We live in times of stress which can create anxiety if left unchecked. Stress is just your body/brain’s way of responding to things that have upset your normal routine. Throughout our lives we experience family problems, loss of employment, money difficulties and from time to time we are forced into making difficult decisions. So, stress can make you feel frustrated, nervous and possibly angry. It is important to realize that stress is just a natural response to disruptions in our lives and you can learn over time how to best manage these upsets. Clearly, exercise and diet are always your first line of defense for whatever ails you, but sometimes you need more than that. That’s were supplementation comes in.
There are many natural supplements that have been demonstrated to reduce mild to moderate anxiety. What’s important here is that anxiety can have many different facets to it. Therefore, there are a wide range of supplements geared towards specific sets of conditions. It is best to consult with your healthcare provider to find out exactly what issues you have. Then he/she can direct you to the appropriate mixture of ingredients. In general, anxiety means your nervous system is overstimulated so you want to take something that will calm it down. Many of the supplements contains ingredients that augment the major inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA.
Some of the anxiety supplements do not contain B vitamins and/or minerals and that’s okay, however if they don’t, it’s a good idea to take a separate B-complex and mineral supplement. B vitamins and minerals are very important because they activate enzymes that run metabolic pathways. If you’re deficient in these; metabolism slows, you can’t make ATP and fatigue sets in. Anxiety will run you down because your brain is overstimulated and you will deplete your B vitamin and mineral stores and hence fatigue sets in. Anxiety is a real brain drain. Below is listed some ingredients that are commonly used to create a calming effect for those of you who are stressed.
Passionflower is used as an anti-anxiety and insomnia remedy. It contains a number of molecules that are bioactive, but of interest here is apigenin (also in chamomile and other botanicals). This is a GABA enhancer. GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain bringing the brain to a calm state. Apigenin binds to the benzodiazepine/barbiturate site on the GABA A channel. When apigenin is bound to the channel, the channel remains open longer and allows negative chloride ions to flow into the neuron making it more negative inside increasing its potential difference across the membrane. This means that the neuron can’t be stimulated to fire again for a while. This effectively inhibits brain function throughout bringing you to a calm state. If taken in larger dosages, passionflower may act as a sleep aid. Larger does should only be done at night as needed.
Valerian is another botanical that acts as a natural sedative (sleep aid) and pain reliever that has some ingredients that mimic Valium (diazepam). Unlike other sleep aids, Valerian is non-addicting. It is best to take this one hour before going to bed. It may take several weeks to work and it is suggested not to take it longer than a 3 month period. Making sure you have a good night’s sleep is important to managing anxiety.
It is believed that Valerian contains a lignan molecule that binds to a receptor that is involved with sleep and waking states. Lignans are a group of related polymeric molecules that are related to cellulose. Lignans and cellulose are what form the cell wall of plants. Next time you eat some celery, pull off a string from the surface of the stalk. That’s lignans and cellulose. Really tough stuff. It turns out that caffeine binds to the same type of receptor that lignans do but elicits the opposite effect.
Kava (Piper methysticum) is known to have a calming effect on humans. The bioactive components are believed to be a group of lactones where 15 have been identified. These lactones are believed to interact with the GABA channel allowing it to remain open longer creating a calming state throughout. Kava has been demonstrated to hold its own against benzodiazepines and tricyclic compounds and without any side effects. Furthermore, Kava increases concentration and reaction times.
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is similar to amino acids. You can take GABA as a supplement alone or with other ingredients. Having more GABA around in the brain should bring about a calm state. It is not known whether GABA can penetrate the blood brain barrier, however there are many individuals that swear by it.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is known for its antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties. The bioactive molecules are believed to be Naphthodianthrones (such as hypericin derivatives), flavonoids (luteolin, rutin, quercetin), hyperforin, amino acids and tannins. It has been demonstrated that hyperforin has the ability to effect the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine by inhibiting neurotransmitter reuptake. This allows for the neurotransmitter to remain in the synaptic cleft longer effectively increasing signal strength.
Many drugs that are used to decrease anxiety and stress often cause drowsiness because they generate what is called theta waves. The brain produces 4 sets of wave trains in the neocortex depending on your current state of activity. Alpha waves occur when you are relaxed but awake and in a very calm state such as when you sit and daydream or do some Yoga. Beta waves occur when you are awake and busy working and they have a higher frequencies than Alpha waves. Beta waves can accelerate rapidly and cause a state of panic if induced to do so. Theta waves occur when you are in NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep and Delta waves occur in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
L-theanine is an amino acid derivative that is an analog to glutamine and glutamate. It can pass through the blood-brain-barrier therefore it has psychoactive properties. It has been demonstrated to decrease mental stress and anxiety while enhancing cognition and mood. Studies suggest that theanine increases the amount of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (calming effect) while increasing the neurotransmitter dopamine (reward, locomotion). Theanine also produces alpha waves across the brain keeping everything calm.
Vitamins and Minerals
Look for supplements that contain most or all of the B vitamins and don’t forget about choline and inositol (often written as lecithin). Inositol is known as vitamin B8. You might want to consider seeing if biotin is present. It is known as vitamin B7 as well as vitamin H and coenzyme R. See if the supplement contains minerals such as potassium, calcium, zinc, manganese, iron, molybdenum and strontium and others as well. Also, check to see if vitamins A,C,D and E are there. If not, consider adding a multivitamin to your anxiety supplement regime.