Feeling Anxious? Try These Top 10 Natural Supplements to Feel Calm
We all know the awful gut-wrenching, paralyzing, downward-spiral, anxious feeling. Whether it stems from overloaded work schedules, health concerns, or relationship trouble, feeling anxious is no fun for anyone.
While there are plenty of lifestyle choices you can make to alleviate anxious feelings — try meditation, time in nature, and less screen time — this article will focus solely on the top natural supplements for feeling less anxious.
The Top 10 Natural Supplements for Feeling More Calm
L-theanine, an amino acid found mainly in green tea leaves, is a well-studied supplement for feeling more calm.
This compound encourages the synthesis of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that promote relaxation and feelings of calmness. L-theanine also reduces brain glutamate levels, an excitatory neurotransmitter that can increase stress when in excess.
In an October 2019 study published in Nutrients, adults taking 200 mg per day of L-theanine for four weeks experienced significant reductions in stress and anxious or depressive feelings.
L-theanine is available in supplemental form or by drinking green tea, matcha, or black tea.
Although magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, it is a commonly under-consumed nutrient.
Magnesium plays a crucial role in regulating neuronal signaling and the production of GABA and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Dysfunction in these processes is implicated in mood disorders.
A May 2017 review published in Nutrients analyzed the results from 18 studies, finding that supplemental magnesium was linked to a modest reduction in subjective measures of mild anxious feelings in humans. Other research with animals has shown a clear link between magnesium and reduced stress.
Magnesium can be taken in capsule or powder form, used as bath salts, or as a topical cream. The top food sources of magnesium are nuts, seeds, beans, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, and avocado.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in high amounts in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and tuna, are associated with better inflammatory responses and improvements in mood disorders. These healthy fats are also available in fish oil supplements — just make sure your supplement is tested for mercury and other toxins or contaminants.
The primary omega-3 fatty acids are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Low levels of DHA have been linked to several mental health conditions.
A randomized controlled trial, published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity in October 2011, found that medical students who took omega-3 supplements for 12 weeks had a 20% decrease in anxious feelings and blood markers of inflammatory cytokines compared to students taking a placebo.
The mechanism behind how omega-3 fats support calmness has to do with the reduction of these inflammatory cytokines. These cytokines they promote the secretion of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) to stimulate the amygdala, causing fear or anxious feelings.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is becoming widespread, as we tend to spend more time indoors or covered with sunscreen. This fat-soluble vitamin, which is found in small amounts in fatty fish, fortified milk, and mushrooms, is most easily accessed through sunshine or supplements.
Research has found that both inadequate and deficient serum levels of vitamin D are linked to significant increases in mood changes. Similar to omega-3 fats, vitamin D also plays a role in reducing levels of inflammatory cytokines. The active metabolite of vitamin D, calcitriol, also has been found to stimulate serotonin synthesis, which is a neurotransmitter linked to improved mood.
Groups at risk of vitamin D deficiency include older adults, obese individuals, people with darker skin, and people who live farther away from the equator with less year-round sunshine. Supplemental vitamin D may be wise for those in these at-risk groups to help support mental health.
5. Valerian Root
Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is a flowering herb whose roots have been used to promote relaxation for centuries; the root can be taken as a supplement or tea.
The mechanism behind valerian root’s calming properties comes from its ability to reduce GABA breakdown in the brain, leading to higher levels of the beneficial neurotransmitter.
A study published in Neuropsychobiology in November 2017 found that adults who took a single dose of 900 mg of valerian root extract experienced a modulation of cortical facilitatory circuits, which is a neural process that is impaired in cases of stress or anxious feelings.
Ashwagandha, also known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng, is a plant that has been used therapeutically for thousands of years in Ayurvedic practices in India.
Ashwagandha functions as an adaptogen, which is a term for a plant or herb that modulates stressors in the body. One of the processes that ashwagandha modulates is the stress response, thereby reducing anxious feelings.
In a randomized controlled trial of adults with chronic stress, supplementing with 600 mg of ashwagandha for 60 days led to significantly reduced anxious symptoms and the stress hormone cortisol compared to those taking a placebo.
Probiotics, meaning “for life,” are a group of helpful bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract and provide health benefits. Collectively, the ecosystem of bacteria in the gut is called the microbiome.
In a large meta-analysis that pooled results from 29 trials, probiotic supplements were associated with significant reduction in anxious feelings. The mechanism behind this involves the vagus nerve, which is method that the gastrointestinal tract and the brain communicate through — also known as the gut-brain axis.
This bidirectional relationship modulates several mechanisms involved with stress, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. When the HPA axis is overactivated, the stress hormone cortisol is increased, and stress can follow.
Several strains of probiotic bacteria, especially those from the Lactobacillus family, have been linked to mental health, leading to their reclassification as psychobiotics.
To get the benefits of these bacteria, consume probiotic-rich foods, like fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, or kefir, or take a supplement with at least 1 billion CFU (colony-forming units) of the probiotics per capsule.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L. or Matricaria recutita) is an herb known for its calming effects. Commonly made into teas or consumed as a supplement, chamomile is considered an anxiolytic.
In a study published in Phytomedicine in December 2015, people with moderate to severe anxious-related disorders took 1,500 mg per day of chamomile extract. After eight weeks, the participants saw significant improvements in anxious symptom scores, comparable to conventional medications.
A similar study looked at long-term chamomile use in people with anxious disorders. They found that those who took 1,500 mg of chamomile for 38 weeks experienced significantly reduced levels of anxious feelings, in addition to reductions in blood pressure. As bouts of stress or anxious feelings can cause blood pressure to spike, the results from this study indicate that chamomile may benefit not only mental health but also cardiovascular health.
Rhodiola, also known as rosenroot, is an herb that has been used in traditional healing for centuries.
In a study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment in March 2017, people with high levels of stress who took 400 mg of Rhodiola for 12 weeks experienced significant improvements in symptoms of stress, anxious feelings, and lack of concentration.
In addition to relieving stress, Rhodiola is linked to enhanced work performance. This is due to its function as an adaptogen, which means the herb provides mental stimulation without stimulating the central nervous system, like caffeine or other stimulants.
CBD (cannabidiol) is one of may cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant; however, CBD does not have produce any psychoactive effects.
Most of the research with CBD is still in its infancy, but the compound does show promise for reducing stress and anxious feelings.
In a case study of adults with anxious feelings or poor sleep, those who took 25 mg per day of CBD in capsule form for three months experienced significant decreases in anxious symptoms.
- Many herbs and compounds function as anxiolytics, meaning they reduce anxious symptoms or stress and calm the central nervous system.
- The top natural supplements for feeling more calm include magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, L-theanine, valerian root, ashwagandha, probiotics, chamomile, CBD, and Rhodiola.
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