Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Bach Flower Remedies
Bach flower remedies are created by dipping a particular type of flower in water and then preserving the fragrant liquid with brandy.
Effect of Bach Flower Remedies on Generalized Anxiety Disorder
According to Dr. Edward Bach, the appropriately chosen flower could be used to treat emotional problems, such as shyness, anxiety, and grief. Bach flower remedies are sometimes compared to homeopathy, but they differ because they do not use extreme dilutions.
Research Evidence on Bach Flower Remedies
In 2001, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study tested whether a particular combination of Bach flower remedies could relieve the anxiety that students experience while taking exams.1 The trial used a mixture containing 10 flower extracts: impatiens, mimulus, gentian, chestnut bud, rock rose, larch, cherry plum, white chestnut, scleranthus, and elm. (An expert in the use of Bach flower remedies suggested this particular combination.) A total of 61 students were enrolled in the study; 55 completed it. Each participant received either the Bach flower remedy or placebo for a period of 2 weeks leading up to an exam. Participants answered a questionnaire to assess their anxiety levels before starting treatment and just prior to the test. Unfortunately, the use of Bach flower remedies did not measurably reduce anxiety levels compared to placebo.
A previous study also evaluated the use of a Bach flower remedy (Rescue Remedy) for treating test anxiety and found no benefit.2 However, more than 50% of the participants dropped out, making the results of that trial unreliable.
Another study of Rescue Remedy for situational anxiety also failed to find that it was more effective than placebo.4 However, after the study was concluded, researchers then explored the data, and found a relative benefit in one subgroup of participants. This may appear to support the use of Rescue Remedy. However, such “post-hoc” statistical analyses are notoriously unreliable: based on the laws of chance alone, it is almost always possible to find some subgroup that showed benefit in a study. The process of doing this is called “data dredging,” or sometimes, “going on a treasure hunt.” Such investigatory analyses of data can provide fodder for future studies, but they make no positive statement about the results of a study already conducted. Researchers must state in advance what measurement they plan to look at (the primary outcome measure), and base their conclusion on the results of that measurement. From that perspective, this was a negative trial.
- Walach H, Rilling C, Engelke U. Efficacy of Bach-flower remedies in test anxiety: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial with partial crossover. J Anxiety Disord. 2001;15:359-366.
- Armstrong NC, Ernst E. A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial of a Bach Flower Remedy. Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery. 2001;7:215-221.
- Pintov S, Hochman M, Livne A, Heyman E, Lahat E. Bach flower remedies used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children-A prospective double blind controlled study. Eur J Paediatr Neurol. 2005;9:395-398. [Epub 2005 Oct 27.]
- Halberstein R, DeSantis L, Sirkin A, et al. Healing with Bach® flower essences: testing a complementary therapy. Complement Health Pract Rev. 2007;12:3-14.