr. Li.

Animal research shows chamomile can reduce stomach acid, but more studies need to be done in humans, Braslow says.

But there’s little harm (more on that below) to drink a chamomile drink when you have a stomachache. “If you have occasional stomach upsets, drinking a cup of chamomile tea may help,” she says.

Can relieve stress and anxiety

“One of the natural bioactive chemicals in chamomile is apigenin, which can activate brain receptors that help reduce anxiety and induce sleep,” says Dr. Li.

Chamomile probably won’t replace your anti-anxiety medication (and it shouldn’t), but it can be an adjunct treatment to reduce stress and anxiety.

“It can be helpful to drink chamomile tea to calm your nerves if you have occasional anxiety or stress,” Braslow says. “However, there is limited research with small sample sizes to support its use for the treatment of anxiety disorders.”

Can help the immune system

“Chamomile has been shown to reduce inflammation, which is part of the immune system, which may explain its benefits for relieving cold symptoms,” says Dr. Li.

Clears acne

Occasionally, chamomile is used as a remedy in the form of an ointment or paste to treat acne.

“Chamomile has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, so it’s often used topically to treat acne,” Braslow says.

But consult a professional before covering your face with chamomile.

“While a paste made with ground chamomile may have anti-inflammatory properties, see a dermatologist to decide if it’s the best way to treat the skin,” says Dr. Li.

Risks or Side Effects

Like other herbs and medicines, chamomile can have side effects. Here are some allergies and risks to watch out for.

It can cause allergies

There is always a possibility that someone is allergic to chamomile.

“Chamomile belongs to the same family as ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies, so it can potentially cause an allergic reaction in individuals who are allergic to these plants, which can occur when taken by mouth or when used on the skin,” Braslow says. “Allergic reactions may include chest tightness, wheezing, skin irritation, rash, hives, itching, and vomiting.”

If you have hay fever, you may want to check if you are allergic to chamomile by having an allergy test done with the doctor before drinking the stuff.

“People with severe hay fever can have an allergic reaction to chamomile,” says Dr. Li.

It is quite rare for someone to have a severe allergic reaction to chamomile, but it can happen.

“According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health” [NCCIH]there have been some reports of severe allergic reactions occurring after individuals consume chamomile products,” says Braslow.

It can thin blood

Chamomile contains coumarin, a natural blood-thinning substance.

“It should never be used by people taking blood-thinning medications, such as Coumadin, because it can have a dangerous additive effect,” Braslow says.

The ability to think the blood is why you should stop taking it two weeks before or after surgery, she says.

It can cause drowsiness

Chamomile can make you drowsy or sleepy. While that makes it a good drink to sip before bed, it’s one reason to avoid the tea before driving.

“Because chamomile can cause drowsiness, it should not be taken before driving or operating heavy machinery,” says Dr. Li.

How Much Chamomile Tea Should You Drink?

“Drinking one to three cups of chamomile a day, especially at bedtime, can be beneficial for its calming effects,” says Dr. Li.

For health benefits, such as treating occasional anxiety or stress or to soothe an upset stomach, sipping a cup of chamomile tea may be helpful, according to Braslow.

“As with anything,” she says, “moderation is always wise to avoid unwanted side effects.”

What you need to know before you buy

Herbs and herbal supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it’s important to do your research and talk to medical professionals before taking them, especially if you want to treat specific conditions.

“Unlike drugs, herbal supplements are not regulated with supervision for quality control, for the accuracy of a specific amount of substance, or the presence of other ingredients,” Braslow says. “Basically, you’re on your own to check if you’re getting any benefits, getting side effects from herbal medications, or experiencing negative side effects from taking them.”

But before drinking chamomile tea or using other forms of chamomile, check with your health care provider, especially if you have a health condition or are taking any medications.

“If you have a medical condition or are taking any other medications, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor or pharmacist if it’s safe for you to take chamomile, especially if you’re planning on using a powerful chamomile extract in the form of take a tincture or supplement. Braslow says.

This is what happens to your body next when you drink tea every day.

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