Let us begin by stating that anxiety is on the rise in both men and women across the United States and other developed nations. More than 40 million people suffer from various anxiety disorders in the U.S. alone, and this number continues to rise. Let’s take a moment about what this truly means.
When we take a look at stress levels, 75% of Americans say they experience ‘some stress” every two weeks, and half of those say that stress levels are high (National Health Interview Survey). Stress and anxiety lead to a great worrying, fatigue, jitters, and even panic attacks. But the prolonged effects can be even worse. Over time, high levels of anxiety can lower your immune system, deprive you of sleep and even contribute to heart disease. It should come as no surprise that the health industry is quickly making anxiety a top priority.
Great Strides Have Been Made
It has been reported that in recent years, great strides have been made in natural treatments for anxiety. Much of the research behind these advancements is so new that many of the current products on the market have not yet incorporated the finding into their formulas.
You are reading this right now because you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety. This is probably an emotional tying time for you or the one suffering. People who experience anxiety often can’t quiet their mind or stop worrying. They sometimes overreact to their loved ones or become so panicked they freeze up and cant barely react at all. They feel like no one they know can relate to what they are going through. But the reality is, if we look around, there are many more people suffering from this problem than we realize—and as you know, this number is only rising.
In short it’s all about balance.
Today thousands upon thousands of men and women have overcome or made manageable—their anxiety by supplementing with a few specific amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts, as well as making a few key life changes.
The Medication Myth
A very popular myth has been circulating in our western medical culture: if you experience anxiety, you must have a clinical disorder and need pharmaceutical medication. We acknowledge that some sever cases do warrant a prescription for pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medication. But the side effects of these medications can include a “zombie-like” state, decreased sex drive, weight gain, depression, and in some cases, increased anxiety. Often times, people experiencing these side effects will then be prescribed yet another medication to counteract the new symptoms. Even worse, the risk of addiction is high, and even if a person is unhappy with his medication, he must gradually wean himself off of it to avoid very serious withdrawal symptoms.
What many doctors don’t tell you is that much of what causes anxiety comes from chemical and nutritional imbalances in the body—many of which can be avoided with proper nutrition. You just need to know which nutrients to look for in your food. Prescription medication does not address the nutrition problem. Drugs may treat some symptoms, but they do not really address the underlying cause of anxiety.
A More Natural Approach
It is encouraged for people suffering from anxiety to give natural healing a chance before entering the world of pharmaceutical medication. Why not see what you can do on your own before introducing synthetic chemicals with possible side effects? The bad news is, the modern western diet does not contain the same level of nutrient that it used to. We need many vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other nutrients to keep our minds and bodies balanced, and most of this is found in food. But the rise in cheaper, mass-produced foods has robbed our bodies of much of what they need to work optimally. The rise in cheap, processed foods has robbed our bodies of much of what they need to work optimally.
But these are amazing times we live in. While food may be getting less and less healthy, science is moving faster than ever.
Why Do We Get So Anxious?
There are many possible factors at play when a person begins experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety. It could be that you’ve had a sudden traumatic event shake up your life, or maybe you’ve experienced prolonged exposure to a high-stress job or family situation. It could be that you haven’t slept well for some time and feel less able to cope, or that you haven’t been getting proper nutrition in your diet to keep your brain strong and healthy. And there are more possible causes still, some of which modern medicine struggles to understand.
When you experience symptoms like these, what you might not realize is that your brain chemistry will actually change. Mood, diet, stress, trauma—all of these will have an effect on your brain chemistry, causing different chemicals to be released.
For example, if you experience muscle tension frequently, your brain will want to release more of a chemical that relaxes muscles. Over time, your body may struggle to produce enough of that chemical to keep that tension down. And then you are out of balance and it will be more and more difficult to get back to normal.
While there are some clinical dysfunctions that can also cause anxiety, and which often require medication, most people tend to experience anxiety when one or a number of key stress-reducing symptoms fall out of balance. We are going to explore the most common out-of-balance systems—the ones we can hope to improve on through natural remedies.
Please keep in mind that everyone will be at his or her own unique level of balance and not all people will require the same exact nutrients to get their anxiety back to a manageable level. Because of this, there is no “standard” time that it takes for proper nutrition and supplements to work its magic. It could be days, weeks, or even months. But the most steps are to start making the improvements, because it will only get better with time.
Neurotransmitters and Anxiety
On the front lines of the body’s natural defense against anxiety are neurotransmitters, the brain’s chemical messengers. Neurotransmitters are responsible for much of what goes on in the body: They tell your heart to beat, make you tired at night, keep your stress and responses from getting out of control, influence your mood, and much more.
There are more than a dozen types of neurotransmitters, but when it comes to anxiety, we are going to focus on two that are most commonly out of balance. These are serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Serotonin works to inhibit stress responses, according to the Surgeon General. It is involved in mood, memory, appetite, learning, sleep and a number of other bodily processes. When a person’s serotonin system is out of wacked, the anxiety is often accompanied by appetite changes, difficult concentrating and trouble sleeping.
Like serotonin, GABA is an inhibitory, calming neurotransmitter. Also like serotonin, GABA tends to be deficient in cases of anxiety disorders. Often called “natural valium”, GABA is what the body releases to calm you down when certain parts of the body gets overly excited. It also has a role in releasing muscle tension. Where serotonin deficiency is more involved and mental symptoms of anxiety, GABA deficiency is involved in the physical symptoms.
You can probably imagine all the issue a person can face if her body doesn’t produce enough serotonin and GABA.
A person will start worrying and find himself unable to quiet his mind. Eventually, sleep trouble and muscle can develop. If things get bad, panic attacks can become a regular occurrence. One of the easiest ways to help your serotonin and GABA levels balanced is to be sure your body is getting enough of the precursor ingredients it needs to make them.
Amino Acids: Building Blocks of a Healthy Mind
Certain amino acids have recently gained a reputation as “wonder suppressants” for stress, anxiety or panic. They are the building blocks of your body and combine to form proteins that are converted into new cells. Besides building cells and repairing tissue, amino acids can increase the activity of a number of brain chemicals, like neurotransmitters. But some amino acids are not made by our bodies. These amino acids must be obtained from our diet. Modern sciences have found that amino acids obtained through diet are more important than was previously recognized. L-Theanine and L-Tryptophan—two of our biggest defense against anxiety—are among these amino acids. Many amino acids occur only in small amounts even in well- balanced diets, and are becoming scarcer in modern diets high in processed foods. At the same time, research has shown that our bodies are requiring increasingly larger amounts of these amino acids to do the same job previously done by smaller amounts. A cause of this phenomenon has not yet been determined. It is possible that the preservatives, pesticides and chemicals’ found in today’s food supply are breaking down these essential amino acids before they become fully bio-available.
Tryptophan is the No. 1 amino acid you can take to fight stress and anxiety. It is an essential amino acid that the body converts into 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP), and then to Serotonin. Serotonin, as we know, is involved in mood, appetite, sleep and impulse control. The first thing most people think when tryptophan comes up is that it’s “the chemical in turkey that makes you sleepy.” Although there are several other reasons that the typical full turkey dinner might make someone tired, this is partly true. Since tryptophan is a precursor to both Serotonin and melatonin, it does help the body produce sleep-inducing chemicals. But it will not make you tired on its own. In many ways, Tryptophan is like the fertilizer that helps your brain grow more of the natural chemicals it needs to maintain a calm mood and sleep more restfully. Many people are familiar with taking 5-HTP in supplement form and have not looked into Tryptophan. But research shows that tryptophan is more common in natural foods and is something our bodies are generally more used to processing.
Discovered in Japan in the late 1940s, L-Theanine is an amino acid most commonly found in green tea. It was known for many years that green tea had a certain special calming quality to it, but it took some of Japan’s finest chemical scientists to prove the link (also proving without a doubt that the Japanese really know their tea). L–theanine is important because it is known to increase the activity of GABA in the brain. We know that GABA is involved in some of the physical symptoms often associated with anxiety. This means that not only is there a scientific reason why green tea can help calm you down, but also that taking pure L-Theanine is a natural and proven way to lower your anxiety levels fast.
Another added benefit of this important amino acid is that it stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for confidence and a sense of well-being.
Dopamine also plays a hand in concentration, learning and mood. So in addition to helping keep you physically calm, L-Theanine can help you stay more focused.
We cannot fully understand amino acids and the roles they play unless we understand vitamins. In fact, much like certain amino acids, vitamins can only be obtained through diet, and our bodies would not function without them. Vitamins provide essential “food” to your cells and organs. When it comes to suppressing anxiety and panic, vitamins are as important as amino acids. In fact some vitamins and amino acids must combine with one another to form various neurotransmitters. Even if you have a history of panic attacks, you are much less likely to experience one if your body gets enough of the vitamins and amino acids that its natural anxiety-fighting systems need for normal operation. It is usually when a person’s vitamin and amino acid supplies are drained that they are most susceptible to high levels of anxiety or panic attacks.
Trace Elements and Vitamins
In biochemistry, a trace element is defined as a chemical element that is needed in minute quantities for the proper growth, development, and physiology of the organism. Vitamins are also vital nutrients that the body needs for proper functioning. The body cannot create the vitamins and trace elements it needs on its own, so they must come from your diet. For normal, calm functioning of the mind, a few trace elements and vitamins are absolutely essential.
- B Vitamins
As with many nutrients our bodies need, these vitamins and trace elements are much less abundant in the typical modern diet. Overall, most processed foods do not contain enough to sustain a strong resistance to anxiety.
So are you deficient in calcium, magnesium or B vitamins? Consider this: Deficiencies can build up over a long period of time. Your brain uses these necessary vitamins and trace elements every day to sustain its normal functioning. But eating the same fast food, processed cereals, frozen dinners, and pre-made anything, day in and day out, can cause your body to deplete these vitamins and trace elements faster than you can replenish them. If your body is using more than you are putting in, you will not have enough vitamins and trace minerals to do the important jobs our body is capable of, such as keeping you calm in the face of stress.
Here are some of the vitamins, minerals and trace elements your body needs to keep a calm and healthy mind:
The Anxiety-Fighting B Vitamins
Deficiency can cause beriberi, a disease of the nervous system that can lead to sudden weight loss, emotional disturbance, irregular heartbeat or feelings of weakness and limb pain.
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Deficiency of niacin, along with a deficiency in Tryptophan, can cause pellagra. Symptoms can include aggression, insomnia, mental confusion, diarrhea, and dermatitis. Vitamin B3 also works with the body to convert Tryptophan into 5-HTP, which can then be converted into Serotonin. Serotonin, as you’ll remember, is one of the most important brain chemicals for maintaining a stable and calm mood.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenicacid)
Deficiency can cause burning foot syndrome, in which a person experiences lack of feeling in the feet, accompanied by flaming pain. Apart from this, a constant feeling of fatigue and weakness rules the body. Other major symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, anemia, vomiting, contraction of muscles and abnormal skin developments.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Deficiency can contribute to anemia, depression and high blood pressure. Vitamin B6 is required to synthesize Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), which helps to regulate anxiety. As such, B6 deficiency may cause heightened anxiety. B6 is also involved in converting Tryptophan to Serotonin, the latter of which affects both anxiety and overall mood.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Deficiency can cause memory loss, cognitive dysfunction, mania and psychosis.
The body’s ability to absorb B12 decreases as we get older, which makes it ever more important to get enough in your diet.
You probably already know that calcium helps build strong bones and harden our teeth. But more than that, calcium is one of the key minerals influencing muscle contraction. It also helps our nerves carry messages from the brain to all parts of the body.
Our blood vessels use calcium to move blood throughout the body for proper circulation, releasing hormones and enzymes that affect every function in the body.
Calcium deficiency is thought to play a major role in panic attacks. Deficiencies in calcium can make the muscle tension effects of panic more pronounced. This occurs when calcium levels in our tissue are low, making the nervous system hypersensitive. This results in overreactions to the flight or fight response – imagine being in a constant state of emergency. Thus, calcium deficiency plays a large role in the physical symptoms of many anxiety disorders.
The average adult needs about 1,000 mg of calcium per day, and teenagers need 1,300 mg to support their growth. Many people don’t get the recommended amounts daily. Calcium-enriched foods, along with supplements, can make a big difference. Of course, foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of calcium; however, many people are lactose intolerant and cannot get their calcium from dairy. Vegetables high in calcium include kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage. Grains such as whole wheat bread, enriched pasta and fortified cereals don’t have a lot of calcium, but they are typically consumed often enough that they can add significant amounts of calcium to one’s diet. Lastly, a great source of calcium can come from fish with soft bones, such as canned sardines or salmon.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 different chemical reactions in the body, including muscle and nerve function and helping to regulate a healthy heart rate. It also helps build proteins and transport energy throughout the body. Magnesium plays a similar role as calcium in the body. They are both known as macrominerals, which means the body needs large amounts of these nutrients daily. Psychology Today referred to magnesium as the “Original Chill Pill” for its natural ability to stop stress hormones from entering through the blood-brain barrier. Proper amounts of magnesium function to protect the brain. Magnesium deficiency is one of the leading causes of anxiety and insomnia and the Western diet tends to be lacking in this critical element. Research now shows that as magnesium levels drop, symptoms of anxiety and depression can increase.
Studies also indicate that a magnesium deficiency can lead to lower levels of calcium in the blood, creating a domino effect resulting in high anxiety and intense panic.
How much magnesium do we need? For female adults, about 300 mg to 320 mg daily, and closer to 360 mg for teenage girls. In males, about 400 mg a day is sufficient. Grains, leafy vegetables, beans, and nuts are great sources of magnesium. Try adding foods like black beans, flaxseed, quinoa, bananas, cucumbers, and spinach to your diet.
Herbal extracts are the original medications. They have been used for medicinal purposes since the dawn of civilization – far longer than pharmaceutical companies have been around and well before the beginnings of modern science. In fact, most medications and modern pharmaceuticals made today are first derived from various molecules and compounds found in plants. When it comes to suppressing anxiety, Eastern medical practices like those in China or India swear by the power of herbal extracts. Any competent naturopath doctor will tell you that modern medicine really has not greatly improved on what the earth has always provided in the raw. One of the greatest advantages of herbal extracts over pharmaceutical drugs is the overall safety. Since the human body has evolved while using many herbs in both food and medicinal contexts, we process these herbal extracts safely and usually without side effects.
You will rarely find harmful side effects from using extracts –your body has evolved over millions of years to utilize them!
It should not be surprising that more people are turning to natural herbal remedies now than ever before. Modern medicine has done some great things, but its methods are far from perfect. Ironically, science is only now catching up to the power of herbal extracts and rediscovering what natural medicine practitioners have been saying all along.
Hundreds of years ago, people did not complain of anxiety disorders. In those days, people got their food and medicine from the earth, and food was far more nutrient-dense. Additionally, people’s daily lives generally involved more physical labor, which gave the average worker plenty of exercise.
Now, even with modern medicine behind us, people are experiencing more medical problems than ever before, and anxiety is on the rise. People are starting to realize that most of what their bodies need, the earth has always provided.
When it comes to daily anxiety management, herbal extracts are a must — at least until you regain balance.
They are safe, effective, and not terribly expensive. Research has demonstrated their unique ability to provide non-drowsy calming while enhancing mental clarity.
Ashwagandha, one of the most vital herbs in Ayurvedic healing, has been used since ancient times for a variety of conditions, but is most well known for its restorative and calming benefits. In fact, it’s frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its rejuvenating properties (although botanically, ginseng and ashwagandha are unrelated). In addition, ashwagandha is also used to enhance sexual potency for both men and women. Belonging to the same family as the tomato, ashwagandha (or Withania somnifera in Latin) is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers. It bears red fruit about the size of a raisin. The herb is native to the dry regions of India, northern Africa, and the Middle East, but today is also grown in more mild climates, including in the United States. Ashwagandha contains many useful medicinal chemicals, including withanolides, (steroidal lactones), alkaloids, choline, fatty acids, amino acids, and a variety of sugars. While the leaves and fruit have valuable therapeutic properties, the root of the ashwagandha plant is the part most commonly used in herbal remedies. Ashwagandha, one of the most vital herbs in Ayurvedic healing, has been used since ancient times for a variety of conditions, but is most well known for its restorative and calming benefits.
Medical researchers have been taking ashwagandha much more seriously in recent years and, more than 200 studies of its healing benefits have been performed. The results are summarized below:
Confers immune system protection
Combats the effects of stress
Improves learning, memory, and reaction time
Reduces anxiety and depression without causing drowsiness
Stabilizes blood sugar
Reduces brain-cell degeneration
Contains anti-malarial properties
Offers anti-inflammatory benefits
Some studies have also found that ashwagandha inhibits the growth of cancer cells in small animals, but further research is needed to determine whether the herb prevents the development of tumors in humans.
In the Ayurvedic tradition, Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri) is one of the best-known herbal extracts for improving learning, memory, and mental clarity. The herb’s name comes from the Sanskrit term, brahman, which translates to “the totality of life.” Brahman is the knowledge of the ultimate reality: that the entire expanse of life is nothing if not what we perceive from our inner awareness.
The herb is characterized by lightness, peace, calm and clarity and is generally safe for most people to use. Brahmi increases the power of the mind and is also good for the heart. This herb is said to enhance the three basic components of the mind: power of learning, power of retention, and power of recall. Brahmi promotes each of these functions independently, and synergistically improves the interaction between these functions.
Furthermore, Brahmi is capable of strengthening and fortifying the mind to withstand stress and difficulties. Ayurvedic healers consider Brahmi a very valuable herb for treating. Modern studies have found that Bacopa’s anti-anxiety properties were as potent as those of Lorazepam, with none of the side effects.
For centuries, herbal medicine practitioners have used Passion Flower as a natural remedy for anxiety, stress and insomnia. Studies also indicate that Passion Flower can reduce anxiety-related discomfort caused by withdrawal from opiates and other drugs. One study concluded that Passion Flower is “an effective drug for the management of generalized anxiety disorder” and compared it as having an advantage over oxazepam.
Passion flower has been shown to work similarly to the pharmaceutical Alprazolam. Compounds that exist in the root and leaves of Passion Flower act as “natural MAO inhibitors,” which aid in the metabolism of Serotonin. Moreover, research shows that the plant stimulates an increase in the production of GABA, producing a mild calming, sedative effect.
Passion Flower can be consumed in a capsule or tablet, but also as a tea made from the dried herb. Four to eight grams daily boiled with water can be sufficient. You should not use passion flower if you are pregnant or nursing.
There have been a lot covered in this article and I hope that you feel empowered by the information. You are just one step closer on eliminating your anxiety the natural way!