Well known for its sedative effects, chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) could help you fall asleep by making you less responsive to external stimuli. It has apigenin which behaves like GABA, a sleep-favoring chemical, and could make you feel calm and relaxed. Another chemical mimics a pleasure-inducing hormone called dopamine, toning down anxiety. That apart, chamomile helps digestion by increasing fat-digesting bile acids and improves absorption by controlling contractions in the intestines.
Belonging to the daisy family, the chamomile herb offers a bouquet of health benefits through its white and yellow flowers. The volatile oils in the flowers carry a range of compounds that mean your nervous and digestive systems well.
The compounds α-bisabolol, chamazulene, and apigenin are given the most credit for chamomile’s health benefits.
Why It’s So Great
1. Induces Sleep
With addictive gadgets, lengthy to-do lists, and the perpetual need pick up the pace, your nervous system is constantly bombarded with external stimuli (like lights, sounds, smells). It’s easy to get distracted and not make the most of your sleep hours. While your body has just what you need to fall asleep, during these times, it itself needs a little help to set the process in motion.
Chamomile can help calm your mind and initiate sleep. It pumps the brakes on the central nervous system.
When falling asleep, a sleep-favoring chemical called GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) sits at tailor-made seats (GABA A receptors) on brain cells. This opens up adjoining chloride channels, welcoming in negative chloride ions from the outside. Becoming too negative on the inside, the cells then refuse to react to external stimuli. You feel calm and relaxed and sleep easily.
- Chamomile’s compound apigenin can sit on GABA A receptors, too, alongside GABA, opening up the chloride channels more often. Even more negative ions move into the brain cells, and you drift into a slumber even sooner!
The best part about this herb is that it’s not addictive, unlike conventional sleeping pills.
2. Reduces Anxiety
Chamomile can be the deep breaths you need when you feel stressed and anxious. Given the rate at which we strain ourselves these days, feeling anxious is a more or less regular affair.
Chamomile makes sure the brain’s pleasure and reward system, the dopamine system, is balanced. Apigenin in the herb sits on dopamine receptors on brain cells and exerts control there. It also helps modulate the stress response and, as mentioned, relaxes the central nervous system, without any side effects that come with anxiety-relieving drugs.
3. Helps with Digestion
Chamomile is a gentle digestive aid. Its power-trio – α-bisabolol, chamazulene, and apigenin – helps to gently regulate your bowels:
- Regulates muscle contraction: Chamomile soothes the walls of the intestines, keeping the contractions regular.
- Stimulates the liver: By doing so, chamomile gives bile production a nudge, ensuring your digestion is on point.
4. Stabilizes Blood Glucose
Chamomile may help you keep managing your blood glucose and cholesterol. It pulls a couple of tricks to help achieve this.
- Increases insulin sensitivity: Chamomile’s flavonoids may be able to increase your sensitivity to insulin by controlling certain genes in liver and fat cells.
This is how it happens. Small chamomile molecules sit in large pockets of intracellular “boats” called PPARs (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors) that park themselves on DNA and decide which genes will be expressed. This tells your body how to break down and use glucose and lipids, cholesterol included. It works in your favor.
- Reduces blood glucose: Chamomile’s compounds esculetin and quercetin inhibit the intestinal enzyme α-glucosidase so that fewer complex carbs are split into glucose. Offering support, luteolin and quercetin also inhibit the liver enzyme glycogen phosphorylase so that less glycogen is broken down into glucose.
- Slows down glucose absorption: The herb’s chlorogenic acid puts a lid on the glucose being absorbed by your intestines and moving into your bloodstream.
Chamomile flowers are dried and pounded into a powder for consumption. Have about 2 gm of this powder thrice a day.
For a comforting cup of chamomile tea, pour boiling water over 2–3 teaspoons of the powder and allow it to steep for 10–15 minutes. You may drink up to 3–4 cups a day if you’d like but keep them between meals.
NOTE: If you are allergic to ragweed or chrysanthemums, it is best to avoid chamomile as it contains similar components.