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the anti-anxiety herb used by Aztecs

Passionflower | Biohacking your body
28 November 2023 | James Kearslake
Table of Contents
Fun Fact

Passionflower has been used for centuries in traditional medicine by various indigenous cultures. Native American tribes like the Cherokee and Choctaw often used passionflower for conditions like insomnia, anxiety, and topical application to wounds. In Central and South America, the Aztecs and Incas are believed to have used passionflower for both its medicinal and ceremonial purposes. It was considered a valuable plant with potential healing properties. After the discovery of the Americas, it gained recognition for its unique appearance and was adopted into European herbal medicine traditions by eighteenth century.

What is Passionflower

At Humans, we struggle to understand why passionflower hasn’t yet made it as a mainstream supplement.

Passionflower is incredibly effective at calming the central nervous system, reducing anxiety, and regulating the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). These neurotransmitters have various purposes, but combined contribute regulating mood, motivation, and improving focus, making passionflower the perfect source for improving cognitive function, naturally.

As a plant extract, its compounds support the efficacy of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter with a calming effect on the central nervous system.

Also with mild sedative effects, meaning it promotes relaxation without causing excessive drowsiness or impairing cognitive function, a form of natural pain relief, and improves the quality of our sleep, passionflower is the supplement many of are looking for in the modern age.

Instead of becoming dependent on antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or anti-anxiety tablets like Xanax and Diazepam, society should be looking to natural source supplements that calm our systems and settle the body and mind, helping prevent us getting to a place where stronger pharmaceuticals are needed.

Prevention is better than cure.

Prescription pharmaceuticals serve a purpose, but we should not be looking to them long-term. As our understanding of the human body grows, and we learn more of nature’s many beneficial plant extracts put on this planet to protect us, its time we explore nature to provide us with what big pharma cannot.

It is more important than ever that we develop lifelong habit to serve us. Through nutrition, consistent exercise, sleep, and supplementation, we can be building optimised internal operating environments that helps us achieve our peak performance, consistently, every day.

In 2023, passionflower is exactly the supplement we should be looking to as a natural source for peak productivity.

A picture of a purple passionflower and its leaves on a pastel yellow background_Passionflower naturally alleviates anxiety and

Benefits of Passionflower

  1. Reduces Anxiety – Passionflower is incredibly effective at calming the central nervous system and reducing anxiety and stress. It contains bioactive compounds, flavonoids, alkaloids, and glycosides that help calm anxiety without causing drowsiness or unwanted side effects. Its anxiolytic properties (anxiety reducing) can be particularly beneficial for those who have with mild to moderate anxious tendencies. More below on passionflower and anxiety
  2. Elevates Mood – Its compounds also positively influence neurotransmitters in the brain, improving overall mood, and reducing symptoms of depression. Taken by those in biohacking communities, it is a valuable addition in the holistic approach to mental wellbeing.
  3. Improves Brain Health – Passionflower is also an antioxidant. It reduces oxidative stress in the brain, which is a major cause of impaired cognitive functioning, age-related cognitive decline, and neurodegenerative conditions. Passionflower contributes to long-term brain health and can potentially protect against age-related cognitive issues.
  4. Modulates Neurotransmitters in the Brain – Critically, it modulates levels of various neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). These neurotransmitters are key to regulating mood, and their balanced activity supports a sense of calm within us without strong sedative effects like drowsiness or impaired cognitive function. More below on passionflower and neurotransmitter regulation
  5. Enhances Cognitive Functioning – The plant has several benefits for brain health which, when combined, significantly enhances cognitive functioning, including improved motivation, focus, and mental clarity.
  6. Improves Sleep Quality – Traditionally taken to help those struggling to sleep, its natural sedative properties aid a better quality and full night’s sleep. But passionflower isn’t just for those suffering with insomnia or restless nights; people with healthy sleeping habits also report feeling more rejuvenated in the mornings after taking passionflower. More below on passionflower and improved sleep quality
  7. Natural Pain Relief – Studies have shown it is also a natural source pain relief, with its compounds having analgesic effects on the system. It can be used as a natural alternative to over-the-counter medications to alleviate minor aches, pains, and muscle soreness. More below on passionflower and its analgesic effects
  8. Supports Mental Wellbeing – the combined benefits of passionflower means that it can significantly improve overall mental wellbeing and feelings of contentment, and being a supplementing aid to those experiencing low mood or common mental health conditions.

Passionflower Reduces Anxiety

The calming effects of passionflower and its ability to reduce anxiety are attributed to its unique combination of bioactive compounds, flavonoids, alkaloids, and glycosides.

These components promote relaxation in various ways:

  1. Flavonoids – Flavonoids are natural compounds known for their antioxidant properties. Passionflower contains a key flavonoid, chrysin, which has anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) properties by modulating the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. The chrysin enhances the binding of GABA to its receptors, leading to an increase in GABAergic activity. Because GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, it prevents the sympathetic nervous system, or fight or flight, from becoming overstimulated. This allows for the parasympathetic nervous system, or rest and digest, to become more dominant, meaning we maintain feelings of calm and relaxation for longer.
  2. Alkaloids – Harmala alkaloids, particularly harmine and harmaline, contribute to passionflower’s sedative properties. These alkaloids influence serotonin levels while inhibiting monoamine oxidase (MAO) activity. Serotonin is a critical neurotransmitter for healthy mood regulation and feelings of happiness, and the inhibition of MAO activity leads to increased levels of neurotransmitters in the brain including serotonin.
  3. Glycosides – Passiflorine is a glycoside found in Passionflower which has mild sedative effects and also helps promote GABAergic activity, further enhancing GABA’s inhibiting effects on the sympathetic nervous system.
  4. Neurotransmitter Regulation – Passionflower has been shown to modulate the levels of various neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). These neurotransmitters play a key role in mood regulation, and their balanced activity is key to promoting a sense of calm and relaxation within us.
  5. Regulates Cortisol Levels – Cortisol is the stress hormone which is released when our sympathetic nervous system is activated, or fight or flight Elevated cortisol levels are damaging for the body and cognitive function; the hormone accumulates in our body and is the direct result of impaired cognitive processing, increased neural excitability and anxiety, brain fog, and low mood. Passionflower is an adaptogen which promotes hormonal balance and brings the body back to a state of homeostasis. Homeostasis is critical for cortisol regulation, reducing levels of cortisol within the system. Combined with passionflower’s ability to increased GABAergic activity, the inhibiting neurotransmitter that calms the central nervous system, it limits production of cortisol levels during a stress response, reducing overall levels of cortisol build up in the body.

Adaptogens and supplements which help balance cortisol levels or limit cortisol production during a stress response are key tools to mitigating the damaging effects stress has on our minds.

Similar supplements inhibiting stress production:

Similar adaptogens which balance cortisol:

  • Korean Ginseng
  • Cistanche
  • Cynomorium
  • Eleuthero
  • Holy Basil
  • Morinda
  • Rhaponticum
  • Schisandra
  • Shatavari
  • Codonopsis
  • Guduchi
  • Devil’s Club
  • Horny Goat Weed
  • Jiaogulan
  • Licorice
  • Manchurian Aralia
  • Prince seng
  • White Bryony

Passionflower Moderates Neurotransmitters

Passionflower’s ability to modulate neurotransmitters in the brain influences the activity of these chemical messengers, positively supporting various aspects of brain function and the central nervous system.

It achieves this in several ways:

  1. Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Modulation – Passionflower has been shown to enhance GABAergic activity in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and, when GABAergic activity is increased, it reduces neural excitability, prevents an overactive central nervous system, and reduces feelings of anxiety and stress. Increased GABAergic activity promotes an overall sense of calm within us.
  2. Serotonin Modulation – Passionflower also modulates serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter in the brain which is key for positive mood regulation, sleep, and appetite. Because serotonin is a critical component of overall mood, stable serotonin levels help alleviate symptoms of depression, low mood, and other mental health conditions.
  3. Neurotransmitter Balance – It also modulates the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), neurotransmitters in the brain which also contribute to mood regulation, and play key roles in motivation, focus, and mental clarity. Improved cognitive functioning creates an optimal environment for achieving your state of peak performance, as well as contributing to healthier mental wellbeing.

Passionflower Improves Sleep Quality

Because passionflower has calming and mildly sedative effects, it help induce the sleep cycle as well as improves overall sleep quality. This is achieved in several ways:

  1. Increased GABAergic Activity – Passionflower increases GABAergic activity in the brain. GABA is neurotransmitter in the brain that inhibits neural excitability and feelings of anxiety. This calming effect on the brain creates an optimal environment for relaxation and the initiation of sleep.
  2. Serotonin Regulation – Passionflower also increases serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in mood regulation and the sleep-wake cycle. Maintaining healthy serotonin levels are key to healthy sleep patterns and achieving quality sleep.
  3. MAO Inhibition – The harmala alkaloids in passionflower, harmine and harmaline, inhibit monoamine oxidase (MAO) activity. MAO is an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters like serotonin. Inhibition of MAO therefore leads to increased levels of serotonin, supporting serotonin regulation and the resulting quality sleep.
  4. Reduced Anxiety – Passionflower is also anxiolytic, which means it has anxiety reducing effects. Reduced anxiety is critical to improving sleep patterns and quality of sleep.
  5. Regulation of Cortisol Levels – Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels are severely damaging to sleep patterns and quality of sleep. Passionflower helps balance cortisol levels, and modulate cortisol production during a stress response, significantly reducing stress and facilitating a more restful sleep.
  6. Mild Sedative Effect – It also contains alkaloids that promote mild sedative properties. This gentle sedation eases tension, feelings of worry, and helps us transition into a relaxed state.

Passionflower is a Pain Relief

Passionflower contains various bioactive compounds that interact with the nervous system to have analgesic (pain-relieving) effects. This is done is several ways:

  1. GABAergic Activity –
  2. Anti-Inflammatory Properties – The flavonoids in passionflower interfere with the production of inflammatory mediators, which reduces inflammation and, as a result, alleviates associated pain.
  3. Antispasmodic Effects – Passionflower has antispasmodic properties meaning its compounds help relax muscle fibres. This soothing effect reduced muscular spasms and tension that can be a direct source of muscle pain.
  4. Interaction with Opioid Receptors – Some studies have indicated that certain compounds in passionflower interact with opioid receptors in the brain. While not as potent as opioid mediations, these interactions could contribute to the plant’s analgesic effects. More research is needed in this area to determine the full effects of passionflower on opioid receptors.

How Passionflower is Consumed

Passionflower is widely available and sold in several forms:

  1. Capsules and Tablets – The most widely form available, capsules are always recommended for those who need their supplementation routine to be easy, and hassle free.
  2. Powder – My personal favourite for most supplements, I purchase in powder format so that I can self-dose supplements by mixing them with my morning smoothie. If you don’t have smoothies regularly, I do not recommend powder options.
  3. Tinctures and Extracts – Liquid extracts and tinctures are concentrated forms of passionflower. They can be added to water or juice for convenient consumption. Tinctures are particularly favoured for their long shelf life and portability.
  4. Tea – Steeping dried passionflower leaves in hot water allows for easy extraction of its beneficial compounds. This method is often chosen for its simplicity and pleasant taste and honours a more traditional way of consuming passionflower.
  5. Raw Consumption – While less common, some include fresh passionflower in salads or desserts. However, it’s important to know that there are variations in potency so only use fresh passionflower if you’re confident with it as an ingredient.

Similar Alternatives to Passionflower

While passionflower offers unique benefits, several other herbs and products also provide similar effects:

  1. Lavender Essential Oil
    • Benefits  Lavender oil is known for its calming and soothing properties. It can be used in aromatherapy or applied topically to reduce anxiety and improve sleep.
    • Side Effects – Generally safe, but some individuals may be sensitive to the fragrance.
  2. Valerian Root
    • Benefits  Valerian is a herb that promotes relaxation, reducing symptoms of anxiety, and creating a sense of calm within our system.
    • Side Effects – Potential side effects include dizziness and drowsiness, especially when taken in high doses.
    • Recommendation  It’s better spending on a quality product so that you get the full extent of its benefits. We drink Dr Stuart’s Valerian Tea.
  3. Chamomile Tea
    • Benefits  Chamomile tea is a mild sedative that can help with anxiety and sleep.
    • Side Effects  It is rare allergies occur with chamomile.
    • Recommendation – similar to valerian tea, purchase a higher quality tea to ensure you’re getting the benefits from it. Value range teas lack the nutritional benefits of high grade teas
  4. Rhodiola Rosea
      • Benefits  Also a plant, rhodiola rosea is known as an adaptogen which means it brings the body’s hormones back to homeostasis, reducing cortisol and adrenaline throughout the body. It also increases mental clarity and cognitive performance. I take rhodiola rosea myself to reduce my anxiety and prevent depressive episodes.
      • Side Effects  side effects are limited with rhodiola rosea but new users may experience a high for a few days which might limit the ability to sleep. New users should start with half doses to prevent this.
      • Read the full article on rhodiola rosea and its benefits here
  5. Ashwagandha
      • Benefits  also an adaptogen with the ability to bring the body back to homeostasis, ashwagandha can reduce anxiety, help lift mood, and increases physical energy, stamina, and the libido.
      • Side Effects – new users may experience a high that prevent them sleeping. New users should always start with half doses
      • Read the full article on ashwagandha and its benefits here
  6. Anandamide
  7. Kava Kava
    • Benefits  Kava kava is a plant that has been taken for centuries for its sedative, anxiety-reducing, and social relaxation capabilities.
    • Side Effects – Excessive use can lead to liver toxicity, so it should be used cautiously and sparingly.
    • More on kava kava here

Potential Risks with Passionflower

While generally considered safe when used as directed, it’s important to know the potential risks with passionflower:

  1. Gastrointestinal Discomfort – Passionflower can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, including nausea and upset stomach.
  2. Blood Pressure Changes – Passionflower may have a mild hypotensive (blood pressure-lowering) effect. Individuals with low blood pressure should exercise caution if taking passionflower, and monitor blood pressure regularly after taking the supplement.
  3. Drowsiness or dizziness – Passionflower has a mild sedative effect, potentially causing drowsiness or dizziness. It’s advisable to avoid activities that require alertness, such as driving or operating machinery, until you understand how passionflower affects you.
  4. Central Nervous System Depression – In high doses, or when combined with other substances that have a depressant effect on the central nervous system, passionflower may contribute to central nervous system depression. This risk increases significantly if combined with alcohol or other sedative medications.
  5. Surgery Risks – Due to passionflower’s potential to depress the central nervous system, use of the supplement should be discontinued at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery to prevent potential interactions with anaesthesia.
  6. Liver Health – While rare, there have been isolated reports of liver toxicity associated with high doses of passionflower. Individuals with pre-existing liver conditions should exercise caution and consult with a healthcare professional before taking the supplement.
  7. Interaction with Medications – All supplements can interact with certain medications, including sedatives, anti-anxiety drugs, and anticoagulants. Consult with a healthcare professional if you are taking any prescription medications.
  8. Allergic Reactions– Some individuals may be allergic to passionflower. If you experience symptoms such as rash, itching, swelling, severe dizziness, or difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately and do not take the supplement again.
  9. Quality and Purity – Ensure that you are using a high-quality, reputable passionflower supplement to minimize the risk of contamination or variations in potency.
  10. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding – Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult with their healthcare providers before using passionflower, as its safety during these periods is not well-established.

If you are taking existing medications or suffering from mental health conditions you should consult a healthcare professional about your specific conditions.

We recommend supplementation as ways to optimise our systems and prevent physical or mental health conditions, but it cannot be prescribed in replacement of healthcare.

If you are considering passionflower alongside existing medications or to support current mental health treatment like therapy, consult with your healthcare provider to make sure passionflower won’t adversely interact with the care they’re providing.

Final Thoughts

Reinforcing our opening thoughts, its incomprehensible to us that passionflower has not yet made it as a mainstream supplement.

In a society that’s digitally switched on, overworked, and suffering a myriad of mental health conditions, passionflower is the perfect source to naturally alleviating anxiety, worry, and chronic stress.

Yet, we continue to rely on our health service for prescribed medications that result in dependency, sluggishness, weight gain, and the many other side effects that none of us would ask for given the choice.

As someone who has lived with an overactive mind, overstimulated central nervous system, and a constant need to lessen my neural excitability, passionflower is exactly the supplement I use to still my body and mind.

If you are also someone who experiences an overactive mind, considering a slightly sedative supplement can significantly enhance your cognitive function, as you lessen the rattle-brained chaos that prevents you from achieving peak performance.

Often an overactive mind is considered powerful in the modern world, yet the truth is that an overactive mind can be your Achilles heel. Learning to still our mind is what creates focus, clarity, and peak productivity, and using a plant supplement to help get there isn’t something to be turned down.

Who is James Kearslake?

Having been biohacking my mind and body long before it became fashionable, I’ve always lived by the benefits of nature’s resources to improve cognitive and physiological performance. Using my years of experience, products, and wellness practices, I’m now helping others elevate their cognitive performance to help build the life they want. I save you the time I’ve spent learning, so you can focus your time on building.

Proudly AI Supported

I proudly use AI to support development of my articles. As a heavily dyslexic person, writing can be a time consuming process with words often jumbled up and sentences the wrong way round. AI has become my crutch; allowing me to share the immense interest in my mind, while making content creation quicker and more accurate. AI is my benefit.

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