Smart Pills: Do they really exist?
28 January 2020
Research has suggested that various supplements — including vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and herbal remedies, they may help relieve the symptoms of anxiety. Below is a list of the best 10, as well the evidence supporting them.
Anxiety can come in many forms. It can cause worry, unease, fear, or panic. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects around 6.8 million adults. Other anxiety disorders include panic disorders and phobias.
The treatment options for anxiety disorders include therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Some natural supplements could also help with everyday anxiety. However, not all supplements are safe or effective.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), kava was a popular choice before researchers determined that it can cause severe liver disease.
Passionflower is an example of an anxiety remedy that does not have enough quality evidence to support claims of its effectiveness.
Studies that do support passionflower’s anti-anxiety effects have serious flaws. However, the following supplements do show promise in easing the symptoms of anxiety. They also have a good record of safety, as backed up by scientific evidence.
Vitamin D plays an important role in mood regulation, as well as nerve and brain health. Research has established a link between vitamin D levels and depression, claiming that taking vitamin D supplements may help treat the condition. Some research suggests that having a vitamin D deficiency could also be linked with anxiety disorders.
• A 2015 review study reports that people with symptoms of anxiety or depression had lower levels of calcitriol, a byproduct of vitamin D breakdown, in their bodies.
• A 2017 study found that taking vitamin D supplements improved both depression and anxiety in women with type 2 diabetes.
Research into the link between anxiety and vitamin D has produced mixed results, so further studies are needed to understand the link.
The body makes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. People can get more vitamin D by spending more time in the sun, eating foods rich in vitamin D — the main source being fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel — or taking vitamin D supplements. Few plant foods contain vitamin D, so it can be difficult for people following vegetarian and vegan diets to get enough vitamin D from their diet alone.
B vitamins are a group of eight different nutrients that work together to manage many processes in the body, including stress levels.
• A 2017 study found that people who had lower blood levels of vitamin B-12 were more likely to have depression or anxiety.
• A 2018 study found that people who ate foods high in B vitamins — in this case, yeast based spreads such as Marmite and Vegemite — had better anxiety and stress scores than people who did not. This was more pronounced for spreads fortified with vitamin B-12.
Taking B complex supplements can help a person get enough of all the B vitamins. Learn more about the benefits and uses of vitamin B complex supplements here. People can usually get enough B vitamins from eating a variety of nutritious foods. Some B vitamins, including vitamins B-12 and B-2 (riboflavin), mostly occur in animal based foods.
For this reason, people following a vegetarian or vegan diet may need to obtain these nutrients in other ways. Read about vegetarian and vegan food sources of vitamin B-12 here.
Magnesium is an important mineral necessary for the proper functioning of almost every system in the human body.
Several studies suggest that it plays a role in anxiety.
• A 2017 systematic review looked at the results of 18 different studies. The researchers found that magnesium supplements may improve measures of anxiety in people vulnerable to the condition, but also that the quality of evidence is currently poor.
• A short 2016 review study reports that people with anxiety related to premenstrual syndrome benefited from taking magnesium supplements. People can take magnesium supplements or obtain the nutrient by eating the following high magnesium foods:
• whole wheat
• almonds and cashews
• dark chocolate
• black beans
Taking high dosages of magnesium can cause diarrhea. Start with a lower dosage, such as 100 milligrams (mg). Avoid exceeding 350 mg per day without a doctor’s approval.
L-theanine is an amino acid that occurs in green and black tea. Some evidence suggests that it is a mild sedative and anti-anxiety agent.
• A 2016 double-blind study found that people who consumed a beverage containing 200 mg of l-theanine had lower stress response and cortisol levels after undertaking a challenging task than those who received a placebo. Start with the lowest effective dosage of l-theanine. Supplements often come in 200 mg capsules.
People should not exceed 400 mg without first asking a doctor.
A supplement that contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals may benefit people with anxiety.
• A 2019 study found that a supplement that contained the following nutrients significantly decreased anxiety in young adults: B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
• A 2018 study reports that multivitamin supplements may benefit people who have mood disorders such as anxiety. Each brand of multivitamins contains a different composition of ingredients. Check with a doctor or pharmacist about which may be best.
Omega-3 fats occur in foods such as fish and flaxseed. They play an important role in brain health, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. The body cannot make these fats, so people must get them from their diet.
A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis looked at the results of 19 clinical trials and concludes that taking an omega-3 supplement such as fish oil could be helpful for people with anxiety.
A 2018 review study suggests that a low intake of omega-3 fats can raise the risk of anxiety and depression, and that taking omega-3 supplements could help prevent or treat these conditions.
Learn about the best dietary sources of omega-3 here.
Omega-3 fatty acids can interfere with certain medications, including blood thinners. People should ask their doctor before taking omega-3 supplements if they have existing health conditions or take any prescription medications.
Valerian root is safe to use for short periods. People have used the valerian plant as medicine for thousands of years. The NCCIH state that valerian is safe for otherwise healthy adults to use for short periods, and that people use it for anxiety.
However, more studies are needed before researchers know if it is effective. There are, as yet, no studies that prove it is safe for long term use.
• A 2017 double-blind study compared the effects of valerian and a placebo on 49 postmenopausal women and concludes that those who took the supplements reported lower levels of anxiety and depression.
• A 2015 study in women undergoing a medical procedure found that those who took an acid present in valerian root had less anxiety.
Chamomile is a daisy-like flower that people have used for thousands of years for its calming effects. The NCCIH explain, “Some preliminary studies suggest that a chamomile dietary supplement might be helpful for [GAD].” They also state that the research community does not know much about chamomile’s effects yet, because scientists have not studied it to a reliable degree in humans.
• A 2016 study concludes that people who took chamomile extract for 8 weeks had a reduction in GAD symptoms. Its effects were comparable with those of an anti-anxiety drug. The participants took 1,500 mg of chamomile per day.
• A randomized study from 2016 found that people who took 500 mg of chamomile extract three times per day had fewer symptoms of GAD than those who took a placebo. People can take chamomile supplements, use chamomile essential oils, or drink chamomile tea.
Some people feel that the scent of lavender is relaxing. In fact, some evidence suggests that smelling this plant can help ease anxiety. The NCCIH state that people use lavender for anxiety, but that the existing research into its effectiveness has produced mixed results, more tests are needed.
• A 2015 study reports that applying lavender cream to the skin or in a foot bath helped reduce anxiety and stress in pregnant women.
• A 2017 study found that people who used lavender aromatherapy before surgery had lower anxiety than those who did not.
People can inhale lavender essential oil by using an essential oil diffuser. They may also apply lavender essential oil to the skin after diluting it with a carrier oil such as olive or coconut oil.
Lemon balm is an herb that features leaves with a lemon-like aroma. It is related to mint and is a popular calming remedy.
• A 2016 study found that lemon balm tea, or Melissa officinalis, improved anxiety symptoms and sleep quality in people who had experienced burns.
• A 2019 double-blind study looked at people who recently had heart bypass surgery. Those who took capsules containing 1.5 grams of dried lemon balm per day had lower anxiety levels than those who took a placebo.
Many different supplements can be helpful for people who have anxiety. Before taking any natural supplements, talk with a doctor. People should not stop taking anxiety medications without a doctor’s approval.
People can buy most of the supplements listed above from a drugstore or a grocery store. Otherwise, they can choose from a range of brands online:
• Vitamin D
• Vitamin B complex
• Omega-3 fatty acids
• Valerian root
• Lemon balm
Supplements are not the only way to manage anxiety using natural remedies. People who have anxiety may also wish to try meditation, yoga, deep breathing techniques, and regular exercise to help manage their symptoms.