Updated: Oct 2, 2018
As a psychotherapist and holistic nutritionist, I’m incredibly passionate about how the worlds of mental health and physical health overlap—and I even completed a major research paper on this very topic during my master’s degree! With rates of anxiety particularly on the rise, I’m fascinated by the role that nutrition and exercise can play in managing symptoms of this disorder. In today’s post, we’ll be discussing different natural supplements that have been scientifically proven to improve anxiety-related symptoms.
Ashwaganda is an herb that comes from India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. More specifically, it’s an adaptogen—an agent that helps the body adapt to different emotional and physical stressors. One study in Nutrition Journal confirmed that ashwaganda supplementation corresponded to a decrease in final Beck Anxiety Inventory Scores—the most widely used scale for detecting anxiety. In other words, those who took an ashwaganda supplement appeared to be less anxious than those who took a placebo.
2. St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is a bright yellow flowering shrub native to Europe. Active ingredients found in the flowers and leaves are extracted and made into teas, pills, and tinctures. (NOTE: tinctures are liquid extracts made from herbs that you take orally and are found at health food stores.) A study in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine confirmed that St. John’s Wort is especially helpful for naturally treating depression, and a plethora of anecdotal evidence also exists for its ability to improve symptoms associated with anxiety.
3. A high-quality multivitamin
In a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it was revealed that blood levels of seven minerals dropped as much as 33% during a five-day period wherein employees were asked to complete extra work and meet difficult deadlines, which corresponded with a depletion in tissue stores for nutrients as well. Turns out, stress makes our bodies “use up” vitamins and minerals at a quicker rate, which can affect our mental health as well. Magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin B were particularly deficient, with losses of vitamin B being particularly concerning given its role in the maintenance of nervous system functioning. When it comes to multivitamins, I recommend picking one made from real, whole foods as these are devoid of synthetic ingredients (MegaFood and Garden of Life have some great options).
Vitamin B1 is particularly important for balancing blood sugar levels, which plays a key role in the management of anxiety. Vitamin B6 helps your body make several neurotransmitters and hormones that influence mood like serotonin and norepinephrine, as confirmed by the University of Maryland Medical Centre. Additionally, a deficiency in B12 is related to mood issues due to its role in maintaining proper neurotransmitter signalling. Therefore, taking a high-quality, potent B-complex can be helpful in managing symptoms associated with anxiety. Just know that if B vitamins tend to make your pee highlighter yellow, which is normal.
Getting a good night’s sleep is especially important for anxiety sufferers. The reason for this is that not being well-rested directly impacts our amygdala, which is our brain’s alarm system that detects fear. A fascinating study from the Journal of Neuroscience showed that just one sleepless night caused a change in the amygdala. Specifically, it caused a disruption in the participants’ abilities to distinguish between emotional and neutral events. That explains why you feel like everything is a big deal when you’re super tired; your amygdala isn’t working as well as it does after a good night’s sleep! As such, melatonin supplements can be especially useful for anxiety-sufferers due to their ability to improve sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that’s naturally found in the body that regulates your sleep/wake cycle.
6. Powerful blends
Some supplements will include a blend of helpful anxiety-busting ingredients, like “Zen Mode" by the Bulletproof brand. In addition to including vitamin B6 and L-theanine (an amino acid that promotes relaxation), it contains GABA and 5-HTP. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that calms overly excited neurons and 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects sleep and mood. I personally tried using this supplement and personally really liked its effects!
Two Very Important Notes
Not all supplements are made equal. Your best bet is to go to a high-quality health food store like Nature’s Emporium, Goodness Me!, or Whole Foods and speak to their staff members as they are typically very well-trained and knowledgeable about the most current, good-quality products.
If you are on other medications of any kind, you must talk to your pharmacist or doctor about taking natural supplements, especially those that contain herbs. Though natural, they are potent and can therefore interact with medications.
The Bottom Line
Thankfully, there are a lot of natural supplements that can help control anxiety-related symptoms—just be sure to check in with your doc or pharmacist first. That being said, I always like to remind people that there is nothing wrong with taking prescription medications for mental health concerns either. Sometimes people need stronger, targeted, consistent dosages for anxiety disorders and that's perfectly okay!