In our increasingly fast-paced and stressful world, anxiety disorders have become remarkably prevalent. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States, or 18.1% of the population, every year. Although these disorders are highly treatable, only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
While professional help, medication, and exercise are critical components of managing anxiety, there is growing interest in the potential role of natural supplements as a complementary approach. It’s important to understand that supplements are not a cure-all, and they should not replace traditional therapy and medications. However, they can be part of a holistic approach to managing anxiety. In this article, we will explore the best natural supplements for anxiety, as supported by scientific evidence.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are essential nutrients that play a crucial role in brain health and function. Their anti-inflammatory properties and influence on neurotransmission may contribute to their potential to alleviate anxiety symptoms.
A meta-analysis published in JAMA Network Open in 2018 analyzed 19 clinical trials involving 2240 participants from 11 countries. The study found that individuals who consumed clinically studied doses of omega-3s demonstrated significantly reduced anxiety symptoms compared to placebo groups. The effect was particularly strong among participants with diagnosed clinical conditions, suggesting that omega-3 supplementation may be an effective adjuvant therapy for anxiety disorders.
Omega-3s can be found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. However, for those who do not consume enough of these foods, fish oil supplements are an alternative option.
Ashwagandha, scientifically known as Withania somnifera, is an adaptogenic herb renowned in Ayurvedic medicine for its stress-relieving properties. Adaptogens help the body resist various kinds of stressors and restore physiological functioning.
The anxiolytic effects of ashwagandha are believed to be due to its influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the central stress response system. By regulating cortisol production, ashwagandha may help maintain balance during stressful situations, thereby reducing anxiety symptoms.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology examined 64 adults with chronic stress, demonstrating that those who received ashwagandha supplementation had significantly reduced anxiety and stress levels compared to the placebo group. Furthermore, the ashwagandha group demonstrated marked improvements in sleep quality, a common issue among individuals with anxiety.
Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the human body, including those related to the nervous system’s stress response. Research suggests that magnesium deficiency can impair the stress response, leading to heightened anxiety and stress.
Magnesium is believed to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety by acting as a gatekeeper for N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which are involved in brain development, memory and learning. It helps prevent overactivation of these receptors, which can lead to anxiety and other problems.
A 2017 review published in the journal Nutrients highlighted that magnesium supplementation could effectively reduce anxiety symptoms, making it a promising natural remedy for anxiety. It’s worth noting that while magnesium is present in various foods, such as leafy greens, nuts, and legumes, many people do not get enough from diet alone, which may necessitate supplementation.
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is produced by the body in response to sunlight exposure. It is vital for bone health, immune function, and mental health. Interestingly, research has linked vitamin D deficiency with mood disorders, including depression and anxiety.
Vitamin D receptors are widely distributed in the brain, where vitamin D plays a role in numerous neural pathways. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry found a significant association between low vitamin D levels and high levels of anxiety. Supplementation with vitamin D led to improvements in anxiety levels, particularly in those with clinically low levels of vitamin D at the start of the study.
Valerian root, derived from the Valeriana officinalis plant, has been used for centuries to promote relaxation and improve sleep. It contains a number of compounds that are thought to contribute to its medicinal properties, including valerenic acid, isovaleric acid, and a variety of antioxidants.
Valerian root is often referred to as “nature’s Valium” because of its potential to calm the nervous system and facilitate sleep. This calming effect is largely attributed to its interaction with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that regulates nerve impulses in your brain and nervous system. Increased GABA activity can reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and improve sleep.
A 2015 meta-analysis in the American Journal of Medicine found that valerian root can be beneficial in reducing anxiety symptoms, particularly when taken over a longer period. It’s available in various forms, including capsules, teas, and tinctures, making it a versatile option for those looking to manage anxiety naturally.
Chamomile, a daisy-like plant, is a popular herbal remedy with a long history of use for its calming effects. It’s often consumed in tea form, but is also available as a supplement in capsule or liquid extract forms.
Several of chamomile’s chemical compounds, including apigenin, luteolin, and bisabolol, are thought to contribute to its anti-anxiety effects. Apigenin, in particular, binds to specific receptors in your brain that may decrease anxiety and initiate sleep.
A 2016 study published in the journal Phytomedicine examined the effects of chamomile extract on individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The study found that long-term use of chamomile was significantly more effective than placebo at reducing symptoms of GAD. These findings suggest that chamomile may offer a natural and accessible option for managing anxiety.
B vitamins, including B1 (thiamine), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin), play crucial roles in maintaining brain health and regulating mood. They are involved in the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which are critical for mood regulation.
A deficiency in these vitamins can lead to mood disturbances, including increased anxiety. A 2018 review published in the journal Nutrients found that supplementation with B vitamins can help reduce stress, improve mood, and alleviate anxiety. Of particular note, vitamins B6 and B12 are closely involved in the synthesis of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in anxiety regulation.
In conclusion, various natural supplements, including omega-3 fatty acids, ashwagandha, magnesium, vitamin D, valerian root, chamomile, and B vitamins, have shown promise as complementary treatments for anxiety. However, while these supplements may help, they should not replace traditional treatments for anxiety disorders. It’s always important to discuss any new supplements with a healthcare provider to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your specific needs.