If you’ve ever had Earl Grey tea, then you’ve tasted the flavor of bergamot. It comes from the Citrus bergamia plant, a fruit tree believed to be native to the Mediterranean region.
A blend of the sour orange and lemon (or citron) plant, bergamot produces a fruit that looks like a round lemon. Although generally too sour to eat on its own, it’s been part of the Mediterranean diet since the early 18th century.
People use extracts from bergamot’s sour juice and oil from its peel for a variety of things including:
- Scents for personal care products
- Health supplements
Bergamot has health benefits include:
Several studies have shown that bergamot may help to reduce overall cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol. It may also help to increase “good” HDL cholesterol and has the potential to be an effective supplement to cholesterol drugs.
Studies have shown that an aromatherapy blend that includes bergamot may help with depression symptoms in older adults, people with terminal cancer, and women who are at high risk of postpartum depression.
There hasn’t been enough research yet to confirm the results, and there’s no conclusive evidence that it can help with depression in other populations. However, there have been some promising early studies with animals.
Scientists have found that bergamot might protect the joints in people taking aromatase inhibitors as part of cancer treatment. More research is needed.
One study shows that taking bergamot supplements may help people with schizophrenia think more clearly. People in the study had better results on several cognitive tests after taking bergamot. Further research is needed.
Health Risks of Bergamot
Mild side effects. Some people experience side effects like dizziness, muscle cramps, and heartburn when they take bergamot with food.
Blood sugar issues. Bergamot may cause your blood sugar to drop. If you have diabetes, your blood sugar might reach unsafe levels. It’s important to monitor those levels if you choose to use bergamot supplements.
Even if you don’t have diabetes, bergamot could make it harder for doctors to control your blood sugar during surgery. Experts recommend that you stop using bergamot supplements two weeks before you have surgery.
Childhood seizures. Children have experienced more serious side effects from taking bergamot, including seizures and death. Serious side effects are more likely when children consume a lot of bergamot oil.
Sun sensitivity. Bergamot oil may be less safe as a skin treatment since it can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. It may also be unsafe as a skin treatment for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Be sure to dilute bergamot oil before applying to your skin. Be particularly cautious about using it if you take a medication that can make you more sensitive to the sun, such as amitriptyline, ciprofloxacin, or tetracycline.
How to Use Bergamot
Inhale as aromatherapy. Because many people use bergamot as an aromatherapy ingredient, it’s relatively easy to find bergamot oil wherever you shop for essential oils. You can add a few drops of bergamot oil to:
- An essential oil diffuser filled with water.
- A water-based solution in a spray bottle.
- A bowl of steaming water.
Always check the instructions on the bottle to determine how much to use.
Prepare a solution for your skin. Combine 1 teaspoon of a carrier oil — like a vegetable or nut oil — with three drops of essential oil. You can also use water, but it may not dissolve as well.
Take as a supplement. Always talk to your doctor before using any over-the-counter dietary supplement, including bergamot. Mention any other supplements and drugs you may be taking, and ask where you might look for a high-quality product.