Lemon balm may help with anxiety and cognitive performance. In addition, it has other potential but insufficiently investigated health benefits, including helping with hyperthyroidism, reducing pain, and weight loss. Read this post to learn more about the potential health benefits of lemon balm.
What Is Lemon Balm?
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb known for its calming and anti-inflammatory effects.
The main active constituents of lemon balm are :
- Volatile compounds – geranial, neral, citronellal, and geraniol
- Triterpenes – ursolic acid and oleanolic acid
- Phenolics – rosmarinic acid, caffeic acid, luteolin, naringin, and hesperidin
Mechanisms of Action
- Increases GABA in the brain by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks down GABA (GABA transaminase). GABA produces a calming effect, improves mood, and reduces stress [2, 3, 4].
- Binds to nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in the brain. Both types of receptors are activated by acetylcholine and play roles in enhancing memory and alertness [5, 6, 7].
- Prevents the formation of blood vessels by inhibiting VEGF-A, which may combat obesity and help treat cancer [8, 9].
- Activates the proteins caspases-3 and-7, possibly causing cancer cells to self-destruct [10, 11].
- Reduces inflammation by reducing TNF-alpha. It also suppresses inflammatory proteins (IL-1 and IL-6) [12, 13].
Lemon Balm Benefits
Lemon balm supplements are claimed to help with several conditions, including anxiety, sleep disturbances, diabetes, and infant colics. However, none of these uses is approved by the FDA due to the lack of solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for supplements but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. You may try lemon balm if you and your doctor determine that it may help in your case.
Possibly Effective for:
1) Stress and Anxiety
Lemon balm has anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects in rats. By increasing GABA levels, lemon balm reduces anxiety, increases calmness, and improves mood .
Lemon balm reduced anxiety in 2 pilot trials on 32 people with stress [4, 14].
Fourteen days of lemon balm supplementation decreased anxiety in 55 patients .
In another trial on 71 elderly people with severe dementia, aromatherapy with lemon balm was safe and effective at reducing agitation 
Aromatherapy with lemon balm was more effective than with lavender essential oil at reducing agitation but less at helping with irritability in another trial on 49 elderly people. When it comes to restlessness, lemon balm reduced it more effectively in those without dementia while lavender was more effective in demented .
A combination of lemon balm and valerian root significantly reduced anxiety in 24 healthy volunteers .
Similarly, a mix of lemon balm, valerian, passionflower, and butterbur extracts reduced acute stress in a trial on 72 healthy people .
Taken together, limited evidence suggests that lemon balm helps with stress and anxiety. Further research is needed to confirm these results and investigate how to use lemon balm therapeutically.
2) Sleep Disturbances
Lemon balm improved insomnia in 85% of people with anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances in a pilot trial on 20 people .
Oral lemon balm, alone or in combination with valerian, improved sleep quality in a trial on 100 women suffering from menopause symptoms and insomnia .
Similarly, a combination of lemon balm and valerian improved sleep disturbances and restlessness in trials on over 900 children .
Lemon balm may reduce sleep disruptions by increasing GABA in the brain, thus promoting calmness and relaxation [4, 19].
Again, the evidence to claim that lemon balm helps with sleep disturbances is promising but still limited until further research is conducted.
3) Rapid Heartbeats
Taken for 14 days, an oral lemon balm extract reduced the frequency of heart beating in a trial of 55 people with palpitations .
In human and animal studies, lemon balm protected against irregular heartbeats by inhibiting sodium and potassium ion channels, which slows down the heart rate [15, 21, 22].
To sum up, research suggests that lemon balm may help with rapid heartbeats. However, the evidence is limited and further research is warranted.
Insufficient Evidence for:
1) Type 2 Diabetes and its Complications
In a clinical trial on 62 people with type 2 diabetes, an oral lemon balm supplement improved blood sugar control (by increasing insulin sensitivity). It also increased the levels of cholesterol bound to HDL, suggesting it helped prevent artery clogging .
In another trial on 70 diabetics, the same supplement was safe and improved the levels of fats and proteins that transport them in the blood, possibly reducing the risk of heart disease .
Lemon balm helped with type 2 diabetes by lowering blood sugar and fat levels in mice. It also activated PPARs, which increases insulin sensitivity [25, 26].
Although promising, the evidence is insufficient to support the benefits of lemon balm in diabetics. More clinical trials on larger populations are needed to confirm these preliminary findings.
2) Improving Memory and Brain Function
Lemon balm improved cognitive performance and memory in 2 small trials on 23 healthy people [5, 14].
Similarly, lemon balm improved cognitive performance and mood in 20 healthy participants .
Lemon balm also increased accuracy and attention in cognitive performance tasks in 20 college students .
Lemon balm may improve memory and brain function by binding to nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in the brain. Both types of receptors are activated by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and play roles in enhancing memory and alertness [27, 5, 7].
Further research is needed to confirm the potential role of lemon balm in improving cognitive function or even preventing conditions characterized by memory loss and learning disability like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
3) Infant Colic
Infant colic is a common condition that occurs in the first four months of life. Colic is excessive irritability, fussing, or crying in otherwise healthy infants.
Lemon balm significantly decreased average daily crying time after 28 days in 200 colicky infants and reduced colic episodes through its calming effects and by relaxing the gut .
A single clinical trial cannot be considered sufficient evidence to claim that lemon balm improves infant colic. Additional clinical trials are needed to confirm the results of this study.
4) Protecting Against Radiation
In a clinical trial on 55 radiology staff, drinking lemon balm infusion increased the blood levels of antioxidant enzymes (catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase) while reducing oxidative damage in cellular DNA and fatty molecules. This suggests lemon balm may protect against oxidative stress caused by radiation .
Rosmarinic acid and salvianolic acid in lemon balm protected skin cells against damage caused by UV radiation in cell-based studies [29, 30].
The evidence backing this potential health benefit only comes from a small clinical trial and some cell-based studies. Larger, more robust clinical studies are required.
Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence)
Lemon balm extract suppressed fat tissue growth in mice and killed fat cells by preventing the formation of blood vessels that feed these fat cells [8, 31].
In addition, lemon balm extract reduced the activity of proteins involved in fat production (FABP4 and PDK4) .
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by inflammation, high blood sugar, and fat.
In mice, lemon balm helped treat fatty liver disease by activating enzymes that break down fatty acids. Lemon balm also reduces the activity of white blood cells and inflammatory cytokines in the liver [32, 33].
Alcohol extract in lemon balm reduced pain, possibly by blocking the arginine-nitric oxide pathway and increasing acetylcholine levels, in mice [34, 26, 35].
Lemon balm reduced swelling caused by injury and inflammation in mice. Lemon balm also reduced the levels of the inflammatory proteins TNF-alpha, IL-1, and IL-6, and lowered oxidative stress .
Lemon balm reduced thyroid function by preventing the thyroid-stimulating hormone from binding to its receptor in a cell-based study .
Lemon balm oil had antimicrobial effects against yeast and harmful bacterial strains (E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Staphylococcus) in cell-based studies.
Rosmarinic acid and citral in lemon balm possibly stopped the growth of yeast and bacteria by disrupting their energy production (ATP synthase) [37, 38, 39].
Rosmarinic acid in lemon balm prevented HSV-1 (oral herpes/cold sores) attachment to cells for both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant strains in a cell model study. The volatile oils in lemon balm also inhibited the replication of HSV-2 (genital herpes) [40, 41, 42].
Note, however, that these are very preliminary results that haven’t been tested in humans and even in animals. Further research is needed to test if lemon balm improves or prevents the infections caused by these microorganisms.
Below, we will discuss some preliminary research on lemon balm’s anticancer activity. It’s still in the animal and cell stage and further clinical studies have yet to determine if its compounds are useful in cancer therapies.
Do not under any circumstances attempt to replace conventional cancer therapies with lemon balm or any other supplements. If you want to use it as a supportive measure, talk to your doctor to avoid any unexpected interactions.
Lemon balm induced the self-destruction of breast cancer cells and reduced the size of breast tumors in rats. In cell-based studies, it killed breast cancer cells and blocked their multiplication. It probably did so by decreasing antigen KI-67 (a protein that is associated with cell growth and reproduction) [43, 44].
Lemon balm killed brain cancer cells in a cell-based study. Citral in lemon balm may activate cancer cell self-destruction (through caspase-3) and increases cancer’s sensitivity to chemotherapy by inhibiting the drug-resistant gene MRP1 .
Lemon balm stopped the expansion of leukemia cancer cells and activated cellular self-destruction (Fas, Bax, and Bcl-2) .
It also prevented the growth of colon cancer cells by stopping the cell cycle and induced cellular self-destruction [10, 11].
Lemon balm prevented the growth of prostate cancers in cell models by inhibiting the growth of blood vessels that feed the tumors (VEGF-A). It also decreased the activity of the enzyme human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT). Telomeres are added on the ends of chromosomes by telomerases, but as aging occurs, telomerase activity decreases. hTERT is overactive in cancer cells and necessary for tumor growth .
Side Effects & Precautions
Keep in mind that lemon balm is an insufficiently investigated supplement with a relatively unknown safety profile. The list of side effects below is not a definite one. You should consult your doctor about other potential side effects based on your health condition and possible drug or supplement interactions.
Common side effects of lemon balm are :
- Stomach pain
- Increased appetite
- Reduced alertness
- Eye pressure
Topical application can cause :
- Redness of the skin
- Burning sensation
Patients with thyroid problems are recommended to avoid taking lemon balm since it may interfere with thyroid function. Caffeic acid in lemon balm directly inhibits thyroid-stimulating hormone [36, 47].
To help avoid interactions, your doctor should manage all of your medications carefully. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications, vitamins, or herbs you’re taking. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out how lemon balm might interact with something else you are taking.
Lemon balm should not be taken with :
- Barbiturates – lemon balm may increase the hypnotic effect of barbiturates.
- Sedative agents – a combination of lemon balm with sedatives may result in additive effects.
- Glaucoma medications – lemon balm may increase intraocular pressure, which diminishes the effects of glaucoma medications.
- Thyroid agents – lemon balm may reduce thyroid-stimulating hormone concentrations.
- Nicotine and Scopolamine – may prevent drugs from binding to nicotinic and muscarinic receptors, therefore blocking the effects of the drugs.
- Antidepressants (SSRIs) – lemon balm may interact with antidepressants by inhibiting concentrations of serotonin.
Because lemon balm is not approved by the FDA for any conditions, there is no official dose. Users and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on their experience.
- Tea – one cup of tea several times per day as needed
- Tincture – 2 to 6 mL three times per day
- Liquid extract – 60 drops per day
- Capsules – 8 to 10 grams per day
- Cream – topically for up to four times per day for 5 to 10 days .
The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of lemon balm users, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.
Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare providers because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.
Lemon balm extract was mainly taken to provide soothing relief and relaxation, but some people also used it as a mouthwash, disinfectant, and to combat herpes outbreaks.
Lemon balm tea is a great alternative reported to calm nerves and provide a restful night of sleep when taken before bedtime.
Users reported grogginess as the main adverse effect.
One user with mild hypothyroidism said that although the calming effects were beneficial, lemon balm’s interaction with thyroid hormones resulted in emotional instability.