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Although some degree of anxiety in life is normal, like before a big test or a first date, for some people anxiety can completely take over their lives. It can become so extreme it is classified as a mental health disorder.
Anxiety disorder affects 40 million people in the United States with 31% of people experiencing some form at some point in their lives. It also occurs more often in women than men (1).
Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term for five different disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. These conditions are all characterized by an inability to function due to excessive nervousness, worry, fear, or apprehension.
It can permeate every aspect of your life and result in physical symptoms like lack of sleep, elevated blood pressure, or weight gain (2).
Treating severe anxiety may require a combination of medical intervention and psychotherapy. But, anxiety symptoms can also benefit from lifestyle changes including exercise, diet, relaxation techniques, and various nutrition supplements.
Here are a few of the top supplements for helping manage anxiety.
11 Useful Supplements for Anxiety
Ashwagandha or Indian Ginseng is an adaptogenic herb used for centuries in Ayruvedic medicine. Adaptogens are herbs that help mitigate the effects of stress and anxiety in the body. But, ashwagandha has many other benefits beyond just promoting relaxation, it can also boost the immune system, improve memory and concentration, and support brain and heart health (3).
A 2012 study evaluated the impact of ashwagandha supplements on 64 subjects with chronic stress and anxiety. The researchers measured cortisol levels and assessed subjects’ stress levels with various self-assessment questionnaires. Subjects then received either 300 mg ashwagandha twice a day or a placebo for 60 days. Those given the ashwagandha reported a significant reduction in stress when compared to a placebo. Even cortisol levels, an indication of stress levels, were lowered (4). Other studies have shown similar results that ashwagandha can significantly improve the effects of stress (5).
How to Take Ashwagandha
The recommended dose of ashwagandha for stress and anxiety management is 600-900 mg a day. This is usually divided into two doses. There are no major side effects that have been reported with taking ashwagandha, although some people report sleepiness and headaches.
When looking for an ashwagandha supplement be sure to always look for a quality product. The most potent ashwagandha is made from the roots of the plant only. The leaves, which are sometimes included, may dilute the efficacy and do not contain as much of the active ingredient called withanolides. In addition, look for a product that contains at least 2-5% withanolides.
Check out: Ashwagandha supplements ranked
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea, it is the reason a cup of tea can be so relaxing. It increases the production of alpha brain waves which have been linked to a feeling of “alert relaxation”.
A 2011 study evaluated the effects of L-theanine on anxiety symptoms of patients with schizophrenia. Sixty patients were given either 400 mg/day of L-theanine or a placebo for 8 weeks. During the study period they were evaluated using various psychological scales, for various markers including anxiety, general functioning, side effects, and quality of life. Those who received L-theanine supplementation were found to have a significant reduction of anxiety and general psychopathology during the study period. Researchers concluded that L-theanine may be a safe and viable option for treating anxiety in people with other psychiatric conditions (6).
How to Take L-theanine
Since green tea is high in L-theanine, a daily cup of tea is a great way to tap into its benefits. The alert, yet relaxed effects of L-theanine are boosted by a little bit of caffeine. If caffeine makes you more anxious, then an L-theanine supplement may be a better bet.
There is no specific recommended dose for L-theanine, most supplements contain around 200 mg. There have been no reported negative side effects from taking L-theanine, likely because it is an amino acid and will not build up to toxic levels in the body.
Check out: L-theanine supplements ranked
B-complex, sometimes called B-stress complex, is a combination of all eight B-vitamins: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, folic acid, and B12. All these vitamins play a role in maintaining a healthy nervous system, helping you stay calm.
A 2012 study evaluated the impact of B-complex supplements on symptoms of depression and anxiety in 60 adults. Subjects were given the Beck Depression and Anxiety Inventory to assess symptoms and were then given either a B-complex supplement or a placebo for 60 days. Those who received the supplement demonstrated significant improvements on the depression and anxiety scale. They also reported increased vitality, well-being, and improved social functioning (7).
How to Take B-complex
B-vitamins are water-soluble, so there is no major concern for toxicity at normal levels. Most supplemental dosages range from 300-500 mg per day. If you take a regular multivitamin, you probably don’t need an additional B-complex supplement because your body will just excrete what it doesn’t need.
B-vitamins are also widely found in many foods, so a balanced diet including lean protein, whole grains, and green vegetables will also provide adequate amounts.
Check out: B-Complex supplements ranked
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that the body can make on its own from sun exposure. It helps maintain strong bones, by helping with calcium absorption. It also has been found to help maintain a healthy weight, boost immune function, and play a role in managing depression and anxiety.
Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common due to lack of proper sun exposure, particularly for people who live in colder climates or those with darker skin. Elderly people also have difficulty converting sunlight into vitamin D. To make matters worse, this vitamin is not readily found in many foods. It is only found in a small quantities in foods such as fatty fish and fortified milk.
A 2015 study found that people with anxiety tend to also have lower levels of vitamin D (8). At this time there have not been any studies that have found that a vitamin D supplement will treat anxiety symptoms only that there is a connection between low levels and anxiety symptoms. Further research is needed to determine if vitamin D is a viable or effective treatment option.
How to Take Vitamin D
The RDA for vitamin D is 400 IU for most adults (9). But, many experts argue that this is too low due to how wide-spread deficiency is for this vitamin. Many supplements can be found in doses of 1000 IU or above, which may be appropriate if you live in a colder climate or have darker skin.
The best way to know exactly how much vitamin D you need is to have a blood test. If your levels are severely low, your doctor may prescribe a high dose supplement for a few months to get your levels back to normal. When choosing a supplement always choose D3. Vitamin D3 is better used by the body than vitamin D2.
Check out: Vitamin D supplements ranked
Magnesium is frequently called the “relaxation mineral” as it is critical for muscle and nerve function. It helps maintain healthy blood pressure and a normal heart rate. Many people are not getting enough magnesium due to poor quality diets. Magnesium is found in whole grains and green leafy vegetables. Too much stress, alcohol, and coffee also deplete magnesium making deficiency worse.
A deficiency in magnesium can increase anxiety and lead to difficulty with relaxation. A 2012 animal study found that magnesium deficiency caused anxiety symptoms and HPA-axis dysregulation. The HPA-axis is responsible for how our nervous system reacts (10). A 2008 study found a connection between diets low in magnesium and an increase in depression and anxiety (11).
How to Take Magnesium
Magnesium supplements can be used to help promote sleep and relaxation at bedtime.
Magnesium supplements are generally safe, but can cause digestive problems. Supplemental magnesium causes water to rush into the digestive tract, which can lead to diarrhea. This is great for those who struggle with constipation. The upper limit for magnesium supplements is 350 mg/day, so aim to stay under that for a supplement.
Magnesium can also be absorbed through the skin without the digestive side effects. For anxiety management, consider an Epsom salt bath or a magnesium lotion before bed to promote a restful night’s sleep.
Check out: Magnesium supplements ranked
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter and amino acid. GABA has been called a “natural valium” due to its ability to reduce stress, anxiety, and promote sleep. GABA is the reason why alcohol and sleep aids promote relaxation and sleep, they both increase GABA in the brain, but obviously not without side effects. Alcohol may make anxiety worse. GABA also increases with yoga, meditation, and exercise, which are healthier ways to get a boost for your mood. People with depression or anxiety are more likely to have low levels of GABA (12, 13).
There isn’t enough evidence to know if GABA supplements might be an effective treatment for anxiety. But, a 2016 study found that kava kava helped increase GABA receptors in the brain and helped manage anxiety (14). The solution may not be taking GABA supplements directly, but taking other nutrients to help increase GABA.
How to Take GABA
Research on GABA supplements is preliminary at this time. Dosages used in clinical trials vary from 3-5 grams a day, but it is not clear if this is the ideal dosage. Most supplements come in 500-750 mg doses.
Check out: GABA supplements ranked
5-hydroxytryptophane (5-HTP) is another neurotransmitter that is required to make the “feel good hormone” serotonin. The body is able to make 5-HTP on its own from the amino acid tryptophan, but sometimes has trouble converting it all the way to serotonin.
The research on the effectiveness of using 5-HTP for balancing serotonin levels is mixed and limited. Some studies claim that supplements can help significantly improve symptoms, but frequently these studies use 5-HTP with other treatments or medications making it hard to figure out what exactly is improving the symptoms (15). But, some animal studies are promising, showing that 5-HTP can decrease symptoms of anxiety (16).
How to Take 5-HTP
The safety of 5-HTP has not been measured long-term. There is some concern that taking 5-HTP for an extended period of time can deplete other neurotransmitters like dopamine and epinephrine (17).
In the short-term, 5-HTP may help relieve anxiety symptoms. Dosages range from 100-300 mg per day, usually divided up into 100 mg three times a day. 5-HTP might be helpful at bedtime because serotonin helps boost melatonin production, leading to a restful night’s sleep.
Check out: 5-htp supplements ranked
Chamomile is widely known for its medicinal properties and ability to promote relaxation and healing. There are two main types of chamomile, German and Roman. The benefits come from plant compounds called terpeniods and flavonoids, antioxidants that lower oxidative stress, which can negatively impact the brain (18).
A 2016 study evaluated the effects of chamomile on 179 patients with generalized anxiety disorder. Participants were given 1500 mg of chamomile or a placebo for 38 weeks. Those who received the chamomile supplement experienced significantly fewer anxiety symptoms, lost weight, and had an overall lower blood pressure during the study period (19).
How to Take Chamomile
Chamomile is most commonly enjoyed as tea and can be extremely relaxing as part of a pre-bedtime routine. But, it is also available as a dietary supplement. Supplements usually contain 300-500 mg of chamomile. Although it is generally considered safe, it can cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic to that family of plants.
Check out: Chamomile supplements ranked
Valerian is a well-known herb that promotes sleep and relaxation. It may also be an effective treatment for anxiety.
A 2015 study evaluated the effects of valerian root on a stressful procedure called a hysterosalpingography. Sixty-four women who were undergoing the procedure were given 1500 mg of valerian or a placebo 90 minutes before undergoing the procedure. Those who received the supplement reported significantly less anxiety during the procedure than those who didn’t (20). Although the anxiety in this study was acute and related to a specific stressful event, valerian may be useful for managing more generalized anxiety as well.
How to Take Valerian
The average dose of valerian is around 500 mg. Long-term evidence of its safety is lacking, but no major side effects have been reported. It is probably best not to take valerian for more than a few weeks at a time. Side effects may include drowsiness, dizziness, and headaches. Consider taking it in the evening at home so you know how you will react.
Check out: Valerian supplements ranked
Rhodiola rosea is an herb that used for centuries for its medicinal properties. It is also an adaptogen, like ashwagandha. It is thought to help decrease stress, relieve symptoms of depression, and improve fatigue. It also may help improve exercise performance.
A 2015 study evaluated the impact of rhodiola on anxiety, stress, and other mood-related symptoms. Eighty participants were given either 200 mg of rhodiola twice a day or no treatment. After 14 days, subjects reported a significant reduction in anxiety, anger, stress, depression, and confusion (21).
How to Take Rhodiola
Rhodiola is found in either capsules, liquid, or tea. Dosages in supplements range from 100-700 mg daily. There have been no major side effects reported with rhodiola, although some report feeling jittery.
Check out: Rhodiola supplements ranked
Glutathione is one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body, helping lower inflammation and neutralize oxidative stress. Its antioxidant power indicates that it may be able to decrease the risk of multiple chronic diseases. Low levels of glutathione have been linked to an increased risk of anxiety and depression (22). The reason is that oxidative stress is extremely damaging to the brain and can impact its functioning (23).
How to Take Glutathione
Surprisingly glutathione supplements haven’t been found to be effective in raising glutathione levels in the body because it is broken down into other amino acids during digestion. But, several other supplements may increase glutathione levels naturally. These include:
- Vitamins C and E
- Milk thistle
Green leafy vegetables, garlic, and meat may also increase glutathione. There are no major side effects reported from taking glutathione supplements.
The Bottom Line
Anxiety symptoms may come and go depending what is going on in your life. But, if your anxiety is impacting your relationships and your ability to function you may want to seek medical treatment.
Severe anxiety disorders usually need professional treatment by a therapist, psychiatrist, or medical doctor. If you are taking medications for your anxiety, you will want to check with your doctor before using any dietary supplements as there may be interactions
Regardless of the severity of your anxiety, lifestyle treatments can always be beneficial.
Stress management, meditation, yoga, regular relaxation, and exercise can all help reduce anxiety. Positive visualization and cognitive activities can be used to replace negative or anxiety-producing thoughts and beliefs. Avoiding excessive caffeine or alcohol intake can also make anxiety management easier.
Finally, a strong support network with friends and family can ease some symptoms. A well-rounded treatment for anxiety should involve a combination of different approaches to help you live your best and most relaxed life.
ⓘ Any specific supplement products & brands featured on this website are not necessarily endorsed by Ana.
Stock Photos from Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley / Zivica Kerkez / Shutterstock
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