Some experts say anxiety is mental. Others say it’s physical. Now, the newest buzz is that it may actually be linked to vitamin or mineral deficiencies. And herbs are making the news as anxiety treatments, too.
In this article we explore supplements that are said to work for anxiety, and whether they may be right for you.
How Can a Vitamin or Mineral Deficiency Cause Anxiety?
Well, it may or may not. Officially, the jury’s still out on that. But new research into supplements for anxiety looks promising, potentially revealing one more key in dealing with panic issues.
Mineral and other bodily deficiencies could cause anxiety, or may add to a panic attack sufferer’s existing anxiety.
The reason is that the functions that allow a person to feel anxious, and then calm oneself, are complex. If one part of the system isn’t functioning properly, a person may feel too much or too little response to a given situation. In addition, brain synapses depend upon proper vitamin and mineral intake and utilization in the body.
Apart from the fact that we need to eat enough to feel good about ourselves, we need to choose the right type of food. Protein-rich foods, such as poultry, eggs, fish and meat, are particularly recommended because they contain the amino acid tryptophan, which calms anxiety, especially during panic attacks.
What About Herbal Supplements?
Herbal supplementation doesn’t generally address a deficiency. Instead, most herbs used for anxiety produce a direct effect, such as a feeling of calmness and well-being. See below for some commonly used anti-anxiety herbs.
Long known to be necessary in the prevention of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), vitamin D may ease anxiety, too. Vitamin D, or “the sunshine vitamin,” is actually a precursor to a hormone. With our largely-indoors life, many people today are seeing vitamin D deficiencies, scientists say.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which specialists also call a hormone, because it has a hormone-like effect and does not come primarily from the diet, as is normal with vitamins. Instead, our body produces the sunshine vitamin itself, but needs solar UV radiation to produce it. The two most important forms of the sunshine vitamin are vitamin D₂ and vitamin D₃
So far, studies linking vitamin D to anxiety are limited and have been very focused (for example, this one on vitamin D deficiency, fibromyalgia and anxiety/depression). But there does seem to be a link. See your doctor for an easy blood screening to determine whether you’re low in vitamin D. Supplementation can be a huge help.
The B Vitamin Family
A forerunner in supplementation research for anxiety is vitamin B. This is actually a family of vitamins, including B1 (thiamine), B6 (pyroxidone), B3 (niacinamide) and B12 (cobalamin). There are more constituents to the B vitamin family, but these four stand out as potential anxiety thwarters.
B vitamins work directly on the nervous system. They also stabilize the body’s level of lactates, which are linked to the anxiety-calm cycle.
They must be taken regularly (daily) in order to produce a generalized calming effect.
Magnesium plays several key roles that greatly benefit the nervous system, which has a direct effect on anxiety symptoms. This mineral helps convert an amino acid called tryptophan into serotonin, a neurotransmitter closely associated with a positive mood.
Magnesium deficiency is not uncommon, as today, many foods are stripped of their essential nutrients in processing. To make matters worse, magnesium is depleted during times of stress. Supplementing with magnesium can cause a generalized feeling of calm.
In fact, magnesium is often recommended by health professionals when one is experiencing sleep issues. It can produce a feeling of calmness to help one get more rest.
Be careful of over-supplementing with magnesium, as it can also produce a laxative effect. Start off slowly with this mineral, with the lowest recommended amount. Take magnesium daily to see results over time.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)
Normally, GABA is produced within the body from glutamic acid. Vitamin B helps with this conversion (see above for information on B vitamins).
If your body isn’t producing enough GABA, your brain’s neurotransmitters may not function properly, resulting in anxiety. Mild sleepiness may be a side effect of GABA. If this is a problem for you, try taking the supplement at night.
SAM-e is another chemical that is produced naturally in the body. This amino acid seems to increase the amount of seratonin, the “feel-good” chemical, in the brain.
Supplementation with SAM-e has been reported to reduce anxiety and in some cases, to ease certain types of muscular pain.
Be careful when supplementing with SAM-e, as large doses have been associated with anxiety and irritability. People diagnosed with bipolar disorder should not take SAM-e.
DO NOT take SAM-e if you are currently taking antidepressants except under the advice of your doctor.
5-HTP, a building block of seratonin produced in the body, reportedly reduces anxiety and may also increase the level of endorphins in the body, producing a feeling of well-being. Supplements are extracted from the seeds of the griffonia plant.
Go slowly when supplementing with 5-HTP, as it may cause drowsiness. It is also unknown how 5-HTP interacts with certain drugs, such as tranquilizers and weight loss medications. Ask your doctor before starting a 5-HTP regimen. DO NOT take 5-HTP if you are currently taking antidepressants or tranquilizers, except under the advice of your doctor.
- St. Johnswort extract is said to increase serotonin levels in the brain when taken regularly. Wear sunscreen and reduce sun exposure while taking St. Johnswort as it can produce photosensitivity (sensitivity to the sun) and may produce dark spots or patches on the skin. DO NOT take St. Johnswort if you are currently taking antidepressants except under the advice of your doctor.
- Kava Kava is an herb that causes relaxation and calmness. It does not need to be taken regularly. Take kava kava for anxiety attacks or for periodic anxiety.
- Valerian Root produces a sedative effect. It is commonly used in holistic medicine as a sleep aid. Take at night.
Before You Take Supplements for Your Anxiety
Generally deficiencies in vitamins, minerals or trace elements can contribute to and sometimes cause psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety attacks or depression. It is therefore advisable to make sure that everything is going well on this side before rushing to take medication.
A word of caution: thoroughly research any supplement before taking it. Start at the minimum dosage and work your way up if needed. ALWAYS let your doctor know if you are planning on taking vitamins, minerals or herbs specifically to address your anxiety. Research any drug, herbal or food contraindications before taking any of the above supplements for anxiety.