A Review of Herbs and Supplements for Anxiety

Abstracted by Jessica Patella, ND. Many of the researches done to reduce stress have shown benefits for Passion Flower, Kava, St. John’s Wort, Lysine, Arginine, and Magnesium. Posted March 24, 2011.

Anxiety affects 18.1% of Americans (approximately 6.8 million people) and is one of the most frequent conditions seen by clinicians (1, 2). The estimated cost of anxiety disorders is $46.6 billion per year (3). With this rising cost, the cost of prescriptions and unwanted side effects from pharmaceutical medications, people are looking for natural options. A recent research review examined multiple studies looking at nutritional and herbal supplementation for anxiety and anxiety-related conditions. The research discovered most natural treatments were effective without serious side effects (2).

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, but it can become excessive and seriously affect a person’s daily life. Anxiety is defined as a feeling of persistent worry that hinders an individual’s ability to relax (4). Anxiety can also result in physical symptoms such as, headaches, uncontrolled trembling and sweating, muscle tension, and body aches (2).

A total of 24 studies were reviewed, examining five different therapies, passionflower, kava, St. John’s wort, lysine with arginine and magnesium (2). Overall, 2619 participants from 18-82 years of age were included.

Passionflower
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is widely used throughout Europe and India for restlessness and nervousness (2).  All three studies reviewing passionflower and anxiety showed a positive benefit to taking passionflower (2). One study even found passionflower (45 drops per day of extract) as effective as oxazepam, a prescription benzodiazepine, used for anxiety symptoms (5).

Kava
Kava (Piper methysticum) has been known to decrease anxiety, restlessness and insomnia for centuries, without being a sedative (2). Of the 10 randomized controlled studies 63% showed kava significantly reduced anxiety symptoms and provided good evidence for the use of kava for anxiety (2). All studies included a dose of kava less than 400mg per day (2).

St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is licensed in Germany to treat anxiety, depression and sleep disorders (2). Out of six studies the evidence was mixed, with 50% of the studies having positive results (2). The studies with positive results were with St. John’s wort in combination therapy with valerian. This suggests St. John’s wort alone may not be an effective treatment for anxiety disorders (2).

Lysine and Arginine
L-lysine and L-arginine are amino acids that effect neurotransmitters in the brain. Two randomized-controlled studies showed L-lysine plus L-arginine (approximately 3g per day) effectively reduced anxiety scores with no reported side effects (2).

Magnesium
Magnesium is vital in multiple reactions in the body and has also been linked to anxiety-related disorders (2). All three randomized-controlled studies found positive results, although magnesium showed best results when used in combination with other vitamins (in a multi-vitamin or with vitamin B6) (2).

In conclusion, of all the studies reviewed, 71% showed a positive result from either the herbal or nutritional supplementation. Based on this review, herbal and nutritional supplements are effective treatments for anxiety and anxiety-related conditions, without the risk of serious side effects (2).

Abstracted from “Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review,” in the 2010 issue of Nutrition Journal.

References:

  1. Anxiety.  National Institute of Mental Health.
  2. Lakhan, S and Vieira, K. Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review. Nutrition Journal 2010; 9:42
  3. Cost of anxiety disorders.  Pubmed.
  4. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  Washington Dc: American Psychiatric Association. 4: 2000.
  5. Akhondzadeh S, et al.  Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind, placebo-controlled study.  Anesth Analg 2008, 106: 1728-1732.

Minerals-Magnesium, St. John's Wort, Stress, Stress Reduction