Lemon Verbena Extracts Appear To Reduce Muscle Damage Following Intense Exercise

Lemon verbena leaves on a white bowl and verbena tea on wooden table. aloysia citrodora.
A lemon verbena extract helps to reduce the levels of muscle soreness and aids recovery following intense exercise. Copyright: geografika / 123RF Stock Photo
  • New research from Germany shows supplementation with a lemon verbena extract eases muscle soreness and reduces muscle damage following extreme, intense exercise.
  • The research confirms some earlier research into the sport benefits of lemon verbena extracts.

Lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora (L.)) is an annual herb which grows throughout South America. In Europe, it is grown both as a wild garden and herb where it has been used for making tea, various soft drink beverages, a food flavouring and even as a spice.

The herb appears to have many other scientific names such as  Lippia citriodora, Lippia triphylla, Aloysia triphylla. This is a testament to the differences in sub-species and need to understand the herb especially if it is used as a supplement.

The South American tribes used it as a calming agent for treating digestion, nervous discomfort and anxiety. In recent years, sports people have valued it as an ingredient because when it is taken as supplement after intense and exhaustive exercise, they appear to suffer less muscle damage. The recovery from this exertion is also quicker and even more effective than some of the more commonly touted ingredients used for muscle recovery. Few studies have shown any clinical benefits but a recent one has shed light on the level of benefit from this herb.

Water-based extractions of lemon verbena leaves reveal high levels of polyphenols (Bilia et al., 2008; Quirantes-Pine et al., 2009). These components are associated widely with reducing muscle damage through their inhibitory effects.

A number of studies examining the antioxidation benefits and various anti-inflammatory benefits are published  (Ponce-Monter et al., 2010; Abderrahim et al., 2011; Lenoir et al., 2011; Portmann et al., 2012; Choupani et al., 2014; Felgines et al., 2014).

There are six human clinical trials using lemon verbena (Caturla et al., 2011; Funes et al., 2011; Metre-Alfaro et al., 2011;  Mauriz et al., 2014; Carrera-Quintana et al., 2012; 2015). The most pertinent study (Funes et al., 2011) before the one about to be described looked at lemon verbena extract on the enzyme, creatine kinase which is a muscle damage indicator and a liver biomarker related to oxidative stress.  In that study there were some benefits on reducing cytokine production and other oxidative stress markers in neutrophils. One caveat about the research was the high level of extract used – 1.8g/day. This level is not suited to food supplementation.

The new study in Germany (Bucherwald-Werner et al., 2018) has examined a lemon verbena extract known as Recoverben© which is produced by Vital Solutions. The supplement is rich in polyphenols and was developed as an anti-inflammatory agent. Reducing inflammation throughout the body is possible by modifying enzyme activity such as inhibiting cyclooxygenase which catalyses the formation of prostaglandins. It is known that curcumin which is found primarily in turmeric (Ahmed et al., 2018) inhibits the same enzyme and has been shown in related trials to generate similar benefits to lemon verbena especially in muscle recovery (Delecraoix et al., 2017). Pomegranate extracts and other fruit based products such as blueberry juice, cherry juice, blackcurrants etc. have also been demonstrated to have muscle recovery benefits. In a general sense, many of the benefits are attributed to the polyphenols in each fruit extract (see article).

Essential Aspects of The Study With Lemon Verbena Extract Supplementation

The essential conclusion from the study was that just 400 milligrams taken daily of Recoverben helped muscle recovery significantly. Following intense exercise, the reduction is muscle strength was just 11 per cent compared to 21 per cent in a group receiving a placebo. The study also showed that recovery was quicker and there was less fatigue following such exercise and full recovery after 48 hours.  

The team concluded that the lemon verbena extract improves the antioxidant levels in the body to such an extent that it reduces oxidative stress especially when required after periods of intense exercise. The study is the first major example where lemon verbena could ameliorate muscle soreness and damage, improve recovery and reduce fatigue.

The Study

Forty-four healthy people of both sexes involved in sports of a general nature and between 22 and 50 years of age, were recruited for the trial with the supplement. All had a BMI between 19 and 30 kg/m2 and none smoked. All participants ate five portions or less of both fruits and vegetables per day to ensure there were potential confounding effects from other polyphenol sources.

  These subjects were assigned to two groups randomly. One group took the single dose of two capsules totaling 400 mg lemon verbena extract daily and in the morning, the other took a placebo  based on maltodextrin and presumably of a similar flavour. These products were consumed for 10 days before they all took part in exhaustive exercise , on the test day and four days after the exercises.

The exercise was to do 200 counter-movement jumps with an additional load of 10% of the participant’s body weight.

Various markers of muscle damage and fatigue were assessed. These included muscle strength (maximal voluntary contraction; MVC), muscle damage by measuring levels of creatine kinase (CK), oxidative stress by measuring levels of glutathione peroxidase (GPx) and  inflammation by measuring the cytokine, interleukin-6 (IL6), were noted to evaluate muscle damage and antioxidative capacity.

The participants rated the intensity of their muscle soreness before and after exercise.

Results

The overriding result was that maximal voluntary contraction and muscle soreness were not as severe with the supplement compared to the placebo. The levels of creatine kinase was certainly high in both groups which is a common measure of muscle damage and wholly expected. The reported from the paper:-

“In our study, high levels of interindividual variation in creatine kinase concentrations were present, which could explain why we failed to observe a significant between-group difference despite other markers of muscle damage, such as MVC, favouring the lemon verbena group.”

Glutathione peroxidase enzyme levels were also higher in the supplemented group indicating an upweighting of this enzyme. The author’s conclusion was that lemon verbena strengthened the antioxidative defense system as a means of countering levels of oxidative stress induced by the exercising.

The cytokine, interleukin-6 rose but without significant differences because of variability between individuals. There was no statistical significance between the two groups.

Drawing upon further inferences in the research, the group considered a number of features of lemon verbena’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Enhanced production of vasodilation factors and the inhibition of synthesis of vasoconstrictors were also part of the various mechanisms influenced. The result would be improved oxygen supply to the muscle tissue during and after damaging exercise, and better removal of waste materials.

References

Abderrahim F, Estrella S, Susin C, Arribas SM, Gonzalez MC, Condezo-Hoyos L. (2011) The antioxidant activity and thermal stability of lemon verbena (Aloysia Triphylla) infusion. J Med Food. 14 pp. 517–27.

Ahmed M, Qadir MA, Hameed A, Imran M, Muddassar M. (2018) Screening of curcumin-derived isoxazole, pyrazoles, and pyrimidines for their antiinflammatory, antinociceptive, and cyclooxygenase-2 inhibition. Chem. Biol. Drug Des. 91 pp. 338–43

Bilia, A.R., Giomi, M., Innocenti, M., Gallori, S., Vincieri, F.F. (2008)  HPLC-DAD-ESI-MS analysis of the constituents of aqueous preparations of verbena and lemon verbena and evaluation of the antioxidant activity. J. Pharm. Biomed. Anal. 46 pp. 463–70

Bucherwald-Werner, S., Naka, I., Wilhelm, M., Schutz, E., Schoen, C. Reule, C. (2018) Effects of lemon verbena extract (Recoverben®) supplementation on muscle strength and recovery after exhaustive exercise: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 15: 5 PMCID: PMC5781260 doi:  10.1186/s12970-018-0208-0

Carrera-Quintanar L, Funes L, Viudes E, Tur J, Micol V, Roche E, et al. (2012)  Antioxidant effect of lemon verbena extracts in lymphocytes of university students performing aerobic training program. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 22 pp. 454–61.

Carrera-Quintanar L, Funes L, Vicente-Salar N, Blasco-Lafarga C, Pons A, Micol V, et al. (2015) Effect of polyphenol supplements on redox status of blood cells: a randomized controlled exercise training trial. Eur. J. Nutr. 54 pp. 1081–93.

Caturla, N., Funes, L., Perez-Fons, L., Micol, V. (2011) A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study of the effect of a combination of lemon verbena extract and fish oil omega-3 fatty acid on joint management. J. Altern. Complement Med. 17 pp. 1051–63.  PMID: 22087615  doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0410

Choupani M, Arabshahi S, Alami M. (2014) Antioxidant properties of various solvent extracts of lemon verbena (Lippia citriodora) leaves. Int. J. Adv. Biol. Biomed Res. pp. 2

Delecroix B, Abaidia AE, Leduc C, Dawson B, Dupont G. (2017) Curcumin and Piperine supplementation and recovery following exercise induced muscle damage: a randomized controlled trial. J Sports Sci Med. 16 pp. 147–53

Felgines C, Fraisse D, Besson C, Vasson MP, Texier O. (2014) Bioavailability of lemon verbena (Aloysia Triphylla) polyphenols in rats: impact of colonic inflammation. Br. J. Nutr. 111 pp. 1773–81.

Funes L, Carrera-Quintanar L, Cerdan-Calero M, Ferrer MD, Drobnic F, Pons A, et al. (2011) Effect of lemon verbena supplementation on muscular damage markers, proinflammatory cytokines release and neutrophils’ oxidative stress in chronic exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. 111 pp. 695–705. doi: 10.1007/s00421-010-1684-3. Epub 2010 Oct 22.

Lenoir L, Rossary A, Joubert-Zakeyh J, Vergnaud-Gauduchon J, Farges MC, Fraisse D, et al. (2011) Lemon verbena infusion consumption attenuates oxidative stress in dextran sulfate sodium-induced colitis in the rat. Dig Dis Sci. 56 pp. 3534–45

Mauriz, E., Vallejo, D., Tunon, M.J., Rodriguez-Lopez JM, Rodriguez-Perez R, Sanz-Gomez J, et al. (2014) Effects of dietary supplementation with lemon verbena extracts on serum inflammatory markers of multiple sclerosis patients. Nutr. Hosp. 31:pp. 764–71.

Mestre-Alfaro A, Ferrer MD, Sureda A, Tauler P, Martinez E, Bibiloni MM, et al. (2011) Phytoestrogens enhance antioxidant enzymes after swimming exercise and modulate sex hormone plasma levels in female swimmers. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 111 pp. 2281–94.

Ponce-Monter, H., Fernandez-Martinez, E., Ortiz, M.I., Ramirez-Montiel, M.L., Cruz-Elizalde D, Perez-Hernandez N, et al. (2010)  Spasmolytic and anti-inflammatory effects of Aloysia Triphylla and citral, in vitro and in vivo studies. J. Smooth Muscle Res. 46 pp. 309–19.

Portmann E, Nigro MM, Reides CG, Llesuy S, Ricco RA, Wagner ML, et al. (2012) Aqueous extracts of Lippia Turbinata and Aloysia Citriodora (Verbenaceae): assessment of antioxidant capacity and DNA damage. Int. J. Toxicol. 31 pp. 192–202.

Quirantes-Pine, R., Funes, L., Micol, V., Segura-Carretero, A, Fernandez-Gutierrez A. (2009) High-performance liquid chromatography with diode array detection coupled to electrospray time-of-flight and ion-trap tandem mass spectrometry to identify phenolic compounds from a lemon verbena extract. J. Chromatogr. A. 1216 pp. 5391–7

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