Part of ceremonies in both Polynesian and Micronesian cultures to reduce stress and improve mood, it is among the natural herbs and supplements for anxiety
There’s no question that the number of Americans reporting symptoms of mental health issues – and anxiety symptoms in particular – has increased sharply since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. You’ve likely seen this exact same trend among your own patients, with increased questions about natural herbs and supplements for anxiety.
This trend is even backed by data that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has been collecting on a weekly basis since the start of the U.S. pandemic, in April of last year.1 As a result of this jump in anxiety symptoms, more people are exploring alternatives to traditional pharmaceutical treatments such as natural herbs and supplements for anxiety. Your suggestions may often include nutritional supplements to help balance out and stabilize mood swings.
Anxiety disorders during the pandemic
During the first period of data gathering (April 23, 2020 to May 5, 2020), 30.8 % of American adults reported symptoms of an anxiety disorder.1 This peaked during the reporting period of Nov. 11, 2020 to Nov. 23, 2020 (coinciding with the normal peak holiday travel time), during which 37.2 % reported symptoms of anxiety or stress.
As of July 30 for this year, 24.5 % of American adults reported symptoms for the week of June 23, 2021 to July 5, 2021.1
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has a long history within Ayurvedic medicine. Like many other medicines within this tradition, it has a wide range of uses, including treating anxiety and stress.
Ashwagandha does this by working as an adaptogen, which means that it can normalize and regulate the body’s physiological responses to increased stress and anxiety. A 2019 study from the journal Cureus examined the effect of ashwagandha root extract for treating stress symptoms in otherwise healthy adults.2 A group of 60 study subjects was randomized to one of three treatment groups: Ashwagandha 250 mg; ashwagandha 600 mg; or equivalent placebo.
At the end of the eight-week study, both subject groups taking ashwagandha showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and significant improvement in sleep quality.2
Herbs and supplements for anxiety: kava kava
Kava kava (Piper methysticum) is a shrub that is native to a number of islands throughout the Pacific. It has been part of ceremonies in both Polynesian and Micronesian cultures to reduce stress and improve mood, among the natural herbs and supplements for anxiety.
A 2013 article from the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology examined the effectiveness of kava kava in treating generalized anxiety disorder.3 Seventy-five participants received either one of two kava kava extract doses (120 mg/day or 240 mg/day), or a placebo, over the course of six weeks. At the end of the study period, subjects taking kava kava reported a significant reduction in anxiety compared to placebo, which increased for those with moderate to severe generalized anxiety disorder.
Furthermore, 26 % of the study subjects taking kava kava showed remittance of symptoms, as compared to only 6 % of those taking placebo.3
Chamomile is a flowering herb, similar in appearance to a daisy, with a very distinctive smell and flavor. It is a very popular decaffeinated herbal tea to help with sleeping at night, either alone or mixed with other herbs. A 2016 article from the journal Phytomedicine reported on the results of a study examining the long-term use of chamomile to reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.4
All 93 participants took 1,500 mg of chamomile daily for 12 weeks. After that, some continued with the chamomile for an additional 26 weeks, while the remaining subjects continued to take chamomile. The researchers found that fewer subjects taking chamomile (7 of 46; 15.2 %) than those taking placebo (12 of 47; 25.5 %) suffered a relapse of symptoms. Furthermore, when those subjects taking chamomile suffered a relapse, their symptoms were less severe than among those taking the placebo.4
Other recommendations to help your patients beat back symptoms of anxiety might include yoga or meditation exercises, cutting back on tobacco or alcohol use, or reducing stress eating. All of these things should help calm the waters for your patients, as they navigate their way through this current pandemic.
- Centers for Disease Control \& Prevention. Household Pulse Survey: Anxiety and Depression. Last updated July 14, 2021.
- Salve J, Pate S, Debnath K, Langade D. Adaptogenic and anxiolytic effects of ashwagandha root extract in healthy adults: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study. Cureus. 2019;11(12):e6466.
- Sarris J, Stough C, Bousman CA, et al. Kava in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. 2013;33(5):643-648.
- Mao JJ, Xie SX, Keefe JR, et al. Long-term chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: A randomized clinical trial. Phytomedicine. 2016;23(14):1735-1742.