7 Best Supplements for Anxiety
Learn about some lifestyle factors that can increase or decrease anxiety and choose the best supplements for anxiety.
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is known in our culture as a feeling of worry, apprehension, and fearfulness. Most people will experience anxiety at some point in their lives because it is a natural response to overwhelming or uncertain situations.
Anxiety can be caused by several things. It can occur because of a temporary stressful situation or event. Disturbances in your neurotransmitters can also be the cause of anxiety. Some people are born with certain neurotransmitter deficiencies. Others have their neurotransmitter balance affected by trauma. Even nutrient deficiencies can make someone more prone to anxiety.
Anxiety becomes an issue when you feel anxious more than not and it affects your daily life. According to the DSM-V, the diagnostic manual for psychiatrists, feeling anxious most of the time could mean you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Of course, only a psychiatrist can diagnose you, but you can try to diminish anxious feelings with natural means.
7 Supplements That Can Help
There are several natural supplements that have been reported to help diminish feelings of anxiety. These supplements are best taken alongside a nutrient-dense diet and balanced lifestyle.
And, of course, you should always consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to your supplement routine. If you are currently taking any form of prescription medication or you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you must consult a professional to make sure there are no known problems taking supplements to address anxiety.
L-5-hydroxytryptophan, called 5-HTP for short, is a nutritional supplement that converts directly into serotonin. Serotonin regulates a lot of functions in the body, including mood, digestion, and sleep. Serotonin is responsible for a sense of well-being and happiness.
People with anxiety (and depression) are often deficient in serotonin so taking this supplement can help promote a feeling of happiness and diminish anxiety.
2. St. John’s Wort
Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort) is an ancient herbal remedy used for everything from malaria treatment, to inflammation, to depression and anxiety. It has been used as a treatment for anxiety since the year 1525.
St. John’s Wort is preferred over pharmaceuticals in Europe because it is so effective at treating depression and anxiety. Hypericin and hyperforin are the main antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties in St. John’s Wort. They act similarly to serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) by inhibiting serotonin uptake, thereby increasing the concentration of serotonin.
Unlike conventional SSRIs, the hyperforin present in St. John’s Wort actually increases the number of 5-HTP receptors in the brain (this is how it inhibits serotonin uptake.) Increased serotonin promotes happiness and mood regulation.
Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before taking St. John’s Wort as it can reduce the effectiveness of hormonal birth control.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is extracted from the cannabis Sativa plant. CBD interacts with your body’s endocannabinoid system to regulate your nervous system’s responses. Similar to SSRIs, CBD products regulate how your brain synapses function by inhibiting neurotransmitter release. This increases the concentration of serotonin and other neurotransmitters which can promote feelings of relaxation.
Most CBD supplements are available in a dropper form, capsule, or lotion that can be applied topically.
There are plenty of case studies and preclinical research on the use of CBD products for anxiety and depression, but there are no long-term studies. However, the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) recognizes CBD products as generally safe if you trust the manufacturer’s safety and sourcing regulations.
4. Valerian Root
Valerian root is an herbal supplement commonly used for treating insomnia. It has a mild sedative effect that is perfect for relieving tension and anxiety. It has been used to treat sleep issues, nervousness, and tension since the 2nd century.
The valerenic acid in valerian root is responsible for modulating GABA-A ( gamma-Aminobutyric acid) receptors. It inhibits enzymes that would otherwise destroy GABA which boosts mood and promotes relaxation.
Valerian root can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression; can improve insomnia. In one study, valerian root was shown to improve anxiety symptoms even more than St. John’s Wort.
Passionflower is a colorful flower used to treat sleeplessness and anxiety. It’s been used as a mild sedative since the 16th century. The exact active compound in passionflower isn’t easily identified. However, it has been shown to be as effective as benzodiazepines in treating anxiety.
6. Kava Kava
Kava kava is a plant traditionally used to treat anxiety, pain, and spasms including menstrual cramps. Kava kava can reduce feelings of anxiety without drowsiness
The kawain and dihydrokawain in Kava kava help anxiety reduce in various ways. Mostly, they enhance the effectiveness of Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA-A) receptors and inhibit uptake, meaning your brain has a higher concentration of GABA-A available. GABA-A is responsible for relaxation and mood regulation. Kava kava may also enhance dopamine activity in certain doses, causing a slight euphoric effect.
Withania somnifera, also known as ashwagandha, is a popular adaptogenic herb used to treat anxiety and stress. It is an adaptogen, meaning it interacts with your body in a unique way to provide what your body needs. Adaptogens also need to be taken consistently for a period of time before you see effects.
Ashwagandha primarily works by interacting with the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. It reduces cortisol levels, helping you react to stress better. There are limited studies on ashwagandha, but several have found that the herb significantly reduced feelings of stress and anxiety when compared to placebos.
BONUS SUPPLEMENT: Magnesium is another basic mineral supplement that can help with managing anxiety. Learn more about magnesium supplements.
What vitamin deficiencies cause anxiety?
A poor diet can cause mental health issues. Deficiencies in several nutrients have been linked to anxiety. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of each macronutrient and all of the micronutrients is essential for mental wellbeing. See my recommendations for the best supplements for women. Deficiencies in the following vitamins and minerals can cause anxiety:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- B vitamins, especially folate and B12
- Magnesium and other minerals
- Amino acids
What can I take for anxiety?
Anxiety may be treated with conventional pharmaceuticals such as SSRIs and benzodiazepines. Certainly, some people need these medications at times and only you and your doctor can make that decision.
If you choose the natural route, though, you can supplement with herbs and neurotransmitter precursors, assuming it is appropriate for you. These include supplements like 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort, CBD, kava kava, passionflower, valerian root, and ashwagandha. Always consult with a healthcare provider to make sure these are appropriate for you.
What else can I do?
Treating anxiety requires more than medication or supplementation. It is always best to approach your mental well-being holistically. Some things you can do to alleviate anxiety include:
- Eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet (skip calorie counting, as you need all the nutrients you can get.) Eat complex carbohydrates for tryptophan levels, protein for a range of mood-boosting amino acids, and healthy fat for brain health.
- Getting sunlight. Going for a walk in nature and seeing (and feeling) the sunshine can boost your mood and be relaxing.
- Getting adequate sleep is essential for mood regulation, including anxiety. See my tips for getting better sleep.
- Build friendships with people you like and set boundaries with negative people. Other people can directly influence your mood.
- Hobbies and purposeful work are underrated when it comes to mental health, but hating your job and being bored on your weekends can be a recipe for anxiety.
Can meditation cure anxiety?
Like most mood disorders, anxiety can be treated until it no longer has a harmful effect on your life. It’s best to take a varied approach to treating anxiety. Treatment will look different for everyone. Many people find that a regular meditation practice helps reduce feelings of anxiety. You can also try techniques like writing a worry journal.
For others, meditation can increase anxiety because they find it too difficult to clear their mind. Traditional sitting meditation is not the only way to meditate. If you find sitting still too difficult, try yoga, mantras, or guided meditations. Do what feels best for you.
What foods help?
Starchy, low glycemic carbohydrates, amino acid-rich protein, and healthy fats are all helpful for anxiety. Focus on whole foods that contain omega-3s, B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Some nutrient-dense foods may include:
- Beef and organ meats, which contain B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
- Egg yolks, which contain amino acids and a variety of minerals.
- Leafy greens, which contain folate and magnesium.
- Avocado, which contains folate, other B vitamins, and magnesium.
- Sweet potatoes, which contain carbohydrates, B vitamins, and minerals.
- See my full list of healthy foods you should be eating every day.
What foods can cause anxiety?
Certain foods may influence your mood negatively and cause anxious feelings. These are some foods you may try eliminating for anxiety:
- Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase feelings of restlessness and anxiety.
- Simple carbohydrates like sugar and bread can cause your blood sugar to rapidly spike and drop. This resulting low blood sugar can cause anxiety and irritability.
- Alcohol is a depressant that can cause anxiety, depression, and irritability. Learn how to stop drinking alcohol.
- Inflammatory foods in general, like fast foods and sugar, can cause mood issues. Join my Sugar Free Challenge to help break the habit.
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to managing or resolving anxiety. As long as the anxiety is mild, you can try using natural methods to address it. If it starts to overcome your life, then you should consult a healthcare professional to see if supplements or medication would be best for you.