On the evenings that you sip a cup of chamomile tea after dinner, you might feel more relaxed and ready for bed than those nights when you don’t. But it’s not just the warmth of the liquid that’s soothing. Chamomile has properties that actually help improve the quality of sleep and mood, support bone health, and relieve pain.
Here are four science-backed benefits of drinking chamomile tea.
1. Chamomile tea may improve sleep quality
Chamomile tea has long been used in treating insomnia. That’s because chamomile contains apigenin, which is a flavonoid. Flavonoids are chemical compounds that give plants their colors and are rife with antioxidants, assisting your body in its fight against toxins.
Apigenin attaches to the GABA receptors in the brain. GABA receptors are the same receptors that prescription anti-anxiety drugs, called benzodiazepines, are formulated to target. This is because the chemical profile of apigenin is similar to benzodiazepines. So, as with anti-anxiety drugs, chamomile tea can make you feel calm and even mildly sedated.
A small 2015 study examining postpartum women with poor sleep patterns suggests that chamomile tea does work as a sleep aid. Compared to a control group, those in the experimental group who drank the tea scored lower, after two weeks, on scales that measured physical symptoms related to loss of sleep.
However, after four weeks, both groups scored about the same. This led researchers to conclude that chamomile tea might be used as a sleep aid or supplement, but not as a replacement if a more serious treatment is required.
2. Chamomile may support bone health
There is some evidence that chamomile tea supports bone health. Lisa Richards, a certified nutrition consultant, says that the flavonoids in chamomile help bones repair themselves and grow. It also may help regulate healthy bone-building activities.
This finding may be particularly impactful for women, who are prone to osteoporosis as they reach menopause, estrogen decreases, and bone mass is lost. A 2004 food chemistry study suggests that the body recognizes chamomile almost like it does estrogen, and that chamomile may have the ability to stimulate bone-building cells. However, more research needs to be done.
3. Chamomile may help menstrual pain
Dysmenorrhea, or menstrual pain, can affect up to 93% of women during the course of their lives. Chamomile tea may be one pathway to a solution.
Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RDN, a nutritionist at Essence Nutrition in Miami says that “warm, soothing beverages” can take away pain. But chamomile is better because like mint and other herbs, it has properties that relieve involuntary muscle spasms.
Richards agrees that cramps are exacerbated by spasms, also noting that the chemical structure of chamomile contains amino acids that bring relief by relaxing the uterus.
A small 2010 study found that chamomile tea might be used preemptively to treat dysmenorrhea. The study concluded that those who drank tea twice per day for a week before the onset of menstruation experienced relief of pain and anxiety. Still, more studies of this nature need to be performed.
4. Chamomile may help with anxiety
“Chamomile improves anxiety primarily due to its effects on the symptoms of the condition, more so than any biochemical response that it may create,” Richards says. “By improving sleep, relaxing the muscles, reducing blood pressure, and enabling a state of relaxation, it can improve anxiety symptoms like insomnia and irritability.”
A 2016 study bears out some of these findings. Participants with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) took 500 mg doses of pharmaceutical-grade chamomile three times per day in a double-blind randomized control trial. Researchers found that chamomile significantly reduced their GAD symptoms including nervousness, depression, increased heart rate, gastrointestinal problems, and insomnia.
Richards also says that those with GAD may have a reduced amount of GABA receptors, and that chamomile not only binds to the receptors present, but makes them work more efficiently.
Moreno emphasizes that treating GAD with chamomile tea is a low-risk, high-benefit strategy. “You’re not going to wash your worries away, and as always, you’re best off exploring your traumas with therapy,” she says. “But there’s nothing wrong with a nice cup of tea.”