Feeling Anxious? Try These Top 10 Natural Supplements for Anxiety

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the top ten natural supplements for anxiety relief

We all know the awful feeling of anxiety: that gut-wrenching, paralyzing, downward-spiral feeling. Whether it stems from overloaded work schedules, health concerns, or relationship trouble, anxiety is no fun for anyone. Adding in a pandemic to the mix, and it’s no surprise that the prevalence of anxiety has skyrocketed this year. 

While there are plenty of lifestyle choices you can make to alleviate anxious feelings — try meditation, time in nature, and less screen time — this article will focus solely on the top natural supplements for anxiety relief. 

The Top 10 Natural Supplements for Anxiety Relief

1. L-Theanine

L-theanine, an amino acid found mainly in green tea leaves, is a well-studied supplement for reducing anxiety. 

This compound encourages the synthesis of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that promote relaxation and feelings of calmness. L-theanine also reduces brain glutamate levels, an excitatory neurotransmitter that can increase anxiety when in excess. 

In an October 2019 study published in Nutrients, adults taking 200 mg per day of L-theanine for four weeks experienced significant reductions in anxiety, stress, and depression scores. 

L-theanine is available in supplemental form or by drinking green tea, matcha, or black tea.

2. Magnesium

Although magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, it is a commonly under-consumed nutrient.

Magnesium plays a crucial role in regulating neuronal signaling and the production of GABA and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Dysfunction in these processes is implicated in cases of anxiety. 

A May 2017 review published in Nutrients analyzed the results from 18 studies assessing magnesium’s effects on anxiety and stress. The researchers found that supplemental magnesium was linked to a modest reduction in subjective measures of mild anxiety in humans. Other research with animals has shown a clear link between magnesium and reduced anxiety.

Magnesium can be taken in capsule or powder form, used as bath salts, or as a topical cream. The top food sources of magnesium are nuts, seeds, beans, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, and avocado.

3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids 

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in high amounts in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and tuna, are associated with reduced inflammation and improvements in mood disorders. These healthy fats are also available in fish oil supplements — make sure your supplement is tested for mercury and other toxins or contaminants.

The primary omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Low levels of DHA have been linked to mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression. 

A randomized controlled trial, published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity in October 2011, found that medical students who took omega-3 supplements for 12 weeks had a 20% decrease in anxiety and inflammatory cytokines compared to students taking a placebo. 

The mechanism behind how omega-3 fats relieve anxiety has to do with the reduction of these inflammatory cytokines, as they promote the secretion of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) to stimulate the amygdala, causing fear or anxiety.

man with anxiety; the top nutrients for anxiety relief include magnesium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fats

4. Vitamin D 

Vitamin D deficiency is becoming widespread, as we tend to spend more time indoors or covered with sunscreen. This fat-soluble vitamin, which is found in small amounts in fatty fish, fortified milk, and mushrooms, is most easily accessed through sunshine or supplements. 

Research has found that both inadequate and deficient serum levels of vitamin D are linked to significant increases in anxiety. Similar to omega-3 fats, vitamin D also plays a role in reducing levels of inflammatory cytokines. The active metabolite of vitamin D, calcitriol, also has been found to stimulate serotonin synthesis; serotonin is linked to improved mood. 

Groups at risk of vitamin D deficiency include older adults, obese individuals, people with darker skin, and people who live farther away from the equator with less year-round sunshine. Supplemental vitamin D may be wise for those in these at-risk groups to help support mental health.   

5. Valerian Root

Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is a flowering herb whose roots have been used to promote relaxation for centuries; the root can be taken as a supplement or tea. 

The mechanism behind valerian root’s anxiety-reducing properties comes from its ability to reduce GABA breakdown in the brain, leading to higher levels of the calming neurotransmitter. This process is similar to how prescription anti-anxiety medications work. 

A study published in Neuropsychobiology in November 2017 found that adults who took a single dose of 900 mg of valerian root extract experienced a modulation of cortical facilitatory circuits, which is a neural process that is impaired in cases of anxiety.

6. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha, also known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng, is a plant that has been used therapeutically for thousands of years in Ayurvedic practices in India. 

Ashwagandha functions as an adaptogen, which is a term for a plant or herb that modulates stressors in the body. One of the processes that ashwagandha modulates is the stress response, thereby reducing anxiety. 

In a randomized controlled trial of adults with chronic stress, supplementing with 600 mg of ashwagandha for 60 days led to significantly reduced levels of anxiety and the stress hormone cortisol, compared to those taking a placebo.

7. Probiotics

Probiotics, meaning “for life,” are a group of helpful bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract and provide health benefits. Collectively, the ecosystem of bacteria in the gut is called the microbiome.  

In a large meta-analysis that pooled results from 29 trials, probiotic supplements were associated with significant anxiety reduction. The mechanism behind this involves the vagus nerve, which is method that the gastrointestinal tract and the brain communicate through — also known as the gut-brain axis.

This bidirectional relationship modulates several mechanisms involved with anxiety, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. When the HPA axis is overactivated, the stress hormone cortisol is increased, and anxiety can follow. 

Several strains of probiotic bacteria, especially those from the Lactobacillus family, have been linked to mental health, leading to their reclassification as psychobiotics

To get the benefits of these bacteria, consume probiotic-rich foods, like fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, or kefir, or take a supplement with at least 1 billion CFU (colony-forming units) of the probiotics per capsule.

8Chamomile

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L. or Matricaria recutita) is an herb known for its calming effects. Commonly made into teas or consumed as a supplement, chamomile is considered an anxiolytic, or anxiety-reducer. 

In a study published in Phytomedicine in December 2015, people with moderate to severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) took 1,500 mg per day of chamomile extract. After eight weeks, the participants saw significant improvements in anxiety rating scores, comparable to conventional anti-anxiety medications. 

A similar study looked at long-term chamomile use in people with GAD. They found that those who took 1,500 mg of chamomile for 38 weeks experienced significantly reduced levels of anxiety, in addition to reductions in blood pressure. As bouts of anxiety can cause blood pressure to spike, the results from this study indicate that chamomile may benefit not only mental health but also cardiovascular health.

chamomile is a well-known plant for anxiety relief and can be made into a tea

9. Rhodiola

Rhodiola, also known as rosenroot, is an herb that has been used in traditional healing for centuries.  

In a study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment in March 2017, people with high levels of stress who took 400 mg of Rhodiola for 12 weeks experienced significant improvements in symptoms of stress, anxiety, and lack of concentration. 

In addition to relieving stress and anxiety, Rhodiola is linked to enhanced work performance. This is due to its function as an adaptogen, which means the herb provides mental stimulation without stimulating the central nervous system, like caffeine or other stimulants.

10. CBD

CBD (cannabidiol) is one of may cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant; however, CBD does not have produce any psychoactive effects. 

Most of the research with CBD is still in its infancy, but the compound does show promise for reducing anxiety and stress. 

In a case study of adults with anxiety or poor sleep, those who took 25 mg per day of CBD in capsule form for three months experienced significant decreases in anxiety symptoms.

Key Takeaway: 

  • Many herbs and compounds function as anxiolytics, meaning they reduce anxiety and calm the central nervous system. 
  • The top natural supplements for anxiety relief include magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, L-theanine, valerian root, ashwagandha, probiotics, chamomile, CBD, and Rhodiola. 

Show references
 

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Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255-262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022

Hidese S, Ogawa S, Ota M, et al. Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2362. Published 2019 Oct 3. doi:10.3390/nu11102362

Kasper S, Dienel A. Multicenter, open-label, exploratory clinical trial with Rhodiola rosea extract in patients suffering from burnout symptoms. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2017;13:889-898. Published 2017 Mar 22. doi:10.2147/NDT.S120113

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Kim SY, Jeon SW, Lim WJ, et al. The Relationship between Serum Vitamin D Levels, C-Reactive Protein, and Anxiety Symptoms. Psychiatry Investig. 2020;17(4):312-319. doi:10.30773/pi.2019.0290

Liu RT, Walsh RFL, Sheehan AE. Prebiotics and probiotics for depression and anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019;102:13-23. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.03.023

Mao JJ, Xie SX, Keefe JR, Soeller I, Li QS, Amsterdam JD. Long-term chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: A randomized clinical trial. Phytomedicine. 2016;23(14):1735-1742. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2016.10.012

Mineo L, Concerto C, Patel D, et al. Valeriana officinalis Root Extract Modulates Cortical Excitatory Circuits in Humans. Neuropsychobiology. 2017;75(1):46-51. doi:10.1159/000480053

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Shannon S, Lewis N, Lee H, Hughes S. Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. Perm J. 2019;23:18-041. doi:10.7812/TPP/18-041

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