This time I wanted to tackle a very common issue that everyone has to deal with at some point in their lives: anxiety.
I have a sensitive nervous system and have suffered from migraine-related anxiety. Any conventional medicines I have tried for anxiety have made me really fatigued and decreased my mood, and beta-blockers dropped my blood pressure dangerously low, so they were not a good fit for me. I have never had really disturbing negative anxiety, but having a sensitive nervous system and migraine have made me experience prolonged periods of stress and hyperactivation.
Actually, this is a problem for many people; what to do when you experience some anxiety but it is not clinically alarming or daily?
I dropped trying out any anxiolytic conventional medicines many years ago since I felt the effect was too “strong” and they were unnecessary. Instead, I started concentrating on experimenting with natural supplements, herbs, and dietary choices and some natural products have significantly helped me to deal with a hyperactive nervous system in a natural, gentle, and very effective way. Note: I am not against medicines, and I think they should be used when they are needed and appropriate, they just did not work for me.
My favorite nutritional tips for anxiety are omega-3, ashwagandha, L-theanine, avoiding excessive coffee (or taking in combination with L-theanine), intermitted fasting and avoiding sugar and excessive carbs. I actually found ketogenic diet very effective, but (as a student) I found it socially difficult, so now I am sticking with low-carb instead of keto. Nevertheless, I am curious about experimenting with keto again at some point again. Also, having enough sleep, meditating, yoga, cardio/HIIT exercises, using cold-exposure and relaxing techniques have been really important for me in balancing my mood.
In this article, I took a little peak to the science behind supplements against anxiety. I hope you find these helpful. This only includes a small part of many useful supplements, and I will probably make a “part 2” when I find enough time, but meanwhile, please comment and let me know about your thoughts about the topic, and your favorite tips and tricks against anxiety – supplements or other.
In this article:
- What is anxiety
- Anxiety and neurotransmitters
- Anxiety relief – Food for calm mood
- 6 supplements that can alleviate anxiety
- Lemon Balm
- Final words and other tips
What is anxiety and what causes it?
40 % of people are estimated to have anxiety related disorder at some point in their life (R). Yes, that is almost every other of us. So at the times of anxiety; stay calm – that is normal!
Anxiousness is a state of high sympathetic nervous system activation combined with negative emotions. That is your physical body being in an alarmed state with high heart rate, dilated pupils, activated muscles, and elevated blood pressure, and your mental state being irritated, fearful, restless, nervous or agitated (R).
It should be noted that anxiety is a normal, evolutionary important emotion. It can protect us from dangerous situations and even improve our performance by increasing alertness. Physiologically anxiety is very similar to being excited or inspired – the difference between these states is the psychological component, the valence, or “name” that we give to the SNS-activation in each situation. This stems from how we personally perceive the situation; do we find it threatful or not. Every person will perceive situations in different light and situations that induce anxiety to some, might actually be positive to other. Just think about a rollercoaster – some find it absolutely terrifying whereas others can’t wait to go for another fun round!
Anxiety, in general, can be a useful emotion, but an excessive anxiety, or chronic stress, can deteriorate health. It can lower performance in school, work or relationships, and have a negative influence on overall physical health causing cardiovascular problems, lowered immune function and cellular damage.
Thus, it is important to make sure that the nervous system is balanced and restored from stress and anxiety.
There are multiple reasons for anxiety; work stress, amino acid deficiencies, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, hormonal changes, genes, traumatic experiences, bad habits or maladaptive thinking. This article tackles the dietary aspect and neurotransmitter balance in anxiety.
Anxiety and neurotransmitter
Diet and nutrition have an effect on the neurochemistry in the body. In the context of anxiety, the levels of neurotransmitters and hormone production have been lately in the interest of scientists. Neurotransmitters that play a role in anxiety are GABA, serotonin, and dopamine. GABA acts as a calming agent in the body, serotonin is linked to happy emotions, but also alertness, and dopamine is important for motivation. In addition, anxiety links to HPA-axis activation with elevated levels of noradrenaline and cortisol hormone, which are the two hormones strongly linked to the flight or fight response. (R)
Anxiety relief from medicine – a short-term solution
Anxiety disorders are treated with anxiolytic medicines, which targets GABA, serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline -neurotransmitter receptors. Medications that act as GABA-agonist and promote healthy levels of serotonin and dopamine, or decrease noradrenaline, have been shown to be effective in offering a temporary relief from anxiety. There has also been evidence that excessive serotonin can cause anxiety (R).
In essence, the anxiolytic medications do not restore normal levels of neurotransmitters. Instead, they manipulate the brain chemistry only the amount of time that they are actively taken. (R) Thus, many of them do not offer long-term help for anxiety.
The mechanism is similar to SSRI-medicines, which are used to treat depression. SSRI’s allow the “happy hormone” serotonin to stay at the synaptic cleft for a longer period of time and thus, elevate the mood. Yet, they don’t correct the body’s deteriorated function to create sufficient amounts of serotonin and work only when the person is actively under SSRI medication. Similarly, anxiolytic drugs, like benzodiazepines, mimic the calming effects of GABA, but again, do not fix the lack of GABA production for good. (R)
Anxiety relief form nutrition – a long-term solution?
In contrast to anxiolytic drugs, some herbs and nutritious can stimulate neurotransmitter synthesis, “teaching” or “reprogramming” brain to produce important neurotransmitters naturally, which is regarded as a more natural way of fixing the neurotransmitter levels (R). Evidence comes from studies that show the link between the levels of neurotransmitters and amino acids consumed in the diet (R).
Currently, scientists are becoming gradually more interested in natural supplemental aids for anxiety. It looks like some nutritious choices can better correct the underlying neurochemistry, unlike many of the anxiolytic drugs, which are often only masking the problem. (R) In addition, balanced diet and supplements are available for anyone to use, even for those who do not suffer from clinical anxiety, but do feel stressed. They are safe and normally come without any side-effects (or if some, then positive ones), whereas many anxiolytic medicines have unwanted side-effects like dropped blood pressure, fatigue or weight gain.
6 supplements that can alleviate anxiety
The following supplements have studied in anxiety and shown to be effective in scientific research, but the best way to know is really to test it out and see what works for you:
L-Theanine is a unique non-protein amino acid that is naturally found in tea plants and mushrooms. L-theanine have been noticed to decrease perceived stress and increase physiological relaxation by increasing alpha waves in the brain gradually at least until 2 hours after ingestion. It also decreases heart rate and stress response and increases Heart Rate Variability, which is a sign of relaxation (R.) It has been noticed to lower blood pressure and reduce tension-anxiety (R).
These claims sound like a lot but they also make sense since all relate to the same vagus nerve-controlled parasympathetic nervous system activation in the body.
In addition, one review concluded that taking 200 mg of L-theanine in the evening may improve sleep quality. Yet, L-theanine does not have a sedative effect so it can be used to aid relaxation at any time of the day. (R) (R).
L-Theanine supplement dosage:
In many studies, 50-200 mg administration of L-Theanine has been noticed to be best for the anxiolytic effect. (R). One cup of black tea contains only 20 mg of L-theanine and comes in combination with caffeine which increases SN-activation (and thus anxiety), so supplementing is the best way for stress relief with L-theanine.
L-Theanine how to use:
Take 150-250 g when you feel anxious or 30 min – 2 hours before you know you are going to be anxious. Alpha waves in the brain have been noticed to increase gradually up until 2 hours of taking L-Theanine (R)
L-theanine and coffee:
The calming effect of L-theanine becomes really useful when it is combined with caffeine. Combining 100 mg of L-Theanine with 40 mg of caffeine (1 cup of coffee) helps to focus better and increase mood. It has been noticed to increase accuracy decreases ‘mental fatigue’ ratings, increase reaction times, and boost numeric working memory. In addition, the combination can decreases headaches and tiredness, and improve mood (R) (R) (R).
L-theanine product recommendations:
These products I have used personally and found effective. The links are affiliate links:
- Solgar 150 mg L-Theanine Vegetable Capsules – 60 Capsules (£ 25.39 in Amazon)
Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera (WS), is an Ayurvedic herb that has recently been widely studied in anxiety and cancer. WS is categorized as an anti-inflammatory and anti-tumorigenic (anti-cancer) herbal supplement. (R) (R)
It is also known for its weak hypnotic effect and GABAergic (calming) effect on the brain. (R)
Many studies have noted ashwagandhas efficiency in decreasing anxiety. For example, a recent review mentioned a study which concluded that ashwagandha decreased anxiety by 56.5% points compared to 30.5% points (Beck Anxiety Inventory) for psychotherapy. Another study measured self-reported stress and noticed that usage of ashwagandha lead to 44 % reduction stress scores (R)
The studies have been lasting for 60 days to 12 weeks.
Ashwagandha can also improve sleep; it heps to fall to sleep fasters, decrease waking, increase deep sleep and total sleep time (R)
Ashwagandha supplement dosage:
Majority of the clinical trials uses 300-600 mg/day for anxiolytic effect
Ahswagandha product recommendations:
These products I have used personally and found effective. The links are affiliate links:
3. Omega-3 fatty acids
Low omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids in combination with high omega-6 (n-6) levels have been linked to anxiety, inflammation, and depression. (R)
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have a variety of biological effects on neurotransmitters, inflammation, anti-oxidation, and neuronal health. (R) Omgea-3’s include ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA is found in plant-based food like chia seeds. Our body can’t make it’s own ALA and thus we need to get it from the diet. The body can make small amounts of EPA and DHA on its own from ALA, but the conversion rate is quite low (especially for individuals with certain FADS2 polymorphism) (R). Thus, EPA and DHA are the best to be consumed from foods or supplements as well. EPA and DHA are naturally found in fatty fish.
In one 12-week long placebo-controlled study students who received omega-3 supplements (2.5 g/d) showed a 20% reduction in anxiety symptom and a 14% decrease in inflammatory markers (IL-6) and reduction in inflammatory factor TNF-α. (R)
Low omega-3 levels are also linked to Social Anxiety Disorder. (R)
In was concluded that n-3 may have potential anxiolytic benefits for individuals without an anxiety disorder diagnosis. (R)
Omega-3 supplement dosage:
Omega-2 product recommendation:
These products I have used personally and found effective. The links are affiliate links:
4. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has been used for a long time to decrease anxiety (R)
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study found an increased in self-ratings of calmness after two doses of 300-600 mg of lemon balm in a 7-day study period. It also reduced self-ratings of alertness, but still increased in the speed of mathematical processing, with no reduction in accuracy. (R) Another study repeated these results; 600 mg administration of Lemon Balm lead to improvements in accuracy and attention and increased self-rated calmness and reduced alertness. (R)
People with mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances also respond well to lemon balm. In one study it reduced anxiety by 15%, decreased anxiety-associated symptoms by 18 % and lowered insomnia by 42%. As much as 95% of subjects responded to treatment. This study did not include a placebo group. (R)
The mood/anxiolytic effects of lemon balm are most likely due to its interactions with GABA receptors that are targeted in many therapies of anxiety, epilepsy, and related neurological disorders (R)
Lemon balm supplement dosage:
The studies of lemon balm supplement use dosages of 600 to 1,600 mg
EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate) is a flavonoid found in green tea. Most of the health benefits of green tea are attributable to EGCG. EGCG has the ability to directly alter the various epigenetic regulatory mechanisms in cells like DNA methyltransferase and mitochondrial function.
In a study of 31 patients, 300 mg of EGCG was given to one group and placebo to other. After two hours the EGCG group had an increase in alpha, beta and theta activity on the brain, but despite the overall increased brain activation, they also rated themselves calmer and less stressed compared to the control group. Hence, EGCG may have increased attentiveness, but also increase calmness and decrease stress. (R)
Side note: ECGC is also linked to weight loss with diet-induced thermogenesis, but consumption of milk-protein inhibits this effect. Thus, it is better not to have milk with green tea if you are also looking for weight loss effect. (R)
In addition, if you are looking for calmness per se, it is better to have EGCG as a supplement instead of a drink as the drinkable tea also contains caffeine which increases noradrenaline, which has been associated with anxiety. (R)(R)
EGCG supplement dosage
Many studies used therapeutic dosages of 300 to 1000mg per day
Selenium is an essential trace element abundant in fish, nuts, and beef. Low levels of dietary selenium are associated with lowered mood, anxiety and less energy.(R) The recommended amount of selenium is 50-200 micrograms/day, but the UK diet provides only 43 /day on average.
One placebo-controlled study found that 100 μg of selenium supplementation resulted in feeling less anxious, less depressed and more energetic in 2,5 – 5 weeks. (R)
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant and attracted a lot of interest in research for its important role as a protection against oxidative stress initiated by excess reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (NOS). In food, Se is in the form of selenomethionine that is commonly used in clinical trials. Studies have concluded that selenium can upregulate dopamine, which is associated with improved mood (R).
Selenium supplement dosage:
The studies reviewed above used 100 – 200 μg for anxiolytic effect
Foods high in selenium:
- 6 Brazil nuts: 544 mcg
- Yellowfin tuna 85 g: 92 mcg (over 100% DV)
- Sardines, canned 85 g 45mcg
- Grass-fed beef 85 g 33 mcg
- Turkey, boneless 85 g 31 mcg
I want to emphasize that food and diet is only one thing that can play a part in anxiety, and the etiology is way more complex. Nevertheless, there is such a robust link between anxiety and amino acid/neurotransmitter balance, that maintaining a well-balanced vitamin and mineral-rich diet is definitely important for maintaining a calm and balanced mood.
If you suffer from anxiety a good point to start is:
- to measure your vitamin and mineral levels
- make sure you get all the vitamins and minerals you need from your diet
- consider doing a DNA test to see if you have a tendency for some deficiencies or neurotransmitter imbalances
- If you are anxious for over 50 % of the day for over 3 months or anxiety significantly disrupts your normal life, consider seeing a doctor or a psychologist.
Please comment below and let me know about your top tips for anxiety!
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