Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm Extract) 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). The plant has been used in a variety of ways from a sedative and mild hypnotic drug, and reducing the heart rate, antibacterial, antinflammatory, antivirus, antispasmodic, antioxidant, to a neurotherapeutic agent, peripheral analgesic, as well as a binding agent to cholinergic receptors (4,5).
The most important ingredients in the plant are known to be phenolic compounds, rosmarinic acid, caffeic acid, cholinergic acid, metilic 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 (6). 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 (7).
Results of several studies indicate that the aqueous extract of M. officinalis has an anxiolytic effect, whereas at higher doses it has a sedative effect. The anxiolytic effects are dose dependent and may be applied through opioid receptors (8). it seems that the anxiolytic properties of M. officinalis may also be due to binding to GABA type receptors (9). 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 (10). 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 (11,12).
Melissa officinalis L. improves cognitive performance and mood (13,14), reduces induced stress (15) and has anxiolytic effects (16) in humans. Recently, anxiolytic like effects were observed under moderate stress-induced conditions when Melissa officinalis L. was administered chronically for 15 days (17). Melissa officinalis L. contains rosmarinic acid and the pentacyclic triterpenoids, ursolic and oleanolic acids (17), which inhibit gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) catabolism (18,19). Due to its efficacy in improving anxiety under moderate stress, Melissa officinalis L. may be a valuable alternative to pharmaceutical drugs in treating anxiety disorders.
Kennedy et al. (15) first proposed that Melissa officinalis L. exerts its anxiolytic effect and modulates mood through the GABAergic system. Recently, this proposed mechanism was examined in a preliminary screen of traditional anxiolytic botanical extracts (18), wherein the aqueous extract of Melissa officinalis L. effected the greatest inhibition of GABA-T activity. In a separate study, the same group isolated and identified rosmarinic acid and the triterpenoids pentacyclic ursolic acid and oleanolic acid as potent inhibitors of GABA-T (19). With regard to the modulation of the manifestations of anxiety, total anxiety manifestations in the volunteers decreased by 18% after 15 days of treatment compared to the baseline score (17).
A prospective observational chronic human trial, complementing a previous study on the attenuation of induced stress after acute administration of Melissa officinalis L. extract (15). In one study, the authors suggested that the botanical improved stress-induced adverse effects and increased the speed of mathematical processing, which was linked easily to a decrease in intellectual disturbances. Moreover, such manifestations were also reported to correlate closely with the many physical symptoms that develop in anxiety-affected subjects (20).
These findings are also consistent with the German Commission E recommendations regarding the approval of Melissa officinalis L. extract use for nervous insomnia (21). A 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 behavioural 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, other authors 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)
European Medicines Agency has authorised Melissa as a traditional herbal medicinal product for relief of mild symptoms of mental stress and to aid sleep (24-26).
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