Anxiety is the most common mental health issue in the world. Some studies estimate that over one billion people across the globe suffer from anxiety.
In the US, 18% of the population live with anxiety, rising to an estimated 25% of children between the ages of 13 and 18.
It’s understandable there are so many vitamins and supplements claiming to help ease anxiety. This article takes a look at the top ten products on the market, as well as listing those with less evidence.
Do I have anxiety?
The Center • A Place of HOPE defines anxiety as a consistent feeling of nervousness, restlessness, with a sense of continual impending danger. Severe anxiety can lead to anxiety attacks (aka panic attacks), which can come on suddenly with little or no warning.
If you think you might be suffering from anxiety, take our free online anxiety test. It won’t give you an anxiety diagnosis, but will help you to understand your symptoms a little better.
Read about what it feels like to have anxiety.
Is there a treatment for anxiety?
Anxiety is treatable. Treatments range from therapy (such as talking therapies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and hypnosis), to prescription medications like antidepressants and beta-blockers. Exercise, relaxation, and meditation/mindfulness can also help, as can diet and nutrition.
What vitamins and supplements are available for anxiety?
With so many anxiety sufferers around the world, it’s little wonder there are many vitamins and herbal or nutritional supplements available that claim to help with anxiety symptoms.
However, not all of these vitamins and supplements have evidence to back up the claims that they work.
If you would like to try treating your anxiety with vitamins and supplements, the following list includes those with the best results in scientific studies.
IMPORTANT: If you currently take prescribed medication for anxiety or for other medical conditions and would like to try supplementing with non-prescription remedies, please speak to your doctor first. This is because combining medication and supplements may cause adverse reactions.
Theanine or L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in green tea and other natural sources. Theanine has mainly been researched for its potential benefits to cognitive improvement and anxiety, and one of its main benefits is relaxation without causing drowsiness. It’s also been shown to enhance cognitive ability and to lower blood pressure.
In one clinical trial exploring the impact of theanine on anxiety and stress in college students, the supplement was shown to reduce symptoms. Another study suggested theanine might be a useful supplement to take for those suffering from insomnia, which often accompanies anxiety.
Dosage: Standard dosage is 100-200mg, often accompanied by caffeine.
2. Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D
Omega-3 fatty acids (in particular eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA) are usually found in fish, animal products, and phytoplankton. EPA and DHA help to regulate various biological processes including the inflammatory response, metabolic signaling pathways, and brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied mainly for their beneficial effects in those with joint or inflammatory conditions.
Vitamin D is one of the fat-soluble vitamins that is synthesized in the body when skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is essential to many bodily functions, including bone health and mood. Current estimates suggest mild vitamin D deficiency is likely to be widespread, affecting around 70% of the population.
One study looked at whether omega-3 and vitamin D co-supplementation improved depression, anxiety, and sleep quality in women of reproductive age with pre-diabetes and hypovitaminosis D. The results suggested a significant improvement to symptoms of psychological distress.
Another study reviewed 26 previous studies and found that omega-3 fatty acids in particular notably improved mood in participants with major depression. A third study5 concluded that omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D work together to maintain healthy levels of serotonin in the brain.
Dosage: The reference daily intake (RDI) of combined EPA and DHA is 250–500 mg. The FDA has suggested that people should take no more than 3 g per day.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends an average daily vitamin D intake of 400–800 IU, or 10–20 micrograms.
Saffron is a spice typically used in cooking. It’s derived from the stamens of a flower called the crocus. Aside from its culinary uses, a wave of scientific research has been carried out recently to explore possible benefits to health, including mental health.
A study in 2018 looked at the effects of saffron on mild to moderate depression and anxiety, sleep quality, and life satisfaction in participants with type 2 diabetes. The results showed significant reduction in anxiety and sleep issues, but no statistically significant improvements to depression or life satisfaction.
Another study showed similar benefits in reducing anxiety in teenagers.
Dosage: The recommended daily dosage of saffron as a dietary supplement is 30 mg. Higher doses may increase the risk for hypotension, reduced hemoglobin, increased blood urea, and reduced concentration of platelets and immune cells, along with headaches, nausea, sedation, hypomania, abnormal uterine bleeding, and diarrhea.
Kava is a herb native to the South Pacific islands that is usually taken in beverage form to reduce anxiety. It has many other names, including Piper methysticum, Kava Pepper, Ava Pepper, kava kava, Intoxicating Pepper, Awa, rauschpfeffer, sakau, tonga, wurzelstock, and yangona.
One study from 2003 used a lower dose of 150mg per day and still showed significant improvements in the group taking kava when compared with the control group. A more recent study from 2009 was the first to assess the anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and antidepressant efficacy of an aqueous extract of kava.
Researchers concluded that kava produced significant anxiolytic and antidepressant activity with no safety concerns over dose or duration, and appeared to be equally effective in cases where anxiety is accompanied by depression.
Dosage: When looking for a kava supplement, check for an extract known as WS1490. 100mg of this extract taken three times daily is a reliable and effective treatment for anxiety. Alternatively, look for supplements containing 250mg collective kavalactones (the active ingredients).
Inositols are a collection of pseudovitamin compounds, often falsely conflated with the B-complex vitamin family. Foods containing the highest levels of inositols include whole grains and citrus fruits, although they are found in most foods. As a supplement, the word inositol usually refers to myo-inositol, which is taken for liver health, fertility, and anxiety.
One study found that 18g inositol daily supplements for patients with panic disorders was as effective as 150mg of the SSRI antidepressant fluvoxamine (brand name Luvox) in reducing the anxiety symptoms associated with panic.
Dosage: The recommended dosage for anxiety is effective as low as 6g although the standard dose is 14-18g daily. This dose refers to powdered myo-inositol. Soft gel formulation requires 30% of this dose, eg 4.2-5.4g of myo-inositol soft gels.
6. Ashwagandha (withania)
Ashwagandha is a traditional Indian herb that’s used in Ayurvedic medicine (one of the world’s oldest medical systems). Ashwagandha is an adaptogen which means that it improves the body’s response to stress.
A 2014 paper reviewed the existing research into ashwagandha and stress, concluding that its use was more beneficial than a placebo in outcomes on anxiety or stress scales. A 2021 study looked at the benefits of ashwagandha alongside SSRI treatment for patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Dosage: The recommended dosage varies from 250 to 600 mg/day of root extract. At the higher dose, a split dose is recommended with 300 mg taken both in the morning and evening.
7. Centella asiatica
Centella asiatica (also known as gotu kola) is a herbal remedy used in both traditional Indian and Chinese medicine. It is purported to have cognitive enhancing properties, as well as wound healing properties.
A study in 2010 found that 60 days supplementation of 1,000mg centella asiatica reduced symptoms of anxiety for participants with generalized anxiety disorder alongside similar reductions in stress (12.5% and 23.2%) and depression (10.2% and 21.8%).
Dosage: In terms of dosage, 500mg of centella asiatica twice daily has shown to reduce anxiety while 750mg of a 5% asiaticoside extract enhances mood.
Lavender is one of the most well-known plants with calming properties. It’s also known as Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula officinalis.
A study from 2012 explored the effect of a brand of lavender oil called Silexan. 80mg was administered to participants with anxiety related disorders for six weeks. Results showed that anxiety was reduced in more than half of the sample.
A similar study from 2010 resulted in significant improvements to quality and duration of sleep (specifically anxiety related disturbed sleep), improved general mental and physical health (without any unwanted sedative or other side effects), and a meaningful anti-anxiety effect.
Dosage: Recommended dosage is 80-160 mg of supplements containing 25-46% linalool.
9. Hawthorn and California Poppy
California poppy is a herb common to North and South America that contains some bioactive alkaloids which may be nootropic or cognitive enhancing in nature, while hawthorn berries are tiny fruits from trees and shrubs in the Crataegus family that have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for many centuries.
One French study researched a combination product called Sympathyl 22 which contains 20 mg California poppy, 75 mg hawthorn, and 75 mg elemental magnesium. According to the study, Sympathyl had a very small but positive effect on anxiety. 264 patients who had been diagnosed with mild to moderate General Anxiety Disorder were given either the supplement or a placebo.
Participants experienced statistically significant benefits associated with all aspects of anxiety on day 14, 60, and 90, although the placebo was effective enough to make no significant difference on day 30. No clinical trials suggest that any of the individual components reduce anxiety in patients with anxiety disorders.
Dosage: Two tablets of Sympathyl 22 are taken twice daily (morning and evening).
10. Cannabidiol (CBD)
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a cannabinoid – a compound found in cannabis. However, it is not the cannabis compound that causes the “high” associated with recreational cannabis use. In the United States, CBD is legal in all 50 states, and by law must have less than 0.3% of THC and cause no psychoactive effects. CBD is used for the relief of pain, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.
There are not many long term studies exploring the efficacy of CBD. It is most commonly extracted from the hemp plant within the cannabis genus.
In a study from 1993, participants were given CBD or a placebo in advance of a public speaking experiment. Those given CBD showed decreased levels of anxiety. A 2019 study17 found that anxiety improved for those taking CBD and remained at this level for the duration of the study.
Dosage: Proper dosing of CBD is very difficult because the CBD content is frequently over- or under-stated on available products. CBD absorption is significantly increased when taken with a high calorie/high fat meal. While CBD is commonly found over the counter, the only approved product containing CBD in the US is an epilepsy drug called Epidiolex®. The dosage regime for this product is determined by the body weight of the patient.
An important note on St John’s Wort
One of the most well known herbs used for mental health issues, St. John’s Wort (also known as Hypericum Perforatum), is not included in this list because of its significant adverse interaction with a variety of medications and pharmaceuticals. It is also known to cause several undesirable side effects in some people.
Those who take it generally suffer with depression, not anxiety, and there is little evidence to suggest it is effective for anxiety sufferers.
Herbal supplements with no clinical trial evidence of effectiveness in anxiety disorders
You will likely come across many more herbal supplements that claim to improve symptoms of anxiety. However, keep in mind that the following do not have any/sufficient research to back up any efficacy claims:
- Bach flower essences
- Borage juice (starflower)
- Bugleweed (Lycopus virginicus)
- Golden root (Rhodiola rosea)
- Lemon balm
- Lemongrass leaves
- Mullein (Verbascum sinuatum)
- Noni (Morinda citrifolia)
- Pine bark extract
- Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
- Relora (magnolia/phellodendron)
- Scullcup (skullcap)
- Verbena (blue vervain)
If you do wish to try herbal supplements or vitamins, for best results avoid those listed above and stick to the ten we have covered in detail. With all herbal supplements or vitamins, stick to the recommended dosage and always speak to your doctor first if you are currently taking prescribed medication for anxiety or any other medical conditions.
Call The Center • A Place of HOPE at 888.771.5166 from 8am-5pm PT to speak with a specialist. We will work with you on your journey of anxiety and give you hope that there is a way forward for you.
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