Every time I see daisies, I can’t help but think about Chamomile. Chamomile is a member of the daisy family and has been used throughout Europe and Asia for its medicinal value. This herb is available in capsule, liquid and tea form and is prized for its ability to sooth the gastrointestinal tract and improve digestion. It is reported to provide relief for individuals who have inflammatory bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. It is also known to have a calming effect on the nervous system and has the ability to decrease anxiety and promote peaceful sleep. In a lotion or cream form, it helps minor cuts and insect bites. If you are allergic to ragweed or chrysanthemums, it is best to stay away from this product as they contain similar components. Chamomile contains sesquiterpenes, phenolic compounds, flavonoids (apigenin) and coumarin (blood thinner).
Sesquiterpenes are essential oils that carry oxygen and can deliver this to cells. This group of molecular compounds have the ability to interfere with cancer cells and their ability to survive by correcting mutated DNA and providing an oxygen environment tumor cells don’t like. In fact, the presence of extra oxygen causes tumor cells to stop developing. Phenolic compounds and flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that scavenge free radicals and prevent cellular damage. Apigenin provides for a calming or sedative affect as it binds to the benzodiazepine site on GABA receptors. Chamomile also contains coumarin which is known to act as a blood thinner allowing for increased blood circulation and delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues and organs. It is probably best not to take chamomile if you are taking sedatives or blood thinners such as Warfarin (Coumadin) or aspirin. Taking another sedative may make you too drowsy to function and perhaps fall asleep and taking extra blood thinners may cause unexpected internal bleeding.
Clinical and basic research support that chamomile helps to reduce anxiety and the molecular component responsible for this effect is apigenin. Apigenin binds to the benzodiazepine binding site of the GABA A receptor. The GABA A receptor is found presynaptically and is part of a chloride channel. When the neurotransmitter GABA binds to its receptor this causes the GABA A channel to open and allows negative chloride ions to enter the cell from the outside. This causes the inside of the cell to become more negative. This means that if a excitatory input occurs in the cell it won’t be able to fire again because it is too negative. So the cell sits quietly. The neurotransmitter GABA prevents the nervous system from being over stimulated by excitatory transmitters. Now, the drug benzodiazepine is used to treat anxiety (tranquilizer) and it binds to an allosteric (other) site on the GABA receptor causing the chloride channel to stay open longer allowing for more chloride to get into the cell making
the inside of the cell even more negative. The cell is inhibited even more than with just GABA alone. Apigenin (to your left) happens to bind to the benzodiazepine site and therefore allows the channel to stay open longer allowing for more negative chloride ions to come through to the inside of the cell. That causes the cell not to fire even when an excitatory input comes in. This keeps the nervous system from being over excited. So, this is how apigenin has the ability to calm the nervous system. Generally individuals that have anxiety, have too much excitatory inputs and not enough inhibitory inputs so their neurotransmitters are out of balance. Drugs like benzodiazepines (to your left and below) and natural supplements like apigenin may help to restore neurotransmitter balance and bring behavior back to normal. Notice the similarity between apigenin and benzodiazepine chemical structure. They both contain 3 rings however they are arranged differently. Nevertheless, they are able to bind the same site. The nice thing about apigenin is that it is not addicting. Benzodiazepines are very addicting and once the drug is terminated, withdrawal symptoms become apparent. Benzodiazepines cause the genome to change genetic expression and alter cell function for some time to come. Again, you don’t have to worry about that with apigenin. Patients report great success with anxiety control by using chamomile. Quite often all that is needed is one to two cups of chamomile in tea form. Just taking the time to sit down and enjoy a hot cup of tea can be relaxing in its own right.
Apigenin has also been reported to have anti-depressant properties as well. Behavioral and chemical testing suggests this. It has been suggested that this action takes place by way of dopamine pathways by binding to dopamine receptors. The neurotransmitter dopamine is both excitatory and inhibitory. It just depends what receptor type it binds to. In other words, the receptor determines whether it is excitatory or inhibitory. Although the transmitter dopamine has many functions in the brain it is primarily involved with pleasure and reward. When dopamine systems are in balance all is well however, out of balance brings about all kinds of aberrant behaviors from everything to depression, abnormal motor movements to extreme thrill seeking behaviors. It’s not unusual to have serotonin and dopamine levels imbalanced so its nice to know you can kill two birds with one stone by taking chamomile.