Chamomile: Health Benefits and Side Effects

Jessica Lewis
November 26, 2016

chamomille_health_benefits_350x340Chamomile is one of the oldest medicinal plants known and used by humanity. Medicine people have put chamomile to good use and created naturist treatments for various health issues. The world’s greatest empires have acknowledged its healing abilities, but the plant’s popularity did not reach a peak until the Middle Ages when people included it in their home-made remedies. Chamomile contains numerous active compounds with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and even anti-cancer properties. No wonder people drink chamomile tea on a regular basis. It is easily understandable why specialists hold such respect to it, given that it can cure fever, inflammation, menstrual and sleep disorders, ulcers, wounds and the list can continue. Lately, the cosmetic industry as well has begun to take full advantage of its essential oils and included them in skin care products.

What is Chamomile?

Chamomile or camomile is a daisy-like herb, part of the Asteraceae/Compositae family. There are many chamomile varieties. The two most popular are Matricaria recutita or German chamomile and Chamaemelum nobile, also known as Roman chamomile. They treat similar medical conditions, in spite of belonging to different species. Chamomile is a wild, edible plant that appears each year. It can easily be mistaken with weed, given its tendency to grow along roadsides. It thrives in warm and sunny environments; some species prefer moist soils while others enjoy more sandy ones. The plant grows quickly and does not require much to prosper. Chamomile flowers are small, with a diameter of 2.5 centimeters wide. They have tiny white petals circling a cone-shaped yellow center.

The flowers bloom during summer, but if the environment allows it, the plant can produce them well into the autumn months. Regarding harvesting, the flowers can be picked by hand or using various tools. The leaves are one of the main visible differences between chamomile species. The German chamomile leaves are light green and twice-divided into linear segments. It is mainly found in Europe and Western Asia where it grows freely and does not need cultivation. The Roman chamomile’s leaves are twice and even thrice divided into long linear segments; the plant has an overall more solid aspect than the German chamomile. Its height ranges between 50 centimeters and 1 meter. All chamomile parts are beneficial when included in different treatments. The leaves and flowers are edible, but the latter is the herb’s most potent portion with the best antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacities. Chamomile is one of the herbs not easily affected by pests. People plant chamomile amongst other vegetables in their gardens because it has a strong scent and can keep pests away.

Chamomile Compounds

Specialists regard chamomile as a miracle plant with multiple health benefits. Many of them consider it the counterpart of Chinese Ginseng which says much about the strength of its properties. Herbs have integrated studies both traditional and non-traditional medicine for thousands of years. Such is the case with chamomile, appreciated for its resistance to environmental conditions and active compounds. The plant contains volatile oils with very strong abilities. Aside from them, chamomile also has secondary metabolites including 28 terpenoids and 36 flavonoids. The most important flavonoids found in the herb are quercetin, apigenin, and patuletin.

  1. Apigenin is probably the most powerful chamomile flavonoid. It has remarkable antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties and is extensively found in many plants and herbs such as parsley, onions, oranges and some seasonings.

Chamomile remains its most important source. Infusions of chamomile contain the maximum apigenin concentration. Research projects show that a diet rich in flavones is directly linked to a decreased risk of breast, skin, prostate and digestive tract cancer. The anti-cancer capacities of apigenin were proven in a skin carcinogenesis model. The results indicated high effectiveness against skin tumors when apigenin was applied on the skin as a topical cream. Moreover, apigenin administration reduced the occurrence of UV light-induced cancer. It also regulates protease production to impede cancer cell spreading or possible metastases. Experts claim that apigenin is also effective against oxidative stress, therefore preventing severe medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease or neurological disorders. More studies are to be conducted in this regard.[1]

  1. Essential oils: chamomile’s essential oils are extracted from its two famous species, namely the German and Roman chamomile. They are similar regarding medicinal effect. They both possess anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-infectious and healing properties. Even so, they are different in chemical structure, so there are particular qualities to each of them.

Roman chamomile oil contains Beta Pinene, Sabinene, Myrcene, Gamma-Terpinene, Propyl Angelate and Butyl Angelate. It has a sweet scent and is more calming and relaxing. The European cosmetic industry includes it in skin care products and massage oils.

German chamomile, on the other hand, is a more powerful anti-inflammatory substance due to the presence of alpha bisabolol and bisabolol oxides A and B in its composition. Alpha bisabolol or simply bisabolol is a colorless, viscous oil and the primary constituent of the German chamomile oil. It is soluble in ethanol and has a sweet floral aroma which makes it suitable for various fragrances.

Studies suggest that alpha bisabolol is efficient against acute leukemia cells because it induces apoptosis. The substance can produce toxic compounds which enter the cancer cells through lipid rafts. Apoptosis eventually leads to cells’ death. Alpha bisabolol is also used in treating gastric and intestinal disorders. It reduces the quantity of pepsin, a proteolytic enzyme that breaks down proteins into peptides. Pepsin is one of the main proteases of the digestive system and the primary cause of mucosal damage as the result of laryngopharyngeal reflux.

The substance can produce toxic compounds which enter the cancer cells through lipid rafts. Apoptosis eventually leads to cells’ death. Alpha bisabolol is also used in treating gastric and intestinal disorders. It reduces the quantity of pepsin, a proteolytic enzyme that breaks down proteins into peptides.

Pepsin is one of the main proteases of the digestive system and the primary cause of mucosal damage as the result of laryngopharyngeal reflux. According to various specialists, pepsin plays a role in carcinogenesis due to gastric reflux. Therefore, bisabolol can be regarded as a pepsin inhibitor and digestive system protector. Alpha bisabolol does not influence the gastric acid amount. Alongside with bisabolol oxides A and B, it differs in quantities, depending on the chamomile flower’s growth stage. They usually reach a maximum when the flower is in full bloom. The amount decreases shortly after that. The flowers can still accumulate essential oils while they go through the drying process, following the harvesting.

  1. Chamazulene is an aromatic chemical compound found in a variety of plants pertaining to the Asteraceae family. The substance is responsible for the varieties of blue that appear as a result of the oil being exposed to steam dilatation.

Chamazulene is a member of the Azulene group. Azulenes are not regarded as active substances, but latent ones; the azulene amount in a plant will determine the oil’s color composition. Chamomile’s chamazulene is essential for the chamomile oil structure, and it severely alters its color following the steam dilatation. The compound acts as an anti-inflammatory in conditions related to skin and bowel diseases. According to a study on chamazulene’s role against leukotriene B4 formation( a leukotriene that causes inflammation), researchers have discovered that chamazulene can successfully inhibit it.

Main Health Benefits of Chamomile

chamomille_health_benefits_350x251Chamomile has three primary preparation forms: dried flowers, tincture, and essential oils. The medicinal compounds are usually extracted from the dried chamomile flowers by using either water or ethanol(for compounds insoluble in water) to dissolve them. Chamomile tea is currently one of the most appreciated herbal teas with about a million cups consumed daily. Even so, the plant is recognized not only for its distinctive aroma and soothing properties. Traditional medicine as well as the non-traditional one use chamomile in treating all kinds of medical conditions from minor skin rashes to diabetes and even cancer. The following are some of the chamomile’s health benefits.

  1. Anti-inflammatory Properties

Chamomile flowers contain various essential oils of which alpha bisabolol, bisabolol oxides A and B and chamazulene are the most important. The substances have strong anti-inflammatory properties as shown in a study done on human volunteers. The participants used topic cleansers enriched with chamomile’s essential oils. The results pointed towards alpha bisabolol and chamazulene’s efficiency in penetrating the skin surface and reaching its inner layers.

  1. Anti-cancer Properties

Studies have shown that the essential oils found in chamomile are useful in the fight against cancer. Most of the research projects conducted in regards to chamomile’s anti-cancer capacities were done using apigenin. Many specialists consider apigenin to be chamomile’s most valuable flavonoid due to its mechanism of action.

The active constituents found in chamomile have been tested in preclinical models of skin, breast, and ovarian cancer. All of them pointed towards the essential oils’ inhibitory effects. Apigenin, one of the oils, has alleged medical benefits in leukemia risk reduction. Apigenin exposure led to apoptosis in cancer cells because the substance was able to modify the molecules carrying genetic information and bring them back to a normal state. Experts claim that the molecules’ abnormality status is the primary cause behind almost 80% of cancers. The healthy cells remain unaffected following exposure to apigenin. Chamomile tea is supposedly efficient in preventing thyroid cancer. Scientists conducting a study published in the Journal of European Health concluded that chamomile tea consumed on a regular basis could protect the thyroid against cancer cell spreading.

  1. Cardiovascular Disease Prevention

Cardiovascular diseases are unfortunately uncommon amongst people of all ages. They appear as the result of abnormality occurrence at the blood vessel level. Atherosclerosis is the first stage in a cardiovascular disease development and implies the accumulation of plaque consisting of cholesterol inside the arteries. In time, the plaque narrows them, blocking the blood flow and leading to higher blood pressure and blood clots.

Atherosclerosis can cause heart attacks, stroke, and even death. Of all known chamomile compounds, the flavonoids are the ones appreciated for their influence on cardiovascular health. Specialists affirm that regular use of foods and beverages rich in flavonoids reduce both the risk of heart disease in middle aged people and that of death in elderly men already suffering from a heart condition. A study done on the subject of flavonoids’ impact on cardiovascular health showed the benefits of flavonoid-rich food consumption. The 805 male participants aged 65 to 84 years with daily intakes of flavonoids were followed for five consecutive years. At the end of the study, the risk of mortality from coronary heart disease significantly decreased in most men. Doctors do not recommend excessive consumption of chamomile tea to patients suffering from high blood pressure. There are not enough well-designed research projects done in regards to chamomile’s heart health related benefits.

  1. Diabetes

Chamomile is also useful in preventing diabetes or alleviating certain symptoms in patients who have diabetes. Studies suggest that chamomile tea lowers the blood sugar levels associated with diabetes occurrence. The compounds found in dried chamomile leaves increase the liver glycogen storage and diminish hyperglycemia-related oxidative stress to some extent.

Researchers from the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research in the United Kingdom and the University of Toyama in Japan conducted a study on the positive impact of chamomile on diabetic rats for 21 days. The rodents were split into two groups. The first was given regular doses of chamomile extract. The second group was fed a normal diet that excluded chamomile. At the end of the three-week period, the specialists concluded that the rats consuming chamomile registered a significant decrease in blood sugar levels. Chamomile use also inhibited two of the enzymes responsible for damage caused by diabetes. The results of experiments done on rats or any other animal are not 100% reliable and applicable to human subjects. Additional studios are necessary to reach a conclusion.[2]

  1. Skin-Related Issues

Chamomile’s essential properties are the anti-inflammatory ones. Traditional medicine, in particular, uses chamomile to treat skin related issued. Topical or oral use of chamomile flowers may alleviate signs of eczema, burns, scrapes and even psoriasis, but scientific research backs none of these medical issues at the present moment.

The herb’s antimicrobial activity may be one of the reasons why chamomile is so extensively used in treating skin problems. Experiments done on various chamomile species showed a decrease in the discomfort produced by eczema when creams containing chamomile extract were applied to the affected areas. The essential oils are beneficial in treating burns and scrapes as well if used on the burned area, as it offers a soothing sensation. Even so, there are more competent and rapid medical treatments available on the market.

  1. Gastrointestinal Conditions

People use chamomile tea to provide relief from various gastrointestinal disorders including the irritable bowel syndrome, stomach aches, flatulence or even ulcers. Chamomile is efficient in relieving flatulence and soothing the mucous membrane of the digestive tract because of its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. The herb is also used in treating indigestion. Chamomile tea in small doses can successfully treat diarrhea and diarrhea-related conditions in children.

  1. Menstrual Cramps

Menstrual cramps are a problem many women face every month. They are the consequence of contractions in the uterus. If the contractions are too powerful, the uterus puts extra pressure on the blood vessels and blocks the oxygen supply to the muscle tissues. Studies show that chamomile can ease the spasms in the uterus and increase the glycine levels. Glycine is an amino acid that relaxes the nerves and diminishes cramp frequency. Most women who rely on chamomile tea for pain relief usually drink about two cups daily during their periods. Chamomile may affect the estrogen levels. Women suffering from uterine or breast cancer should not drink chamomile tea unless a doctor recommends it so.

  1. Vaginitis

Vaginitis is another medical issue women suffer from. It is associated with pain during urination, itching, and vaginal discharge. Chamomile douche is one of the methods women try because they regard the plant as safe and with few side effects when used in this manner. It is for the best to address a physician for a proper vaginitis treatment, in spite of this home remedy’s known benefits and properties.

  1. Common Cold Symptoms

Chamomile tea can be efficient in treating common cold symptoms such as coughs, sore throat, sneezing or headaches. Fluids in general, but more notably the warm ones, can flush the harmful bacteria and microbes out of one’s system. Another way in which people can reduce the symptoms is by inhaling the steam coming from the tea. It supposedly soothes the discomfort caused by respiratory infections.

  1. Home Remedy for Insomnia

Traditional medicine extensively uses teas and essential oils to treat insomnia and induce a state of calmness. Chamomile tea is one of the most appreciated ones, and it has proven sleep inducing qualities. There are no well-designed studies to indicate the herb’s efficiency as a sleep aid. Still, extract from chamomile acts in a similar manner to that of benzodiazepines, exhibiting a hypnotic activity.

  1. Mouth Sores

Mouth sores, also known as mouth ulcers, are painful blisters that appear on the inside of the cheek, tongue and lips. They initially offer a tingling sensation but with time mouth sores can make chewing and swallowing hard to bear. There is not much research conducted on chamomile tea’s capacity to treat this kind of ulcers. Nonetheless, many people have confessed that it can be used as an effective mouthwash that relieves mouth sores.

  1. Relaxation

The herb has many properties but probably the most studied one is chamomile oils’ capacity to reduce stress and induce a state of relaxation. The oil’s scent has a calming effect. Chamomile tea as well is beneficial in case of sleep problems. Recent research projects conducted on chamomile extract’s properties have shown possible effects in patients suffering from anxiety and seizure. An experimental study on anxiety and self-esteem in Korean senior women has shown the positive impact of aromatherapy massage on the participants. The women were put into 2 groups, with the first one benefiting from the aromatherapy massage using chamomile, lavender, and lemon essential oils. The sessions lasted for 20 minutes and were performed 3 times a day for 3 weeks with an intervening 1-week break. The results showed improvement in self-esteem for women in the first group. The medicinal plant is also good for easing menstrual cramps and backaches, as well as relaxing sore muscles.[3][4]

Side Effects of Using Chamomile

Chamomile is regarded as a reliable herb with few active compounds that can produce allergic reactions. The Food and Drug Administration included it on its list of chemically safe plants with minimal side effects and low toxicity levels. Most people who are sensitive to members of the Asteraceae/ Compositae family such as chrysanthemum or dahlia are more prone to developing allergies when consuming chamomile tea. A study done of hay fever patients suffering from conjunctivitis showed that eye washing with chamomile tea worsened the eye inflammation. Other side effects include nausea or vomiting as a result of excessive consumption. It is not safe to drink chamomile tea before driving or doing other activities that require full attention because the herb has sedative effects. Also, chamomile is a natural blood thinner. Doctors do not recommend its use in combination with blood thinner medication. While there are no proofs in regards to its possible toxicity, pregnant and nursing women as well as young children should avoid the use of chamomile oil.

Chamomile has been used as a medicinal plant since ancient times and continues to be appreciated by the majority of people for its multiple health related benefits. There is a high demand for chamomile on the market because of its use in traditional and non-traditional medicine and luckily there is plenty of it for everyone’s need. As a drug, it is beneficial in treating flatulence, stomach aches and intermittent fever. In terms of external use, it can be applied as a powder or cleanser(when it is enriched with chamomile extract) on wounds and scrapes. It has many healing properties for a plant its size. Chamomile can fight everything from cancer cell spreading to oxidative stress, lowers blood sugar levels and alleviates common cold symptoms. It is safe for everybody, given that various health associations promote its consumption.