Stress and anxiety are a common condition affecting both children and adults. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year, making them one of the most common mental illnesses. About three percent of children in the US have an Anxiety Disorder with the average age of onset being age six. There has been a cultural shift toward adopting a high-stress lifestyle, along with poor dietary habits, reduced sleep, health issues, and increased genetic mutations are all contributing factors. These seven supplements for anxiety have research to support their efficacy and should be considered to reduce symptoms.
One of the most prominent natural anxiety supplements, Magnesium, is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical and enzymatic reactions within the body. These include metabolizing food, synthesizing fatty acids and proteins, transmitting nerve impulses for better muscle and blood glucose control, and regulating blood pressure.
Magnesium is required for its assistance with many chemical functions that support the Central Nervous System in managing stress. Magnesium is needed energy production (mitochondrial function) and the glucose breakdown for energy (glycolysis) and cerebral energy metabolism is associated with anxiety and social behavior. Magnesium binds with ATP, the main source of energy for the cells (oxidative phosphorylation), regulates transmembrane transport, and plays a variety of roles in function and structure of proteins, nucleic acid, and mitochondria for cellular energy. It also is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and the antioxidant glutathione, which is a powerful antioxidant that supports detoxification and a healthy immune system. Oxidative stress and improper detoxification are associated with increased levels of anxiety.
The majority of Western populations consume less than the recommended amount of magnesium. Many studies have reported that reduced levels of magnesium are associated with a wide range of chronic diseases including, among others, anxiety. As one of the primary vitamins for anxiety, research supports the efficacy of Magnesium. It plays an important role in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis to help manage the body’s stress response system
Ingested Magnesium is absorbed through the gut and absorption levels vary depending on a number of factors, including gut health. Aside from eating Mageusim dense foods like avocados, legumes, or nuts, it can be directly taken in capsule or powder form. Magnesium is considered one of the safest supplements for stress regulation and should be taken to bowel tolerance.
L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea and is widely used in Asian countries. Known for its calming and relaxing properties, many use it as one of the natural remedies for anxiety and depression. L-Theanine supports neurocognitive functioning in several ways, supporting both neurotransmitter functioning and brainwave activity. L-theanine modulates aspects of brain function in humans by increasing Alpha brainwave activity, which calms the brain. L-theanine also increases levels of the brain neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) (an important inhibitory neurotransmitter). L-theanine produces its anti-anxiety effects by increasing GABA without producing sleepiness or impairing motor behavior common to prescription anti-anxiety drugs. L-Theanine reduces anxiety by blocking the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. By inhibiting the overstimulating glutamate, the brain learns to calm and one feels more relaxed.
Studies demonstrate that L-theanine, when used as vitamins for anxiety and stress, can specifically reduce the molecular impacts of acute stress, and the resulting excitotoxicity, on brain cells, which can result in cognitive decline. Not only are chronic stress states associated with anxiety and depression, but they are also associated with neurodegenerative disorders. It can be directly taken in capsule or powder form. L-Theanine is considered safe and no negative effects have been found in research.
Gamma-Amino Butyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that inhibits nerve transmission in the brain, calming nervous activity. The neurotransmitter GABA blocks the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate keeping nerve cells from firing too often and too easily. People deficient in GABA are prone to neurological issues of over-excitability, such as agitation, irritability, and, most importantly, anxiety. Further, disorders such as panic attacks, anxiety disorder, are also related to low GABA activity making it one of the more effective natural remedies for panic attacks. Lastly, GABA neurotransmitter activity in the amygdala is important in modulating anxiety-related behavior
The food substance supplement GABA is widely available and has been used since at least the 1950’s as an aide to reduce stress and anxiety. While there have been some questions about the bioavailability of GABA or how it is absorbed, a number of studies have reported that GABA does cross the Blood-Brain Barrier, in small amounts. The use of GABA has been shown to support anxiety, depression, sleep problems, autism, panic attacks, and agitation. It can be directly taken in capsule or powder form.
Omega 3 is the name given to a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids, of which, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are essential for brain health. Following consumption, omega-3 fatty acids are incorporated into body tissue cell membranes and have powerful anti-inflammatory functions within the body. Research supports that at the cellular level, omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils can directly or indirectly modulate a number of cellular activities associated with inflammation. Inflammation is associated with a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety.
Omega 3 is “essential” because it is not made in the body and must be supplied through consumption of foods such as salmon, tuna, sardines, wild game, and walnuts or as a dietary supplement. The other essential fatty acid is omega-6, which can be found in corn, eggs, poultry, and soybean oil. Omega-6 contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are critical for normal brain function and development. Omega-3 can affect the functionality of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a critical role in both depression and anxiety. Perhaps one of the best vitamins for anxiety and stress, omega-3 helps with prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens functioning, the brain regions involved in motivation and emotional regulation. DHA is a critical structural component of the cerebral cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for language, memory, generalizing, creativity, judgment, emotion, and attention.
Vitamin D₃ is made in your skin through a chemical process called “photolysis” that occurs when you expose your skin to ultraviolet B rays. In the liver, vitamin D is turned into a chemical called calcidiol and this vitamin D prohormone travels through the bloodstream to the kidneys, where it’s turned into the active form. Every tissue in the body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, endocrine system, and immune system, which means vitamin D is needed at every level for the body to function. Since vitamin D is involved in so many functions in the brain and body, it has an important role in supporting anxiety.
Upwards of 70% of Americans are vitamin D deficient leading to significant medical and psychological consequences. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with anxiety and depression. In terms of anxiety and mood, if the brain and endocrine system are not getting enough vitamin D, then they can’t work properly then these symptoms can result. Vitamin D plays a role in magnesium homeostasis, which is necessary for so many biochemicals in the body. If you have a mental health issue, it is important to have your vitamin D levels checked. For those with clinical conditions, your blood levels of vitamin D should be on the high end of average.
The B vitamins are important nutrients in managing stress and anxiety. They are necessary for maintaining healthy nervous and digestive systems and various metabolic functions, as well as play a vital role in brain health. The B vitamins are often used to reduce fatigue and boost mood and improve symptoms of anxiety. B vitamins come from food sources, such as, whole grains, rice, meat, eggs, dark leafy vegetables, fruit, and legumes and can also be taken via a supplement. The body does not store B vitamins well, and the need for them is increased by stress and illness.
There are several types of B vitamins, and each one supports the brain and body in different ways. They all support proper nervous system function and that has a direct implication for those with anxiety. For example, B-6 – Pyridoxine helps the body manufacture neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which aids in the body’s ability to cope with depression, stress, and anxiety. The B vitamins include (B1) Thiamine,(B2) Riboflavin, (B3) Niacin, (B5) Pantothenate, (B6) Pyridoxine, (B9) Folate, and (B12) Cobalamin. Many individuals take a B complex that contains all of the B vitamins.
A common mutation called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) impacts how folate is used in the body and brain. It effects upwards of 40 percent of the US population, as well as is implicated in a variety of physical and mental health conditions, including, anxiety, depression, autism, ADHD, chronic disease, etc. This gene mutation can lead to high levels of homocysteine in the blood and low levels of folate and other vitamins. There are two MTHFR mutations – C677T and A1298C and a person can have one or both and they impact the bioavailability of folate. Folate (B-9) is important in the detoxification process and necessary for normal CNS regulation. When CNS dysregulation occurs, conditions such as anxiety and depression can result.
Ashwagandha is a natural herb for anxiety from India that has been used for centuries as a body tonic to promote overall wellness and more specifically to manage stress and anxiety. It is an adaptogen that helps to balance the body’s physiological systems, which is out of balance when anxiety is present.
From a biochemical perspective, Ashwagandha supports the GABAergic signaling system and main inhibitory receptors in the central nervous system, ionotropic GABAA receptors, which can be faulty in those with anxiety.
It contains several naturally-occurring phytochemicals that help to regulate the hormone system. In terms of anxiety, the evidence demonstrates that Ashwagandha helps to lower the stress hormone cortisol and blood sugar levels, which have resulted in lower reported levels of stress and anxiety. Cortisol is known as a stress hormone because the adrenal glands release it in response to stress, as well as when your blood sugar levels get too low. Ashwagandha boosts the adrenal glands by supporting normal HPA Axis function, which helps the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands communicate effectively and is critical in the body’s and brain’s ability to manage stress. Ashwagandha also lowers inflammation, which has been shown to be associated with anxiety.
As complementary and alternative medicine becomes more accepted by the traditional medical community, natural supplements for anxiety and depression, including vitamins for anxiety and stress, can help mitigate the difficulties of mental health disorders.
*Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new supplement regime and on specific dosages or possible drug interactions.
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