Anxiety is a terrible affliction. The chronic stress releases hormones than can deplete your endocannabinoid system [R], sabotage your immune system, thin your skin and shrink your brain [R]. But many of the drugs doctors & psychiatrists prescribe to manage anxiety are even worse: habit forming, with severe withdrawal symptoms and it can take years to safely taper off of them. Here are 12 effective, science-backed nutritional supplements you may wish to discuss with your naturopathic or functional medicine doctor:
#1 – Ashwagandha
Withania sominiferia, also known as winter cherry, is a classic “adaptogenic” herb that has been used for thousands of years in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Ashwagandha acts as both a GABA mimetic and a steroid (e.g., testosterone) building block [R]. Studies on young men show it can boost testosterone levels by 18% and also increase muscle mass [R], both of which tend to evaporate under chronic anxiety.
A study on mice found ashwagandha extract had a comparable effect to both the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam and the anti-depressant imipramine [R]. In a study of 75 stressed-out humans in Canada, researchers found ashwagandha dramatically reduced anxiety and worked better than psychotherapy [R]. In addition to reducing anxiety in the present, ashwagandha may help heal some of the physical damage caused by chronic stress. Ashwagandha may reduce some of the oxidative damage caused by chronic stress in animals [R]. Experiments suggest it may support the regeneration of damaged axons and dendrites which play critical roles of brain function [R].
I highly recommend trying ashwagandha, especially for individuals with a long-term history of chronic stress. There are two top-tier, standardized extracts that generally work well:
- KSM-66: This is a patented form of ashwagandha extract by a company called Ixoreal. It is considered to be a more ‘stimulating’ version of ashwagandha. I prefer to take it early in the day. Recommended starting dose dose is 300mg – up to 600mg (divided into two doses) per day.
- Sensoril is another widely regarded ashwagandha extract that claims to contain at least 10% withanolide glyocsides (active compound). Sensoril is more calming and may be better suited for anxiety. Recommended starting dose is 125mg once or twice per day.
I personally prefer to take KSM-66 in the morning and Sensoril around 3pm.
If used for long-term, many people prefer to “cycle” ashwagandha to maintain its effectiveness and prevent tolerance (having to increase the dose). I take ashwagandha 5 weeks on, two weeks off.
#2 – Rhodiola
Rhodiola rosea is a flowering herb that grows wild in the arctic across several continents. It is known as an adaptogen or a herb that fights stress by helping the body stay in a balanced state [R]. It contains bioactive compounds called salidrosides that are known for their ability to reduce stress and fatigue and diminish anxiety [R]. I find that taking rhodiola makes colors seem brighter and it gives me a lot of physical energy, in fact, I prefer to take it early in the day or else it can keep me awake at night. It seems to work well for several days and then the effect is less noticeable, which makes it a good candidate for cycling. I personally take it when I need energy on the days when I’m ‘coming off’ ashwagandha.
I recommend starting with Life Extension’s Rhodiola Extract. I take 250mg once or twice per day. If you need something stronger, NOW makes 500mg capsules that also work great but can be a little strong for certain people. Experiment with dosages and timing until you find something that works really well for you.
#3 – Omega 3 Fatty Acids: DHA & EPA
Adequate levels of dietary omega-3’s are required for proper endocannabinoid signaling in your brain [R]. Most western people get too many omega-6 fatty acids in their diets and not enough omega-3’s – unless they eat lots of seafood & grass-fed meats.
The most important omega-3 fatty acids are DHA and EPA.
An omega-3-rich diet markedly elevates metabolite of DHA, called DHEA, and a metabolite of EPA, called EPEA. Both DHEA and EPEA activate the CB1 cannabinoid receptor [R].
Getting enough DHA and EPA will also reduce inflammation, improve cognition, boost mood, alleviate depression & lessen joint pain [R].
I recommend eating wild caught Alaskan sockeye salmon a couple times per week and supplementing with 2 grams a day of fish oil. I think the best fish oil on the market is Life Extension Super Omega-3 Plus and I take 2 capsules every morning.
#4 – Longvida Curcumin
The turmeric root has been prized for thousands of years for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
The main active alkaloid in turmeric, curcumin, has potent anti-depressant effects that are comparable to Prozac [R]. Curcumin also boosts nerve growth factor (NGF) and CB1 endocannabinoid signaling [R]. Curcumin works like an all-natural SSRI & cannabinoid-like supplement. This is great news for people with anxiety who often also suffer from depression & endocannabinoid deficiency.
Scientists at UCLA developed a patented form of curcumin called Longvida that uses a Solid Lipid Particle technology to make it 65 times more absorbable. Most importantly, it is able to cross the blood brain barrier & work inside the brain where it has more potent effects on neuroinflamamtion, cognitive function, mood and endocannabinoid signaling.
I take anywhere between 400mg to 2000mg of Longvida per day, right upon awakening – depending on how much stress and inflammation I’ve been through recently. My usual dose is 1,000 mg. Longvida is so effective that I don’t even bother with other brands of curcumin.
#5 – GABA
GABA is the body’s calming (inhibitory) neurotransmitter.
Severe stress may cause an imbalance of GABA and glutamate in the nervous system [R].
Although studies have found that oral GABA is rapidly absorbed in humans [R], I have tried some GABA supplements that had little or no discernible effect. I have found that the following brands of GABA really do work:
- PharmaGABA. This is a patented supplement is made in Japan with Lactobacillus hilgardii (kimchi) bacteria.
- Quicksilver Scientific Liposomal GABA with Theanine. In my opinion, this is the fastest-acting and most potent version of GABA. This spray formula has tiny, microscopic droplets of GABA surrounded by lipids that help it absorb quickly into the bloodstream.
I think that swishing a few sprays of Quicksilver Scientific Liposomal GABA in your mouth for a minute or two, and then swallowing it, can be an effective way to help extinguish an panic attack or snap out of an emotional flashback.
The downside to these potent GABA supplements is that I feel a little bit of a “rebound” or comedown effect where I feel my anxiety return a little stronger when they wear off. For instance, sometimes if I have insomnia I will take GABA to get fast sleep relief — but will suddenly awake, feeling a little anxious… whenever the effects wear off in a few hours. So, I don’t use them regularly.
If you have terrible anxiety there is nothing wrong with using GABA regularly: I consider it less harmful than prescription drugs or the oxidative stress on the body that uncontrolled chronic anxiety causes.
#6 – L-Theanine
L-theanine is a structural analog of glutamine and glutamate that was discovered as a constituent of green tea in 1949 [R].
L-theanine reduces physical and psychological stress response in humans [R]. Studies suggest that there may be a synergistic effect when L-theanine is combined with caffeine that increases alertness and cognitive performance, while reducing negative effects from the caffeine [R].
In my experience, L-theanine is a mild but effective calming supplement with minimal side effects or downsides. You can drink it in green tea or matcha or take a supplement.
The cheap brands (such as L-theanine bulk powder or tablets) work just fine at doses of 100 – 200mg. If you are looking for a cost-effective multi formula for anxiety, I recommend, Theanine Serene with Relora. It contains magnesium, GABA, taurine, L-theanine, Relora (magnolia & phellodendron bark extract) & holy basil extract — all compounded into one tablet. A couple of these tablets provide anxiety relief that is noticeable to me – I can really ‘feel it’ working.
#7 – Honokiol
Honokiol is a polyphenol compound found in the bark of several species of the magnolia tree. It is not well known but it is powerful & underrated in my opinion.
Honokiol is highly bioavailable: it can pass through the blood brain barrier and the blood-cerebrospinal fluid barrier [R].
Honokiol is a potent botanical modulator of GABA [R].
If I had severe anxiety and excess glutamate issues that were hard to get under control, I would consider taking honokiol while working on lowering my inflammation and improving my nutrient status. The cheapest high-quality honokiol is Swanson’s Magnolia Extract.
You can take it before bed to help with insomnia, or up to twice a day for anxiety. I consider it to be a great “rescue” formula if you are really frazzled by stress.
WARNING: I have read reports of honokiol dependence and withdrawal symptoms that are similar to, and rival the intensity of, benzodiazapines. One guy on Reddit reported serious issues coming off of it. Therefore, I recommend honokiol for occasional use only.
#8 – N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)
An amino acid called cysteine helps reduce the synaptic release of glutamate [R]. Excess glutamate can cause anxiety.
Glutathione is the body’s ‘master antioxidant’ and detoxer that defends against oxidative stress.
N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) is a glutathione precursor that effectively replenishes brain glutathione [R].
A 2016 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that NAC taken at 2400mg per day by war veterans decreased substance abuse cravings by 81%, PTSD symptoms by 46% and depression by 48% [R].
I personally take 600mg of NAC in the morning… and I feel that it helps with the quality of my moods and thoughts. I usually take NAC with glycine to help make glutathione and convert glutamate to GABA.
NAC is inexpensive, and all of the brands (NOW, Jarrow, Nutricost) I’ve tried worked well.
#9 – Glycine
Glycine is the smallest of all amino acids, and it makes for a very helpful “building block” in many other key nutrients like glutathione, heme, creatine, DNA / RNA [R].
Glycine has potent anti-inflammatory effects [R].
One study found that taking 3g of glycine before bedtime improved sleep quality, reduced the time it takes to fall asleep [R].
I personally found that kept me awake when I took it before bed, but I notice calmer thoughts from taking 3,000mg glycine per day in my morning smoothie… along with 1 capsule of NAC. Experiment and see when it works best for you.
A small study showed that large amounts of glycine can treat OCD in some patients [R].
A derivative of glycine called sarcosine can achieve a fast therapeutic effect in some OCD patients [R].
The best glycine on the market is NOW Foods Glycine sold in 1lb cannisters of powder. Stick with this brand.
#10 – Vitamin B-6
Pyroxidine, or vitamin B-6, is an under-appreciated, critical nutrient for wellness and mental health.
I consider B-6 to be one of the most important nutrients for anxiety sufferers.
Many people have low, inadequate vitamin B-6 levels despite meeting the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of B-6 from their diets [R].
Low vitamin B-6 levels are associated with symptoms of depression [R].
In his excellent book Nutrient Power on nutritional treatments for mental health issues, Dr. William Walsh describes how genetic or acquired B-6 deficiency will cause low levels of crucial neurotransmitters and a myriad of problems, including: ADHD, depression, anxiety & sleep disorders.
Any brand of Vitamin B-6 will do the job. I’ve tried pyroxidine and P5P (the active, coenzyme form of B-6)… both at a daily dose of 50mg… and found they both work about the same. The very best and most potent B-6 I’ve tried is Source Naturals Coenzymated B-6 Sublinguals. I tried these when I was having terrible anxiety & insomnia issues and I felt a profound sense of peace and calm after sucking on the tablets. I think it was a serotonin rush. I can only surmise that I must have had a B6 deficiency to get such instant, drug-like effects. Now that I am healthy I don’t feel any particular effect from supplementing B-6.
#11 – Magnesium
Magnesium is required to perform over 300 enzyme reactions in the body, including energy production and muscle & nerve function [R]. In this sense magnesium is like ‘gold’ or biological currency in that it has great value in biosynthesis. If you run low on magnesium a number of important reactions can slow to a crawl.
Sub-clinical magnesium deficiency is associated with chronic inflammation [R]. Because serum magnesium tests do not reflect intracellular magnesium (which is 99% of total body magnesium) most cases of magnesium deficiency are undiagnosed [R].
Chronic stress was found to reduce the function of blood vessel cells, which may be associated with lower intracellular magnesium level in humans [R].
Evidence suggests that supplementing magnesium is helpful for reducing anxiety in anxious people [R].
Magnesium can be absorbed through the skin or in pills, and many people report feeling better after taking magnesium pills. I have found the best oral magnesium product to be magnesium glycinate, specifically a chelated form known as TRAACS® magnesium bisglycinate chelate. Swanson’s Chelated Magnesium is the one of the cheapest magnesium byglycinate chelate products I’ve found. Jigsaw Health’s MagSRT time-released magnesium malate tablets are more expensive, but are also an excellent choice. The MagSRT tablets also contain key mental health nutrients like methylfolate, B6 and B12…in time-release format.
There are concerns that oral magnesium is not well absorbed through the gut. Pills and tablets may not be a strong enough way to measurably raise your body’s magnesium levels if they are chronically, severely low or depleted.
According to UK chronic fatigue Specialist Dr. Sarah Myhill, the only way to 100% guarantee getting magnesium levels up in the body is with a series of intramuscular magnesium injections. Your doctor can prescribe them or perform them in office.
Dr. Myhill says the second best way to increase magnesium levels is with a magnesium enema – which can be made and administered at home using inexpensive ingredients available at any drugstore. I have tried Dr. Myhill’s enema recipe. I think it’s important to follow the recipe exactly and not guess any measurements – and not take them more than once per day, as an overdose could be dangerous or fatal! I found that 20mL of her enema solution had an instant, noticeable therapeutic effect when my magnesium levels were too low. I took them once daily for about 3 months and felt much better after the cycle.
#12 – Inositol
Inositol (also called myo-inositol) is a sweet tasting white powder that can calm depression, panic disorder and OCD. Doses of up to 18,000mg inositol have been found effective in studies [R].
When I was sick and suffering from OCD-type thinking I started inositol in 500 – 1,000mg doses and gradually increased up to 6,000mg, 3x per day for a total dose of 18g per day. It worked pretty well & offered relief fast.
The only downsides of inositol that I experienced was, since larger doses were required and you need to take it multiple times per day, it was a hassle to carry it around in powder form. I also experienced diarrhea for a while, but my body eventually adjusted.
I recommend Swanson’s Inositol Powder as it’s cheap and comes with a 6g plastic measuring scoop that makes it convenient.
I hope you have enjoyed this article on the most effective supplements for anxiety! It took me many years to do the research and gain the experience I needed to write this. If you have found this article useful – please share it with your friends and post it on social media using the buttons below! Thanks.