Natural dietary supplements have been found to relieve anxiety symptoms. Of course, there is no one cure-all solution to anxiety disorders – treatment and recovery require a multifaceted approach, including both treatment and self-management. Still, by adding dietary supplements to your day, you can reduce your anxiety symptoms significantly and give your brain and body a chance to rest and recover (and boost your overall health while you’re at it!).
This article will discuss the best natural supplements for anxiety, how and when to take them, and how they work. Before taking any supplement or over-the-counter medication, please consult a medical professional. Supplements are typically harmless, but you face issues if you have other health issues such as immune system issues or if you’re pregnant.
What are natural supplements?
A natural supplement is a pill, powder, gel, liquid, or tablet that contains one or a variety of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients the body needs to function properly and must be consumed from external sources because that body can’t produce them alone.
A healthy, nutritious diet is enough to give you all the nutrients your body needs to function properly and achieve optimal health. However, evidence suggests that many Americans do not adhere to a diet that is varied and balanced enough to do so.
Research published in the journal Nutrients highlights that ‘ ‘a varied and balanced diet, rich in nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, is able to provide the amounts of vitamins and minerals needed. However, there is ample evidence that food choice or availability often preclude such a diet. This can lead to a significant proportion of the population not meeting their optimum dietary needs’.
While it’s true that one can get all of the essential nutrients they need through diet alone, a varied and balanced diet is required. The problem is that many people do not adhere to a varied and balanced enough diet to get all of these nutrients. Time constraints, lack of nutrition education, and ease of access to highly processed and nutrient-poor foods all affect our ability to follow a diet good enough to promote optimal health.
When diet alone is not sufficient, supplements offer a quick and easy opportunity to boost our nutrient intake and optimize our health. They should not be used as a complete replacement for nutrient-rich food and a balanced diet, but rather as an addition.
How do supplements help anxiety?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, almost 1 in 5 US adults struggle with some type of anxiety disorder, such as:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic Disorder
In addition, many people who struggle with anxiety also face an increased risk of depression. Major depressive disorder is another of the most common mental health issues among Americans, with around 16 million US adults struggling every year.
Those of us who struggle may struggle to get enough nutrients in our diet due to the frequent stress associated with the condition. Research shows that many anxiety disorders are also associated with a lack of certain nutrients. As such, supplementing one’s diet with natural remedies can give the body a chance to reach optimal health and better prepare it to deal with the mental and physical symptoms associated with anxiety.
Natural supplements are a type of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that can be recommended for use alongside conventional treatments (therapy, prescription medications) for anxiety disorders. They are not exclusively used for anxiety – anyone can use natural supplements to boost their health and achieve an adequate intake of nutrients that are not otherwise achieved through diet alone.
Still, those with anxiety face a broad range of undesirable mental and physical symptoms that get in the way of fully living and enjoying one’s life. And when severe, it can be debilitating, jeopardizing one’s ability to engage in work, form and maintain relationships, and practice effective self-care.
Common anxiety disorder symptoms include:
- Intense fear
- Frequent headaches, aches, and pains, muscle tension
- Nausea, vomiting
- Catastrophic thinking, rumination, worry
- Weakened immune system
- Persistent stress
Typically, anxiety disorders are treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication if necessary. However, recent research finds that in addition to these conventional approaches, effective anxiety treatment involves a holistic approach, in which a person’s lifestyle and habits also play a significant role in recovery.
More and more practitioners take a holistic approach to treatment in which, alongside conventional medicine, they prescribe complementary and alternative medicines, or CAMs, including dietary changes, exercise, meditation, and relaxation and grounding techniques.
Nutritional and herbal supplements are often recommended as CAM, especially when the person struggling does not meet adequate dietary reference intake daily.
Which natural supplements can I take for anxiety?
Supplementation is a great way to meet your dietary needs and reduce anxiety symptoms while you’re at it. If you’ve decided to support your diet, you might be confused about which supplement you should take.
There are many supplement companies and even more products out there, and all have benefits. With each company advertising and marketing their product to compete with others, you might find yourself unsure of who to trust.
Below we’ve outlined some of the most popular and effective supplements that have been proven effective in reducing anxiety symptoms. As mentioned earlier, please consult your doctor before taking any dietary supplement.
Magnesium for anxiety
Magnesium is a mineral and one of the essential nutrients we need to consume in our diet. Various studies have found that magnesium has a profound positive impact on reducing anxiety symptoms. So, how exactly does magnesium help with anxiety?
First, let’s take a look at what happens to the brain and body when we don’t get enough magnesium. Research shows that low or deficient magnesium levels in the body can lead to fatigue, sleep issues, increased risk of depression, and increased stress levels due to a reduced ability to tolerate stress.
Regarding its positive effects, magnesium plays several key roles in brain and body function. First, it binds to neurotransmitters in the brain that are associated with relaxation and a sense of peace. Second, it helps to reduce and better regulate the release of cortisol by the brain. Cortisol is a stress hormone and is strongly associated with anxiety when released in high amounts. Magnesium’s effect on cortisol release means that it helps the body counter the effects of the body’s stress response.
Magnesium is available in many whole foods, such as leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. If you struggle to get enough of these nutrient-rich foods in your diet, the following supplements can help you meet your RDI.
Popular magnesium supplements include:
- MegaFood Magnesium – 50 mg – 90 Tablets
- Protocol for Life Balance ProtoSorb Magnesium – 90 Veg Capsules
- Zahler’s Magnesium – 200 mg – 120 Capsules
Iron for anxiety
According to research published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, ‘iron deficiency is the most prevalent single nutrient deficiency worldwide.’
Iron plays a key role in healthy brain, nerve, and general body function. Without enough iron in the blood, there is a risk of iron deficiency, which is famously associated with anemia.
It also compromises neurotransmitter function, particularly dopamine. Dopamine is the four main mood-altering chemicals and is typically associated with drive and motivation. Without enough dopamine, one’s risk of anxiety and depression significantly increases.
Common sources of iron in the diet include:
- Red meat
- Dried fruit
- Fortified foods (milk, cereal)
Popular and effective iron supplements available today include:
- Nature’s Bounty Gentle Iron – 28 mg – 90 Capsules
- Vitanica Iron Extra – 60 VCapsules
- VegLife Vegan Iron – 100 Tablets
Omega-3 for anxiety
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for proper brain function. Omega-3 is typically found in fatty fish, and supplements are typically derived from fish oil.
The facts involved in Omega-3 are required by brain cell membranes, and a lack thereof can cause disturbances to normal brain function.
Research is ongoing regarding the effects of omega-3 in managing anxiety disorders. Still, evidence suggests that those who struggle with more severe anxiety disorders tend to have a below-average level of PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) in circulation around the brain.
Omega-3 rich foods include:
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna)
- Nuts and seeds
- Plant oils
Popular Omega-3 supplements are:
- Kirkland Signature Fish Oil – 1,000 mg – 400 Softgels
- Nature’s Bounty Odor-Less Fish Oil, 1,000 mg – 120 Coated Softgels
- Nordic Naturals Complete Omega – 565 mg Omega-3 – 60 Softgels
L-theanine for anxiety
L-theanine is an amino acid. Amino acids are molecules that play a crucial role in protein formation. Regarding anxiety, several studies have found that L-theanine is anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), thus making it a useful tool for symptom management.
Primarily, L-theanine is used for its sedative effects. Note that it is not the same as sedative prescription medication such as benzo’s or other anxiolytics, but it has been found to counter a rapid heart rate. Further studies found positive effects of L-theanine in promoting better sleep, a common issue for those struggling with anxiety disorders.
Green tea is the most accessible way to add l-theanine to your diet, but you can also opt for supplements such as:
- Now Foods L-Theanine – 200 mg – 60 Veg Capsules
- Protocol for Life Balance L-Theanine – 200 mg – 60 Veg Capsules
- Life Extension L-Theanine 100 mg – 60 Vegetarian Capsules
GABA for anxiety
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, or GABA, is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter, low levels of which strongly correlate with anxiety symptoms and disorders. Chronic anxiety is a malfunction of the body’s stress response. In this stress response, brain signals communicate rapidly to prepare the body for danger.
The neurotransmitter GABA is inhibitory, which means it blocks or slows down these rapid-firing messages in the brain. As such, GABA is known to reduce the feeling of intense fear, panic, and sense of urgency associated with anxiety.
Fish, legumes, whole grains, and potatoes are excellent sources of GABA in the diet, while popular GABA supplements are:
- Douglas Labs GABA – 60 Capsules
- Jarrow Formulas GABA Soothe – 30 Veggie Caps
- Solgar GABA 500 mg – 100 VCapsules
Rhodiola Rosea for anxiety
Rhodiola Rosea is a plant-based substance that is sometimes used as a means of anxiety relief. It’s also often used as a natural remedy in the management of depression. Some researchers classify Rhodiola Rosea as an adaptogen – a naturally-occurring substance that improves the body’s ability to tolerate stress, thereby reducing its adverse physical and psychological effects.
A healthy adult can safely take between 100 and 300 mg of Rhodiola Rosea supplement per day. If you are pregnant or have a pre-existing condition, please consult a doctor or other medical professional who knows your medical history.
Popular Rhodiola Rosea supplements include:
- Gaia Herbs Rhodiola Rosea – 120 Vegetarian Liquid Phyto-Caps
- Pure Encapsulations Rhodiola Rosea – 180 Capsules
- Bluebonnet Nutrition Rhodiola Rosea Root Extract – 200 mg – 60 Vegetarian Capsules
Melatonin for anxiety
Melatonin has been proven to ease anxiety symptoms. This chemical, or hormone, occurs naturally in the body and is released before sleep. Its release, which typically happens at night, signals to the body that it’s time to wind down and sleep. This is part of the circadian rhythm, also known as the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.
Those of us who struggle with anxiety often self-report a disrupted circadian rhythm. The high-stress levels, excessive fear and worry, and mental fatigue experienced by anxiety sufferers can lead to sleepless nights or cause a person to wake up frequently after they do eventually fall asleep. The result is grogginess, brain fogginess, and poor concentration and attention in the morning, and drowsiness throughout the day. Many of us need to boost our energy levels throughout the day to take care of responsibilities, so we might opt for quick-fix snacks to keep us going. The problem with this approach is that the highs are short-lived, and the energy crash that follows can lead to even more anxiety.
Melatonin supplements are widely available and have consistently shown to be an effective sleep aid, as well as a means of reducing the severity of anxiety symptoms. As with any supplement, they shouldn’t entirely replace other sleep-inducing behaviors such as exercise during the day, a healthy diet, and limited screen time, and avoidance of stimulants before bed.
Some of the most popular melatonin supplements available today are:
- Natrol Melatonin 5mg Gummy
- Source Naturals Melatonin 3 mg Timed-Release
- Nature’s Bounty Bi-Layer Dual Spectrum Melatonin
B vitamins for anxiety
B vitamins are eight of the nine water-soluble vitamins (the other is vitamin C) that the body needs to obtain from food (or supplements) to function properly. As their name suggests, water-soluble vitamins dissolve quickly in water, so we need to include them in our diet daily.
The eight B vitamins, also known as the vitamin b complex, play critical roles in optimal brain and nerve function. They share some roles, but they each also have their own job. Regarding stress and anxiety,
B12 is one of the most relevant anti-anxiety supplements. It won’t directly cure anxiety, but studies have found that a B12 deficiency positively correlates to a low mood and can exacerbate mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
By supplementing your diet with B12, you can reap the benefits of an improved mood and sense of well-being, as well as greater cognitive function, memory, and attention. If you’re in therapy for anxiety disorder, the cognitive and emotional benefits of B12 and the rest of the B vitamins may increase your focus and willingness to engage in the therapy sessions.
Common B-complex supplements include:
- BodyBio B Vitamins – High Dose – 240 Non-GMO Capsules
- Nordic Naturals Vitamin B Complex – 45 Capsules
- Dr. Mercola Vitamin B Complex – 60 Capsules
Ashwagandha for anxiety
Ashwagandha, also known as Indian Ginseng, is a plant-based substance that has been proven to reduce stress, increase well-being, and improve sleep quality, along with several other benefits. It’s one of several herbal remedies that have been used for thousands of years to aid those struggling with stress, low energy, and sleep issues.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which means it counts the body’s stress response. During times of anxiety, whether short or prolonged, the body’s stress response is highly active. It has to be active to protect us from danger.
By supplementing your diet with ashwagandha, you give your brain and nervous system a chance to come down from its heightened stress response and enter a state of parasympathetic nervous activation. The PSNS governs rest and digestion, and one of its functions is deep sleep. With persistent anxiety, one’s sleep usually takes a hit, which only leads to more anxiety symptoms.
Research is ongoing into the effects of ashwagandha, but current studies highlight its effectiveness as an anxiety reliever and sleep promoter. It also boasts a broad range of other benefits, including:
- Increased testosterone in men
- Increased fertility in men
- Reduced severity of menopausal symptoms
- Stronger immune system
Popular ashwagandha supplements include:
- Jarrow Formulas Ashwagandha – 300 mg – 120 Capsules
- Life Extension Optimized Ashwagandha Extract – 125 mg – 60 Vegetable Capsules
- Organic India Ashwagandha – 400 mg – 90 Vegetable Capsules
Valerian root for anxiety
Valerian has been used for its health benefits long modern medicine. This ancient herb has relaxing and sleep-inducing qualities that make it a viable option for those looking to reduce their stress and anxiety symptoms and get much-needed rest. As a supplement, valerian root is available as a capsule and a liquid.
One reason for valerian root’s stress-busting and anxiolytic properties is how it interacts with an important neurotransmitter – gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. As mentioned earlier, GABA plays a key role in regulating brain and nerve impulses. Research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders highlights how GABA deficiency can have a negative impact on brain health and lead to mood issues such as depression and anxiety.
Popular valerian root supplements include:
- Gaia Herbs Alcohol-Free Valerian Root – 1 fl oz (30 ml)
- Paradise Herbs European Valerian Root Extract – 60 Vegetarian Capsules
- Sundown Naturals Valerian Root – 530 mg – 100 Capsules
Vitamin D for anxiety
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to higher levels of depression and anxiety. Vitamin D helps the body break calcidiol because it promotes calcium absorption. One 2015 study observed a strong correlation between patients with anxiety and depression and low calcidiol levels in the body, which indicated that the patient had sub-adequate levels of vitamin D.
The body absorbs vitamin D through exposure to sunlight and vitamin-rich foods such as fatty fish and egg yolks, but if you struggle with getting enough sun or enough nutrient-rich food, vitamin D supplements can most certainly help.
Popular vitamin D supplements are:
- Nature Made Vitamin D3 25 mcg – 650 Softgels
- NATURELO Vitamin D3 from Wild-Harvested Lichen 2500IU – 180 Vegetarian Capsules
- Nature’s Answer Vitamin D3 Drops – 4,000 IU (100 mcg) – .5 oz (15 ml)
When should I take a supplement?
There is no right or wrong time of day to take a supplement. However, you may want to adjust your intake depending on your unique needs. For example, if your anxiety is causing you to feel fatigued, you might opt for supplements that boost your energy. These would be best taken in the morning along with food to give you energy for the day ahead. Taking them at night may cause an energy boost that would interfere with your ability to get high-quality sleep,
Other supplements have sedative, drowsy qualities. These are most appropriate for those whose antiques keep them up at night. As such, opt for such supplements before bed rather than in the morning, as daytime drowsiness can affect your focus and may lead to more anxiety. Learn more here.
Supplements are a great way to get more nutrients and important chemical compounds into your body. Still, they shouldn’t completely replace a varied and balanced diet. They are intended for use alongside other health-oriented lifestyle habits, such as diet, exercise, and mindful living to optimize our physical, mental, and emotional health.
When used correctly, natural supplements can be life-changing. They offer a healthy, safe, and long-term viable alternative to national medicines such as benzodiazepines and opiate-derived medications to aid sleep and relaxation.
Of course, some conditions require a more robust, more evidence-based approach to treatment, which often includes pharmaceutical intervention. However, you can still reap many benefits from a natural supplication that you may not otherwise achieve.
Always consult your doctor or another medical professional before taking any supplements. Supplements themselves are generally safe, but certain health conditions and pregnancy can alter how they interact within the body.