More and more people are straying from modern medicine and turning to natural and herbal supplements for their daily health needs. This shift has come as the list of side effects for numerous medications continues to grow, while more and more reports indicate that the medications themselves are not working as promised, or are not powerful enough to warrant the side effect risk.
This is especially true for those living with anxiety. When you have anxiety, you want immediate relief. But the anxiety medications out there are fraught with side effects. So finding a natural solution or anxiety becomes so important.
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The Value of a Quick Solution
Before we delve into the natural supplements that are valuable for treating anxiety, it's important to go over what these supplements mean for treating anxiety. The first thing to understand is that herbal supplements and medicine have the same purpose as prescription medication - to provide you with an immediate way of reducing the effects of anxiety while you figure out a way to cure it long term.
That's where the key distinction is - if you're not going to pair it with some long term strategy, there's simply no point in using it. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to find a long term treatment that works.
There's no such thing as a natural medicine that cures anxiety, because anxiety can't be "cured" through medicinal means. It can only be prevented in the moment, and will still come back as soon as you stop taking the supplement without additional help.
Herbal Supplements May Still Have Dangers
It's also important to clear up a very common misconception about herbal and natural treatments - that because they're natural, they're safe.
There is some additional safety to using a natural solution. Consuming chemicals simply cannot be as healthy for your body as consuming something natural, like an herb.
But the more powerful the herb is, the more likely you're going to have side effects, because many of the side effects of modern medications are not from the chemicals, but from the action. In other words, if a prescription medication causes side effects because it increases dopamine levels, then a natural medicine that increases dopamine levels is also likely to have similar side effects.
Similar does not mean identical, so it's absolutely possible for an herbal medicine to be safer, but keep that in mind - especially if you take any other herbs or medicines. There may be an interaction risk or a dietary risk. The best thing you can do is make sure your doctor approves of any herbal supplement before you take it.
Benefits of Herbal Supplements for Anxiety
With that in mind, herbal and natural supplements for anxiety are still a popular choice over prescription medications. That's because they have several advantages that prescription medications simply do not. These include:
- Non-Disorder Use Herbal supplements are likely a better choice for those without a diagnosable anxiety disorder, but those that struggle with anxiety and stress nonetheless. While millions of people have an anxiety disorder, millions more struggle with anxiety and occasionally need help. Herbs are a much better choice because they're easier to obtain, cause fewer side effects, have no addiction risk, and can be moderated as you need them rather than the way anxiety medications are dosed.
- Withdrawal Free Even though we warned about side effects earlier, most modern herbal medicines for anxiety do appear to be withdrawal and side effect free. That's a huge advantage compared to modern prescription medications like benzodiazepines, which have a severe withdrawal risk.
- No Personality Changes Herbal supplements - at least the ones currently used and available - do not cause any personality changes like some other anxiety medicines. They don't overwhelm your mind and cause severe fatigue or cause you to feel no anxiety at times when you should be experience anxiety. You'll still be you on these herbal supplements, and that's what people want from something that treats anxiety.
We warned earlier about the safety of herbal supplements in general, but anxiety supplements do appear to be mostly safe and addiction free. It's simply something to keep in mind when you take any herbal supplement, especially if you have any other health problems or are taking other medications.
Best Herbal Supplements and Natural Supplements for Anxiety
So now it's time to go over the best available herbal solutions for anxiety. We're going to overlook "homeopathic" supplements for now. There is little research supporting most homeopathic remedies and thousands of mixtures that make it difficult to pinpoint whether or not one actually works. Many of them are likely the placebo effect.
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Herbal supplements suffer from a lack of research as well, but thankfully enough studies have been conducted to help draw some conclusions. The best herbs for anxiety include:
Kava (Kava Kava, Kava Root)
Kava is the king of all anxiety supplements, and the only herb that has substantial research supporting its use. Kava root is high in kavalactones, a type of compound that studies have shown is highly psychoactive. There is more than one type of kavalactone in kava, but all of them appear to promote relaxation:
- Some kavalactones appear to improve GABA production.
- Some kavalactones appear to improve dopamine production.
- Some kavalactones appear to prevent norepinephrine reuptake.
All of these are extremely valuable for controlling anxiety. Interestingly, few supplement manufacturers seem to study the levels of kavalactones in their supplements, indicating that it's possible for each supplement to work differently from one pill to the next.
Kava is believed to provide everything one needs from an anxiety drug, and is likened to both benzodiazepines (except without the addiction risk) and buspirone. These include:
- Mild sedation.
- Muscle relaxation.
- Improve cognitive performance.
- Pain reduction.
- Anxiolytic (anti-anxiety properties).
Kava generally comes in pill form, and kavalactones vary. Because little science has been completed on kava, it's believed that the proper dose may be as high as 250mg of kavalactones, to as low as 100. Most supplements that provide only 30 to 50 kavalactones are unlikely to have any real effects.
Kava originally came in teas, and is still sold in tea form today. Most modern teas, however, are extremely low in kavalactone levels and are unlikely to be effective. Furthermore, kava appears to be fat soluble, meaning it must be taken with meals or with some type of fat providing agent, like butter.
Not long ago, kava was taken off of most marketplaces because of studies that linked the herb to severe liver damage and toxicity. Since then, several follow up studies appear to show very little relationship between liver damage and kava use. There are several theories for the previous studies:
- Some supplements seemed to use other parts of the kava plant besides the root.
- Some supplements appeared to use some type of synthetic kava compounds.
- Kava appears to interact very poorly with alcohol and some drugs.
Many of those that took kava are believed to have been abusing alcohol as well, and the interaction of kava and alcohol is believed to have been the cause of liver damage. That's why kava is best taken under advisement of your doctor and without any alcohol whatsoever.
Overall, kava has received a considerable amount of research and most studies confirm that kava has powerful anti-anxiety properties with nearly no side effects and no addiction risk.
Valerian root isn't generally considered an anxiety reduction supplement at all. Rather, it's a sleep and relaxation supplement that is most commonly used for helping those with insomnia find rest late at night.
But despite this alternative use, many people find that valerian root provides them with exactly what they're looking for - relief from the high stress and tension of anxiety. By relaxing the mind and body, valerian is essentially able to give people the "break" from anxiety they need to help themselves cope.
These days, valerian is being marketed as an anti-anxiety herbal supplement for the same reasons.
It's not clear why valerian works and most studies have found inconclusive results. There's no denying that anecdotally, _many_ people find valerian to work incredibly well. But like most herbal supplements besides kava, very few studies have looked at why it works or the mechanism of action. It's believed that valerian has an effect on GABA receptors, though it's not clear what that effect is.
Valerian has no known side effects, though it is strongly recommended that you do not take valerian with alcohol, other sleep drugs or supplements, or even other anxiety supplements like kava, because of the depressant qualities of valerian and the lack of information about how it works.
Passionflower is another common anti-anxiety herbal supplement, and may best be described as "kava-lite." It has received a fair amount of research for an herbal supplement, and most conclude that it has some effect, but that the effect isn't as strong as kava and other medicines.
So while passionflower may be worth attempting when you have any anxiety disorder, it's best for mild to moderate anxiety, and possibly a smarter choice for those with daily, otherwise manageable anxiety; those that need a bit of an extra boost to help them cope.
Some species of passionflower - although not all, which could explain why some supplements are more effective than others - contain beta-carboline harmala alkaloids, which are believed to have MAO-I and anti-depressant qualities, especially in the leaves. The maypop flower is the only one that has received research, and it compared well to oxazepam in studies (an anti-anxiety drug).
The recommended dosing is roughly 90mg.
Not all anxiety supplements are herbs. Some people find that magnesium can be a powerful natural supplement for anxiety.
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals on the planet. But modern day food production practices have essentially wiped it out of the modern day diet. Millions of people are magnesium deficient in some way, and while true magnesium deficiency (dangerously low levels of magnesium) is not terribly common, it's possible that low levels of magnesium contribute to some of the problems that are associated with not only anxiety, but also panic attacks.
Few people get a full daily value of magnesium in their diets, which some place as high as 350 mg. In addition, there are several issues that can use up magnesium deposits:
- Hyperventilation appears to decrease magnesium in the body.
- Stress appears to decrease magnesium in the body.
- Some foods and medicines appear to flush magnesium from the body.
Magnesium affects more than 300 different processes in the body and is a crucial component in nerve health. It's possible that some of the symptoms of anxiety and triggers of panic and anxiety attacks are caused by or made worse by low magnesium levels.
Magnesium isn't likely to cure your anxiety or even prevent it. But if you're magnesium deficient it is possible that your symptoms are worse because of magnesium, so dietary changes or supplementation may be highly beneficial.
Other Natural Medicine for Anxiety
The four supplements above are some of the most common for anxiety, and the few that have real research supporting their use. Most other supplements either have no research or appear to be ineffective.
Some people find St. John's Wort to be beneficial. The herb appears to have a positive effect on depression, but depression and anxiety are linked in a variety of ways, so it's possible that St. John's Wort, could improve your anxiety symptoms. Other herbs include:
Research is highly mixed in these areas and their effectiveness is not entirely clear.
Why Take Medicine At All?
Natural medicine may be a better choice than prescription medications, but it's still something that will only work temporarily. You need something longer lasting - something that will CURE your anxiety forever!
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When to Choose Natural Medicine
Natural or unnatural, you should always talk to a doctor before taking any type of drug or supplement. But natural supplements are a smart choice when you want to avoid the potential ramifications of prescription medications. Pharmaceutical supplements are not without value, but they are also not without more risk, and so trying an herbal supplement first before depending on these medications makes a great deal of sense.
But never forget that not even natural medicine can truly cure anxiety. Once you stop taking the herbs, your anxiety is going to come back. Regardless of whether or not you choose to take an herbal solution, make sure you're partnering it with a long term treatment.
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Pittler, Max H., and Edzard Ernst. Efficacy of kava extract for treating anxiety: systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of clinical psychopharmacology 20.1 (2000): 84-89.
Volz, Hans-Peter, and M. Kieser. Kava-kava extract WS 1490 versus placebo in anxiety disorders: A randomized placebo-controlled 25-week outpatient trial. Pharmacopsychiatry (1997).
Pittler, Max H., and Edzard Ernst. Kava extract versus placebo for treating anxiety. The Cochrane Library (2003).
Andreatini, Roberto, et al. Effect of valepotriates (valerian extract) in generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized placebo-controlled pilot study. Phytotherapy Research 16.7 (2002): 650-654.
Akhondzadeh, Shahin, et al. Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: A pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics 26.5 (2002): 363-367.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.