As a nation, we’re universally anxious and stressed. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults—18 percent of the population. And the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates stress accounts for 75 percent of all doctors’ visits. It’s not just inconvenient: stress is major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death, including cancer and coronary heart disease. But you don’t have to suffer (or stress about it): if you’re anxious, tame your tension, with these research-based natural solutions.
1. Probiotics. There’s a definitive link between gut health and mental function, and research shows the gut microbiota communicate with the central nervous system through a variety of pathways. Studies suggest gut microbes are involved in the regulation of the stress response, and a healthy microbiome can protect against anxiety and other mood disorders. A review of 34 controlled clinical trials found probiotics had small but significant effects on anxiety. In one study, people with chronic fatigue syndrome who took probiotics had a significant reduction in anxiety, and another found probiotics improved anxiety and sleep quality in students during periods of stress.
2. Magnesium. This mineral, critical in a number of bodily functions, also influences the production of and the body’s reaction to cortisol, a primary stress hormone, and moderates the physiological stress response. Low blood levels of magnesium have been linked with feelings of anxiety, and research also shows stress can deplete magnesium from the body. Some studies link a higher dietary intake of magnesium with lower levels of anxiety, and in one study, taking magnesium for six weeks lead to a clinically significant improvement in symptoms of anxiety.
3. Vitamin D3. In addition to its role in bone health and immunity, vitamin D also influences neurotransmitters that impact brain function and mood, and vitamin D receptors are widespread in brain tissue and the central nervous system. Several studies have linked low blood levels of vitamin D with increased anxiety, worry, poor sleep and depression. Other research shows vitamin D supplementation can improve mood and reduce anxiety.
4. Omega 3 fats. These fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, work in part by influencing stress hormones and neurotransmitter function, and also by decreasing brain inflammation. Some researchers suggest the lower intake of omega-3s in our modern diet is linked with anxiety, as well as depression and other mood disorders. Studies show people with symptoms of anxiety have significantly lower levels of omega-3 fats and, in some studies, a higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the blood and in the brain. Supplementing with omega-3 fats has been linked with a significant reduction in anxiety, as well as improvements in mood, concentration and fatigue, in both people with clinical anxiety and healthy young adultswithout an anxiety disorder diagnosis. In one study, stressed-out students who took an omega-3 supplement for 12 weeks had a 20 percent reduction in symptoms of anxiety, compared those who received a placebo. Other studies have shown possible therapeutic effects of EPA on post-traumatic stress disorder and a reduction in anxiety in people recovering from substance abuse.
5. Herbal blends. Herbs like passionflower, skullcap, lavender, chamomile and others have been used for thousands of years to promote calm, and modern research supports their use for easing anxiety and reducing stress. Passionflower works in part by influencing brain levels of GABA, a compound that helps regulate mood, and some studies show it’s as effective as prescription anti-anxiety medications. Skullcap also works with GABA to reduce anxiety. Lavender contains compounds that are thought to interact with neurotransmitters to ease stress and anxiety. Chamomile has been shown to promote relaxation and lower anxiety. Holy basil (Tulsi) helps calm psychological stress and reduce anxiety. And vervain has proven anti-anxiety and sedative properties.
References available on request; ask me.