Passionflower is an herb that has been used for centuries to support a calm state in the nervous system. It is well tolerated by most and has a low side effect profile, making it an ideal gentle herb to create a sense of peace in the body.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is an herbal medicine used to support a healthy emotional and mental state, and it is most known for its calming effects. Native to central and south america, Passiflora was used by indigenous as a sedative for both sleep and to promote a peaceful state. It was later brought to Europe by a Spanish physician after learning how it was traditionally used by the inhabitants where the herb originated.
I include passionflower in many hormone-supporting protocols and have seen some impressive results.
In this article, I'll share the research-backed benefits of passionflower and why it's so helpful for women's health.
What is Passionflower?
Passionflower is a flowering plant native to the United States, related to passion fruit as part of the Passifloriaceae family. Passionflower tea and passionflower extract have been used in traditional medicine for centuries to gently support sleep, pain, and anxiety by promoting relaxation and stress reduction.
What is the Active Ingredient in Passionflower?
Passionflower contains multiple active ingredients that may benefit health. One of the most commonly discussed benefits is related to Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), which Passionflower contains a high amount of. GABA is your body's primary inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps calm the nervous system and reduce excitatory responses. Some studies suggest that issues with the GABA system in the brain can be linked to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Passionflower providing GABA and interacting with the GABA receptor may explain its sedative and anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) effect.
Multiple flavonoids and alkaloids in passionflower may influence the GABA system. Alkaloids are naturally occurring compounds in plants that may have a physiological influence on the body. Compounds like alkaloids found in passionflower may activate GABA receptors, help with GABA uptake, and calm the central nervous system to help promote a sense of calm and relaxation. Passionflower also contains phytochemicals called chrysin and apigenin which may be neuroprotective and influence the GABA receptor system.
In other words, passionflower promotes a calm, chill state by increasing how much GABA you make and use.
What Are the Benefits of Passionflower?
As I explained above, passionflower's primary benefit is its calming effect on the nervous system, a crucial part of your foundation for hormone balance.
If you picture hormonal health like a pyramid, insulin and adrenal hormones sit at the bottom, providing strength and resilience to your system as a whole. Next up, you'll find thyroid hormones, and your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) sit on the top.
Even if you're experiencing symptoms of a sex hormone imbalance as seen in conditions like PMS or PCOS, you can only get so far if you focus on the top of the pyramid. (If you're interested in learning more about how to address hormonal symptoms and ultimately heal your hormones for good, I go into great detail with step-by-step guidance in my new book, “Is This Normal?”).
The foundation of hormone balance starts with addressing adrenal health and optimizing insulin sensitivity for blood sugar balance. In this case, passionflower gently supports the adrenals by promoting restorative sleep.
While we know herbalists and traditional healers have used passionflower for centuries, studies on herbs and botanicals for reducing anxiety are limited. That being said, there are small studies on passionflower that are promising.
May Reduce Anxiety
The impact of GABA contained in this herb makes passionflower an excellent support for feelings of anxiousness or occasional worry. As GABA increases, the central nervous system relaxes, which helps calm down excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain.
Human studies on passionflower for anxiety are small but promising. For example, in one randomized control trial passionflower was as effective as anti-anxiety medication (though the authors suggested more extensive studies are needed to confirm). In this study, they found that passionflower was a helpful and safe way to reduce sleep issues, anxiety, depression-like behaviors, and stress reactivity. Although the side effects are minimal and the results are promising, I caution anyone considering dumping their medication in favor of passionflower without first talking with their provider.
Another study found that passionflower syrup helped people feel less anxious before receiving spinal anesthesia before surgery. These conclusions suggest that passionflower could be an additional support to enhance the effect of other anxiety treatments.
Remember the importance of your adrenal health for the hormone foundation? Anxiety and stress (as I'll discuss in the next section) are intertwined with adrenal health, so passionflower may be your herbal ally for supporting (and nourishing) the adrenals.
Good for Stress
Stress is a normal physiological response to life, but when stress is in overdrive, it can wreak havoc on hormone health. Both physical stress, maybe from illness or injury, and emotional stress can turn on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA axis).
The HPA axis controls your stress response. When adrenals are overstimulated from our world of non-stop stressors, it can create a hormone cascade that affects insulin, cortisol, and sex hormones. Blood sugar and blood pressure are high, sleep quality is poor, and anxiety and fatigue can follow.
May Improve Sleep
Sleep struggles like insomnia, anxiety, and feeling overly stressed are all signs the HPA Axis, which includes your adrenals, may be struggling. It is well recognized that GABA promotes sleep and due to its effect on the GABA receptor and being a source of GABA, Passionflower may help you catch the Zs you desperately need.
Passionflower could help improve sleep by addressing anxiety, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Another study found that people who drank passionflower tea in the evening before bed for a week had improved sleep quality. I often combine passionflower with other supportive ingredients like valerian, magnesium, or phosphatidylserine for a gentle, restful sleep.
May Alleviate Peri-and Menopausal Symptoms
As a quick background, perimenopause is the transition from having a menstrual cycle to no longer having a menstrual cycle. Menopause is diagnosed after 12 consecutive months without a menstrual cycle. During both of these times in someone's life symptoms can arise thanks to changing hormones, like weight gain, hot flashes, night sweats, and mental health issues.
Both perimenopause and menopause are linked to higher rates of anxiety and depression, and rates of depression and anxiety can increase after menopause. This is thought to be due, in part, to lower levels of GABA. Supporting GABA production with passionflower may help decrease anxiety and depression symptoms during this time. However, I encourage you to always seek mental health support if you are struggling with either anxiety or depression.
In one small study it was found that passionflower could help with menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, headaches, insomnia, and night sweats. Alongside other nourishing herbs like black cohosh and licorice root, passionflower may help with hot flashes.
May Help ADHD Symptoms
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a commonly missed diagnosis among women, with some not receiving their diagnosis until their forties. Part of that is because ADHD symptoms in women can be missed.
While there are many therapies that can help ADHD, including nutrition, lifestyle, executive function strategies, cognitive behavioral therapies, and medication, not all will work for everyone. And some of these, like medications, have side effects that should first be discussed with a provider. Passionflower has been one herb that research has cited as potentially helpful for aiding ADHD symptoms. Because of its low side effect risk and gentle action, it may be a helpful adjunct therapy to supporting those with ADHD in their sleep, mood, and behavior.
What are the Side Effects of Passionflower?
In general, passionflower is gentle and safe for most people. Side effects are minimal, although it could increase drowsiness, dizziness, or confusion, especially if taken in excess.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes that using over 3.5 grams (which is a lot) of a certain Passionflower extract over a 2 day period may be unsafe. They also note research showing that 800 mg of a dried alcohol extract used over an 8 week period was considered safe. But although considered safe, the side effects noted above, along with ataxia (loss of coordination), can happen in some people. For that reason, it’s best to stick with lower dosages, which are effective, but without the risk of side effects.
There aren't many studies on the safety of passionflower for pregnant or breastfeeding women and as such, it is best to avoid until further data demonstrates its safety. Many herbalists and midwives will use it, and many doctors caution against it. iscussing it with your healthcare provider first is always a good idea.
It is also important to note that taking passionflower at the same time as other medications for epilepsy or anxiety may increase the risk of side effects. If you're taking certain medications, speak with your healthcare provider before taking passionflower because it could impact how they work.
Other Species of Passiflora to Know
The Passiflora genus includes over 500 species, including 70 that produce fruit (like passionfruit or P. edulis). Different Passiflora species may have more or less beneficial alkaloids or flavonoids, but Passiflora incarnta is the most widely studied and what you'll typically find in supplements.
Our Products with Passionflower
Optimal hormone balance requires us to look at the big picture. Nutrients, lifestyle, blood sugar, sleep, stress, and relationships all matter. So it makes sense that while passionflower is powerful, combining it with other stress-supporting botanicals and nutrients only adds to the benefits, which is why I included it in Adrenal Calm. It's basically your new BFF for natural stress relief.
Adrenal Calm contains the holistic power of calming passionflower and several other adaptogenic and nervine herbs to encourage cortisol balance and restful sleep. Paired with B vitamins designed to reduce fatigue, plus soothing L-Theanine and Phosphatidylserine for added tranquility and peace, it helps you stay cool no matter what kind of heat life throws your way.
Adrenal Calm is our evening formula, designed to be taken at dinner time or within an hour of bed to help you get your best night’s sleep. Most people couple it with our Adrenal Support formula, which is our morning energy booster.
If you need even more guidance for hormone support, I've also created a free Hormone Balancing Starter Kit that includes a 7-day meal plan and recipes for a hormone-balancing diet, plus additional guidance to help you get started.
Takeaway: Passionflower Supports the Foundation of Hormone Balance
As a natural remedy for stress and anxiety, passionflower has been shown to significantly impact overall health and wellness. Passionflower may be even more powerful when added to other adrenal-supportive botanicals and nutrients.
Passionflower can support healthy hormone balance by calming the stress response and improving sleep quality and may help make the transition to menopause a bit smoother. And with fewer side effects than traditional medications, passionflower provides a safe and effective alternative for those seeking relief from stress and anxiety.
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