When your body undergoes physical or psychological stress, the hypothalamus is activated within your brain, thus causing a release of hormones including cortisol. Cortisol is stored in the adrenal cortex of the kidneys and its primary purpose is to regulate how energy is produced, such as by drawing energy from carbohydrates, proteins or fats. One effect of cortisol is fat accumulation. Passionflower is a potent herb used for centuries as a calming agent. While passionflower does not directly influence cortisol production, it may indirectly cause a reduction in cortisol through stress and anxiety relief.
Passionflower Constituents and Studies
The active constituents that provide the medicinal benefits in passionflower are currently unknown to scientists. However, it is suggested passionflower works by increasing the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. This chemical reduces brain cell activity, resulting in a relaxed state. The University of Maryland Medical Center outlines a study where 36 participants with generalized anxiety disorder were given passionflower. At the conclusion of the study, researchers found passionflower was as effective at treating anxiety as the prescription oxazepam. However, this study did not have a placebo group, so the results are questionable. Other, more definitive, studies have shown passionflower to be more effective at reducing anxiety symptoms than placebo groups.
Affects on Coritsol
The “American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry” cites a study performed by Washington University School of Medicine where researchers studied the levels of cortisol in participants with generalized anxiety disorder. The severity of anxiety was reduced when cortisol levels were also reduced. Since passionflower has shown promise in relieving anxiety symptoms, it is possible that it also reduces stress, leading to a reduction in cortisol. Further studies are required to determine the effectiveness of passionflower on cortisol.
The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests consuming passionflower as a tea. To do so, bring 1 cup of water to a rolling boil and then remove it from the heat. Add 1 tsp. of dried passionflower to the water, and steep for 10 minutes. Strain, and consume three to four cups per day to relieve anxiety symptoms.
Prior to starting a supplementation routine with passionflower, discuss its use and safety with your doctor. As with any herbal supplement, passionflower may cause adverse side effects. For passionflower these may include confusion, dizziness, altered consciousness, rapid heart beat, drowsiness and nausea. Pregnant women should not take passionflower; MedlinePlus reports this herb contains several chemicals that may cause uterus contractions.
- "ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal"; Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight; Christine A. Maglione-Garves, et al.; 2005
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Passionflower; Steven D. Ehrlich, N.M.D.; March 2009
- Williams College Peer Health: Facts About Stress
- “American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry”; Elevated Cortisol in Older Adults With Generalized Anxiety Disorder Is Reduced By Treatment: A Placebo-Controlled Evaluation of Escitalopram.; E.J. Lenze, et al.; May 2011
- MedlinePlus; Passionflower; April 2011