Latin name; Melissa officinalis
Pharmacopoeial name; Melissae folium
Other names: balm, common balm, Melissa, sweet balm
About Lemon Balm
The name Melissa is from the Greek word for bee, referring to the bees attraction to its flower and the quality of the honey produced from it. In Germany. Lemon Balm is licensed as a standard medicinal tea for sleep disorders and gastrointestinal tract disorders. It is often combined with other sedative and/or carminative herbs.
Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) has traditionally been used for the treatment of headaches, gastrointestinal diseases, neurological and rheumatoid conditions (1,2). M. officinalis from Lamiaceae family, is a perennial herbaceous plant which grows vastly from the central and southern Europe to Iran and central Asia. It is also cultivated worldwide for its edible properties (3,4). The plant has been used in a variety of ways from a sedative and mild hypnotic drug, and reducing the heart rate, antibacterial, antiinflammatory, antivirus, antispasmodic, antioxidant, to a neurotherapeutic agent, peripheral analgesic, as well as a binding agent to cholinergic receptors (5,6).
The most important ingredients in the plant are known to be phenolic compounds, rosmarinic acid, caffeic acid, cholinergic acid, metrilic acid; flavonoids such as luteolin, apigenin and monoterpene derivatives; the sesquiterpenes including beta-caryophyllene and germacrene; triterpenes such as oleanolic and ursolic acid; volatile oil, and tannins (3).
Uses of Lemon Balm
Although the lipid-lowering mechanism of M. officinalis is not clearly understood, studies have shown that regular and daily drinking of M. officinalis tea may improve the metabolic parameters like cholesterol and triglycerides in humans (7). In addition, M. officinalis has the potential to inhibit hypercholesterolemia, to reduce serum lipid concentrations and lipid peroxidation in the liver (8). Evidence show M. officinalis oils have various pharmacological effects which are mainly related to volatile terpenoids such as geranial, cineol and caffeic acid (1).
In one study of hypercholesterolaemia, Changizi- Ashtiyani et al. have shown that M. officinalis and barberry extract can reduce serum cholesterol, low- density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglyceride. However, the hypolipidemic properties of alcoholic extract of M. officinalis are greater than those of barberry root, most likely related to the antioxidant properties of M. officinalis and its effect on increasing thyroid hormone (9).
M. officinalis essential oil also has anti diabetic properties and improves glucose tolerance and adjusts the expression of the genes involved in hepatic gluconeogenesis. Studies by Chang et al. have shown that daily uptake of M. officinalis at low doses can cause hypoglycemia by increasing glucose uptake and its metabolism in the liver, as well as by gluconeogenesis inhibition (10).
The impact of M. officinalis extract on reducing liver enzymes is known to be due to its powerful antioxidant properties. Its flavonoids have a protective effect on liver against damages caused by free radicals because of their inhibitory effect on the cytochrome system. Flavonoids can also protect the cells against glutathione depletion by increasing the capacity of the antioxidant enzymes (glutathione reductase, oxidase and catalase) (11).
The results of the study done by Zarei et al. on the impact of M. officinalis extract on the function of pituitary-thyroid axis showed increased thyroid hormone levels and reduced levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) (12). Initially M. officinalis extract increases the secretion of TRH and TSH and consequently it increases the amount of T3 and T4, this increase in T3 and T4 can finally reduce TSH level through exerting a negative feedback effect. Since M. officinalis extract can reduce blood lipid levels, it is most likely that at least part of this effect is exerted by increasing thyroid hormone (9).
M. officinalis compounds are able to bind to acetylcholine; moreover, they contain an inhibitory effect on the acetylcholinesterase (AChE) enzyme and thus are able to improve cognitive functions like memory (13).
The anti-nociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects of M. officinalis are attributed to the rosmarinic acid and flavonoids and terpenoids present in the extract. Probably flavonoids have a more effective role by facilitating prostaglandin synthesis. The analgesic activity of flavonoids is through moderating opioidergic mechanism (14,15).
In animal models its clear and strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects has been shown in comparison to those of a standard analgesic and anti-inflammatory drug (indomethacin) (16).
Results of several studies indicate that the aqueous extract of M. officinalis with the dose of 5 mg/kg has anxiolytic effect, whereas at higher doses it has a sedative effect. The anxiolytic effects are dose dependent and may be applied through opioid receptors (17). it seems that the anxiolytic properties of M. officinalis may also be due to binding to GABA type receptors (18).
In some European countries, the herb extract is used as a relaxant especially when there is disruption in the first stage of sleep due to stressful factors (19). A study on the effect of the extract on Alzheimer’s patients found that M. officinalis extract can reduce agitation.
The administration of extract caused sound sleep and has reduced muscle tone in people with sleep and neurological disorders. M. officinalis extract has also resulted in a significant improvement in insomnia, irritability, headaches, and heart disease in mentally ill patients (17). Ibarra et al. studied the effects of chronic administration of M. officinalis extract on anxiety reactions and circadian activities and showed that the use of this extract reduces anxiety like reactivities. Because the herb extract contains significant amounts of rosmarinic acid, oleanolic acid, ursolic acid, and triterpenoids, it is most likely that these compounds inhibit GABA transport activity and increase GABA level in brain (20,21).
Akhondzadeh et al. study in which M. officinalis extract was administrated to patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s for 4 months has shown a significant improvement in their behavioral and cognitive symptoms and a decrease in anxiety and apprehension. The incidence of these effects is likely due to the stimulating function of acetylcholine receptors. Similarly, Perry et al. confirm the healing effects of M. officinalis on memory disorders which are due to its cholinergic activity (22).
Studies have also shown that M. officinalis extract can be used as a protective agent in several neurologic disorders associated with cerebral ischemia (23).
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