Anxiety is a natural part of life for all. Taking an exam, having a near accident, meeting with a boss, starting a new job or project, or traveling by airplane may all stimulate anxiety. Nevertheless, persistent or intense anxiety can get in the way in your daily life, endanger your health, and limit your lifespan.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 40 million adults suffer from severe anxiety disorders each year, and virtually everyone deals with less debilitating but still harmful levels of anxiety on at least an occasional basis.
According to a recent systematic review of studies conducted by the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation in Los Angeles, “nutritional and herbal supplementation is an effective method for treating anxiety and anxiety related conditions without the risk of serious side effects.”
This is a good first step for anxiety relief. “B vitamins are essential for stress management, energy production and neurotransmitter balance,” says Wong. Helpful supplements usually include vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), B7 (biotin), B9 (folic acid) and B12 (cyanocobalamin).
Dosage: Look for a B-complex containing all eight essential B vitamins or a multivitamin designed for stress support.
Also known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, GABA has a calming effect on the brain similar to that achieved by medications such as Valium and Xanax. “GABA is a nonessential amino acid and neurotransmitter that blocks stress and anxiety by preventing neurons from over-firing,” Wong says. “It’s produced naturally in the body but also is available in supplement form.”
Dosage: 500 milligrams to 3 grams daily.
A study published in Current Medical Research and Opinion found that magnesium—when combined with Crataegus oxyacantha (evergreen hawthorn) and Eschscholtzia californica (California poppy) extracts—was more effective than placebo in treating patients with mild to moderate anxiety. Also effective for easing muscle tension, the essential mineral’s most common side effect is loose stools, says Wong. Magnesium may also interfere with the efficacy of certain medications including ACE inhibitors, diabetes medication and tetracycline.
Dosage: 200 to 300 milligrams twice daily.
In a double-blind study in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, giving patients with generalized anxiety disorder 45 drops per day of passionflower (aka Passiflora incarnata) tincture was effective in reducing symptoms without impairing job performance (unlike the anti-anxiety drug Serax, also part of the study). Generally considered very safe for relieving stress, anxiety and insomnia, passionflower can cause drowsiness when combined with antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication, says Wong.
Dosage: 40 drops of tincture up to five times a day, or 400 milligrams divided over the day.
This patented formula combines extracts from magnolia bark (Magnolia officinalis) and the amur corktree (Phellodendron amurense), both used in traditional Chinese medicine. “Magnolia bark contains two compounds, magnolol and honokiol, which are believed to be responsible for the stress-reducing effects,” says Wong. If you’re pregnant, nursing or taking prescription drugs, consult your doctor before using Relora.
Dosage: 250 milligrams two to three times a day, taken with food.
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British physician Edward Bach designed this formula to be used in times of acute emotional stress. It blends five flower essences: star of Bethlehem (for shock), clematis (for inattentiveness), impatiens (for irritation and impatience), cherry plum (for irrational thoughts) and rock rose (for panic). One of the strengths of Rescue Remedy is that it doesn’t interact with conventional medications, says Wong.
Dosage: Four drops four times a day, or two quick sprays, as needed.
The mild sedative qualities of Valeriana officinalis come from its roots and rhizomes. Effective for insomnia, it’s also used for anxiety, mental strain, agitation, muscle spasms, stress and stress-related headaches, and muscle tension. A study in Phytotherapy Research found that valerian was as effective as Valium in reducing anxiety. The use of fresh valerian has little, if any, side effects, though Wong cautions that taking the dried herb for more than three months may result in headaches and restlessness. Avoid the herb entirely if you have liver disease or if you’re taking any drug that depresses the central nervous system, including alcohol.
Dosage: As much as 40 drops of tincture up to five times a day, or a 300 to 400 milligrams capsule twice a day.
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