Study shows the potential of a TCM essential oil for alleviating depression and anxiety
12/18/2018 // Ellaine Castillo // Views

Living with a mental health disorder is no easy task. Although they are not as visible as physical conditions, they can be just as bad or at times even worse. Over the years, the number of people who suffer from mental health problems continues to rise. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that there are more than 300 million cases of depression, which is one of the most prevalent mental disorders. Conventional drugs are available for the treatment of this condition. However, these are very pricey and are also associated with adverse side effects. Because of these, it is important to find other treatments that are safe, effective, and easily accessible to those who need them. A group of researchers from Hebei Medical University in China found a potential alternative to antidepressants in SuHeXiang, an essential oil extracted from oriental sweetgum (Liquidambar orientalis Mill).

Depression is tightly linked with another mental health disorder called anxiety. Approximately 50 percent of depressed patients also suffer from this disease. These diseases share common treatments, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), because of their co-occurrence. However, these drugs are oftentimes limited by their slow action, poor response rates, and potential drug resistance. Moreover, taking them can also cause side effects like nausea, diarrhea, headaches, sleep disturbances, weight gain, and increased risk of suicidal thoughts so natural products are highly preferred. The key to finding better treatments is to understand how these diseases develop. According to previous studies, depression is caused by overactive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and increased inflammation, which can damage blood vessels and promote clotting. From these, it can be determined that alternative treatments should exhibit potent neuroprotective activities.


SuHeXiang is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat seizures, loss of consciousness, and stroke. Moreover, there are recent studies showing that this essential oil protects against Alzheimer's and its associated memory loss. It was also observed to regulate functions of the central nervous system by utilizing the gamma-aminobutyric acid pathways. Based on these, the authors of the study hypothesized that SuHeXiang has neuroprotective properties that could work against depression and anxiety.

In this study, which was published in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, the researchers determined the antidepressant and anti-anxiety activities of SuHeXiang in mice with stress-induced depression. They administered the essential oil through inhalation, which was done for either 10 or 30 minutes. The researchers used different experiments to observe the mice for anxiety and depression-like behaviors. From there, they observed that inhalation of SuHeXiang significantly reduced anxiety and depression-like behaviors.

The authors of the study also assessed the effects of inhalation on the serum profile of the mice. They saw that those treated with SuHeXiang had lower levels of pro-inflammatory proteins, which is beneficial since brain inflammation is associated with depression and other neurological disorders. In addition, the researchers also observed lower levels of thrombopoietin and angiogenin, which are involved in platelet activity and the formation of blood vessels respectively. Similar to inflammation, these two processes also cause depression.

From this study, the researchers concluded that SuHeXiang has potent antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects, which can be attributed to its ability to reduce inflammation and platelet activity. These results prove that this traditional Chinese Medicine has potential use as an alternative to dangerous antidepressants and anxiolytic medications. (Related: SSRI horrors grow: women who take popular antidepressants risk babies with severe high blood pressure.)

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