Thursday June 9, 2005
Â· Talk about fans in high places. Two weeks ago, I said I was going to start giving references, and suddenly Dr Gillian McKeith PhD is writing this in her newsletter: “You will note that I deliberately include scientific sourced references [sic] which correspond to the numbers in the text.”
Â· Fantastic! Let’s note those references. Dr McKeith PhD says: “Studies  have proven that lemon balm does indeed have a soothing effect on the stomach.” But  refers to one study, not “studies”, and the paper gives a preparation of six ingredients, of which lemon balm is just one, so it’s not a study on the efficacy of lemon balm, and “proven” is not the word the average doctor would use, in this context, regardless of discipline.
Â·”In case studies  with humans and animals alike, lemon balm consistently demonstrated sedative effects when taken orally.” Go, Gillian.  refers to three studies. The first is not a “case study”, it’s a lab experiment on rat gut in a dish. The second is not a “case study”, it’s a review article, which goes through the research evidence for other more effective therapies and then says: “Lemon balm and passionflower are reputed to be mild sedatives but need much more experimental examination.” Or, as Dr McKeith would say: “consistently demonstrated sedative effects.” The last reference is not a “case study”, it’s a trial, of 18 people, showing that lemon balm “increased self-ratings of calmness and reduced self-ratings of alertness” (and if you want to call that “consistently demonstrated sedative effects”, then be my guest).
Â· It goes on. “Studies , reported in a traditional medical journal in 2004, indicate that that the calming effects of lemon balm can help lower high blood pressure, regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce stress and anxiety.” I have this very paper right here in front of me. It mentions blood pressure once, in relation to a completely different plant, and menstrual cycle nowhere.
Â· Who knows if lemon balm works after all this? Richard Feynman described approaches like McKeith’s as Cargo Cult Science: “In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. They’ve arranged things like runways, fires along the sides of the runways, a wooden hut for a man to sit in … and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form … is perfect.”
These are the references as they appear at the bottom of Dr McKeith’s piece:
1. De Sousa S et al: Melissa officinalis L. essential oil: antitumoral and antioxidant activities. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2004 May;56(5):677-81.
2. Dragland S: Several culinary and medicinal herbs are important sources of dietary antioxidants. J Nutr. 2003 May;133(5):1286-90. Melissa officinalis L. essential oil: antitumoral and antioxidant activities. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2004 May;56(5):677-81.
3. Madish A et al: Treatment of functional dyspepsia with a herbal preparation. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial. Digestion. 2004;69(1):45-52. Epub 2004 Jan 30.
4. Vernona RD et al: Overweight and obese patients in a primary care population report less sleep than patients with a normal body mass index. Arch Intern Med. 2005 Jan 10;165(1):25-30.
5. Sadraei H et al: Relaxant effect of essential oil of Melissa officinalis and citral on rat ileum contractions. Fitoterapia. 2003 Jul;74(5):445-52. Gylen C et al: Efficacy and safety of herbal stimulants and sedatives in sleep disorders. Sleep Med Rev. 2000 Jun;4(3):229-251. Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm). Psychosom Med. 2004 Jul-Aug;66(4):607-13.
6. Dallman M et al: Chronic stress and obesity: a new view of “comfort food”. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Sep 30;100(20):11696-701. Epub 2003 Sep 15.
7. Kennedy D et al: Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm). Psychosom Med. 2004 Jul-Aug;66(4):607-13.
8. Kennedy D et al: Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of single doses of Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm) with human CNS nicotinic and muscarinic receptor-binding properties. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003 Oct;28(10):1871-81.