Tea and other herbal remedies made from the chamomile plant may help women live longer, a small study suggests.
Based on the results for elderly residents of five U.S. states, it appears food or beverages containing chamomile don’t do much for men. But the women in the study who consumed chamomile had a 33 percent lower risk of death than those who didn’t.
“We were not surprised to find an association between chamomile and decreased mortality,” lead study author Bret Howrey, a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, said by email.
Howrey and colleagues asked a group of about 1,700 Mexican-Americans aged 65 and older in 2000-2001 whether they used chamomile, a common ingredient in teas as well as herbal dietary supplements.
Then they reviewed death records through 2007 to see whether there was any connection between mortality and chamomile use. For the whole group, consuming chamomile appeared to lower the risk of death by 29 percent.
After adjusting for socioeconomic factors, lifestyle choices and other medical conditions, women who used chamomile still lowered their death risk by 28 percent.
When the researchers looked at deaths specifically from heart disease or cancer, they found no differences among those who used chamomile and those who didn’t, as reported in The Gerontologist. The number of people who died from those causes may have been too small in this study to show a difference, the authors note.
The study doesn’t examine how much chamomile people consumed or whether they drank it in tea, swallowed it in pills or ate it mixed in with food. It also doesn’t prove that chamomile is what helped people live longer, just that there’s a connection, which might be tied to other factors.
“Although the results of this study are suggestive and certainly warrant further investigation, it would be erroneous to conclude that chamomile extends your lifespan given the available evidence,” Diane McKay, a scientist at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
Even though the study doesn’t firmly establish the benefits of chamomile, it adds to a growing body of evidence on the potential benefits of drinking tea made from this ingredient, Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, said by email.
“This finding does make sense as chamomile has been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well as to help reduce anxiety and depression,” Newberg, who wasn’t involved in the study, said. “Such processes would theoretically reduce the risk of infections, cancer and negative psychological states, all of which might increase the risk for dying.”
Chamomile has a long history of medicinal use, according to Sanjay Gupta, a professor in urology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
“Use of chamomile is not new to the world of medicine,” Gupta, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “For centuries, it has been used in various parts of the world as a healing agent against ailments such as inflammation, ulcers, canker sores, neuralgia, sciatica, rheumatic pain, hemorrhoids and mastitis.”