Passion Flower is commonly found in North America and is a popular remedy for anxiety and mood disorders. It is also known to be a sleeping aid, sedative, antispasmodic, and to reduce general nervous tension. It is reported to have a more calming effect than chamomile and lemon balm. It can be bought as an extract, tea, and tablet form.
The flower, fruit, leaves, stems and roots are often used however, the potent components are found in the roots, stems and leaves.
One of the molecules responsible for its anti-depressant affects is a harmala alkaloid. Interestingly, harmala alkaloids have been found in wine, beer and cigarette smoke. Nevertheless, harmala has been reported to protect mitochondria in neurons from oxidative damage by acting as a free radical scavenger. Harmala also increases the release of serotonin and GABA. The increase in serotonin release accounts for the calming effect of this molecule. Serotonin is known as the feel good transmitter and brings about a sense of well being allowing for your mood to be elevated. It has also been used to treat snake bites possibly by inhibiting the clotting process. Other molecular components include flavones such as apigenin, luteolin, orientin and chrysin.
Both basic and clinical research demonstrates that apigenin is involved with the reduction in anxiety. The molecule is known to bind to a benzodiazepine site on GABA A receptors that enhances GABA binding by allowing the channel to stay open longer. This inhibits the neuron effectively turning it off for some time. This promotes calmness in the brain. Apigenin is also found in chamomile and accounts for its calming effects as well.
Chrysin is an aromatase inhibitor and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties believed to be by way of inhibiting COX-2 expression by stimulating the production of interleukins (second messengers). COX-2 is associated with inflammation particularly in the joints. Chrysin also has anti-anxiety properties which is believed to be by way of the GABA pathway. It has been suggested that it also binds to the benzodiazepine site on GABA A receptors. This allows GABA A channels to remain open longer allowing more chloride to flow into the cell. This makes it difficult for the neuron to be excited again by other inputs effectively inhibiting the cell. This creates the calming effect seen by the passion flower. This also true of apigenin.
Chrysin and apigenin have also been reported to inhibit breast, prostate and thyroid cancer growth in animal studies done on rats. These molecules have also been reported to inhibit monoamine oxidase as well which may explain the anti-depressant effects of the passion flower.
Although passion flower has been used for a number of health issues for a long time, scientific evidence is somewhat scant. Most of the research has been done on animals and in particular mice and rats. Nevertheless, the passion flower's ability to behave as and anti-anxiety remedy has been tested on humans. Clinical studies have been done on patients who needed surgery. They were administered passion flower before they had surgery. Passion flower appeared to have a calming effect on all patients. And, very similar to what benzodiazepines do. However, the nice thing was that the dependency and tolerance that comes with benzodiazepines was not observed. Furthermore, experiments on rats demonstrated that long-term use of passion flower was able to inhibit dependency of benzodiazepines to rats that had been administered benzodiazepines. So it would seen that passion flower has the ability to relieve some drug withdrawal symptoms.
Currently, passion flower is being used to treat various types of seizures, asthma, attention deficit, hyperactivity, arrhythmias, hypertension, fibromyalgia and pain. It is also used for skin infections and bug bites. Not to mention the fact that it is also used as a flavoring in food. Some of the molecules found in passion flower are also found in lemon balm and chamomile. Remember, the stems roots and leaves contain most of the potent medicinal benefits.