Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem and include panic disorders, agoraphobia, generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety disorders develop due to an interplay between environmental and genetic factors. Cognitive behaviour therapy is useful for this disorder, as well as prescription anxiolytic drugs.
However, many patients prefer a natural approach or dislike the side effects of prescription drugs, and there are many non-prescription supplements available to help anxiety. Before starting natural supplements for an anxiety problem, be sure to mention your concerns and get a general checkup from your doctor. Symptoms resembling anxiety and anxiety attacks can be caused by physical diseases such as hormone imbalance, hyperthyroidism or cardiac arrhythmias.
However, if you are sure your problem is an anxiety disorder, the following supplements may be of help, and often have fewer side effects than commercial pharmaceutical products.
Chamomile tea is one of the best-known natural remedies for anxiety. Its affects the digestive tract and the nervous system; thus, it is helpful for people who suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms such as cramps along with mental anxiety. It is recommended that patients drink fresh tea made with chamomile leaves, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per cup of water, several times a day. It is also available in tinctures which can be added to water. Chamomile capsules are convenient to take along to work and don’t take as long to brew as the tea. The usual dose is 250 to 500 mg 3 to 4 times daily.
Damiana (Turnera diffusa) is a nerve tonic which also has a restorative (adaptogenic) property. It has a calming effect in cases of mild depression and anxiety and is also reputed to be an aphrodisiac. Damiana contains flavonoids that act on benzodiazepine and GABA receptors. It exhibits anxiolytic activity, muscle relaxation and sedation. Use 2-4 g of dried leaves infused in a cup of boiling water; 2-3 cups are taken daily. Alternatively, 2-4 ml of a liquid extract or 3-4 grams of powdered leaf in tablets or capsules taken twice daily can be substituted if desired.
Damiana has demonstrated mild hypoglycemic effects in animal studies. Patients with diabetes and hypoglycemia should use this plant with caution, and monitor blood sugar levels closely. Damiana has traditional use as an abortive and is contraindicated during pregnancy.
Kava Kava (Piper methysticum) has a very quick calming effect on the nervous system and causes an uplifting, euphoric feeling. It is also a muscle relaxant and mild sedative. It helps anxiety, tension, stress, irritability and insomnia. Kava stops the mind from racing, often a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder.
The usual dose is 750 mg twice daily. Do not exceed 4 capsules per day.
Kava Kava is a traditional Polynesian remedy, and while it has been used safely by Polynesians for centuries, now that it has become popular worldwide it has been linked to some cases of liver failure in people of other ethnic groups who have difficulty metabolizing it. Ask a health care professional before use if you have a history of liver problems, frequently use alcoholic beverages, or are taking any medication. Stop and see a doctor if you develop symptoms that may signal liver problems (e.g., unexplained fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fever, vomiting, dark urine, pale stools, yellow eyes or skin).
Do not use kava if less than 18 years of age, or if pregnant/breastfeeding. Do not combine with alcoholic beverages, or prescription anxiolytics or antidepressants. Excessive use, or use with products that cause drowsiness, may impair your ability to operate a vehicle or heavy equipment. Do not take Kava Kava on a daily basis for more than four weeks without consulting a health care provider. Take frequent breaks from use.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is most often used for insomnia, but it can also be taken in the daytime to reduce the effects of stress and anxiety. This herb is often included in European formulas for heart palpitations, which often have anxiety as a component. It is taken in capsule form, 500 mg daily, or 20-30 drops of a tincture, or as a fresh tea. Passionflower, though it helps bring on natural sleep, does not have the sedative effects of many prescription sleeping pills.
Pulsatilla is a homoeopathic remedy said to be most suitable for shy, hypersensitive people who tend to feel warm rather than cold. Homoeopathic practitioners recommend a 30C potency 2-4 times daily for relief of acute symptoms, and 30C or 6C 1-2 times daily for chronic use. Homoeopathic remedies use minuscule concentrations of compounds to “nudge” the body into healing itself. They either help or they do not; there are no toxic side effects.
Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is a relaxing and gentle sedative for the central nervous system. It is very good for nervous tension and for nervous exhaustion plus neurological and neuromotor problems. The dose is 10-20 drops of fresh plant tincture or 1-2 dropperfuls of dried plant tincture. Skullcap can also be sleep-inducing, but it is rarely habituating.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is commonly used for depression but helps anxiety as well. Use a 300 mg extract 3 times daily. Quality varies widely between brands; it is best to buy a product standardized to contain 3-5% hyperforin and 0.3% hypericin. It works by increasing the level of neurotransmitters in the central nervous system such as serotonin and dopamine. Do not use this product if also taking prescription antidepressants.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has been used since Greek and Roman times to promote sleep and relaxation. It can treat insomnia, anxiety, and stress-related gastrointestinal upset. According to one theory, valerian affects the brain in a way similar to valium; while another theory holds that valerian contains GABA, a neurotransmitter which has a calming effect on the brain, or else influences the brain’s natural production of GABA. Also, some researchers believe that valerian affects serotonin levels in a manner similar to anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac.
If using valerian to treat insomnia, take the herb 30 to 60 minutes before going to bed. It can be taken 2-4 times daily to help stress and anxiety. The recommended dose of tincture is 30-60 drops or a capsule or tablet of 300-500 mg.
Some people feel groggy after taking valerian; if this occurs, lower the dose. Avoid hazardous activities while using valerian, and do not combine it with other sedatives, antidepressants or alcohol. Do not take valerian for more than 3 weeks, as it can be habituating.
Verbena (Verbena Officinalis) is a relaxing nervous system tonic indicated for a wide range of nervous disorders including nervous exhaustion and stress. As a tincture, use 2-4 ml up to 4 times daily. Avoid use during pregnancy as this herb is a uterine stimulant.
Withania (Withania somnifera) is an ayurvedic herb sold under the name Ashwagandha. It is a very good tonic herb that is especially helpful for debility and nervous exhaustion due to stress. It has steroidal, adaptogenic, sedative and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also useful for panic attacks and phobic disorders such as agoraphobia. Use 1 tsp powder 3 times daily.