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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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May 01 2019

10 Natural Anxiety Remedies

By Mark Sisson
34 Comments

Anxiety is normal. It’s something we all have experience with—to one degree or another. Most people are anxious about something that hangs over them and follows them around like a personal rain cloud. Then there’s the deeper but still familiar anxiety many of us carry. The anxiety about our self-worth. The anxiety of performance, of social situations. This type can grip us in an uncomfortable, but hopefully not chronic, way.

But not all anxiety is run-of-the-mill—or manageable. People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, for instance, might have trouble leaving the house, ordering a coffee from Starbucks, going to work. Anxious thoughts cycling through their brains often keep them up at night. When untreated, people with this level of anxiety can end up living in a state of perpetual fear.

The conventional approach is to take anti-anxiety meds, which can be genuinely life-saving for some people. Nonetheless, these can come with downsides that vary depending on an individual’s dosage and reactions—and the nature of the particular medication itself. Some meds result in few side effects, but others’ effects can be heavy. For instance, there are the benzodiazepines, highly-addictive tranquilizers with the potential for abuse. They make driving unsafe. They lower productivity. They sedate you. When necessary for the severity of the condition, these side effects may be worth it.

In other cases, a person might have more space to experiment and want to explore a different route.

In some cases, people choose to try natural anxiety aids. These are supplements, nutrients, and herbs that have been designed across millennia by nature (and maybe some input from green-thumbed healers). They might not always be enough for something as serious as a clinical anxiety disorder (please talk to your doctor before making any adjustment or addition to your medication), but at least some may be important complements to a prescribed regimen.

For those who want or need an alternative strategy for anxiety beyond meditative practices and general good health, these natural remedies may be worth a try.

First, the NUTRIENTS….

These are basic vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that your body needs to work. They are non-negotiable. You don’t have to get them through supplements—in fact, that should be a last resort after food—and I wouldn’t expect “drug-level” effects, but you do need to get them.

1. Long Chained Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Some human evolution experts maintain that the human brain wouldn’t be the human brain without steady and early access to coastal food resources—fish and shellfish rich in long chain omega-3s. If the long-chained omega-3s found in fatty fish and other sea creatures made our brains what they are today, it’s safe to assume that our brains work better when we eat them today. And if we’re talking about anxiety, that appears to be the case:

Studies in substance abusers find that supplementing with enough fish oil (and, yes, here’s what I use regularly) to raise serum levels of the long chain omega-3 fatty acid EPA reduces anxiety, while increases in DHA (the other long chain omega-3) reduce anger. Rising EPA levels after supplementation predicted the reduction in anxiety.

In healthy young medical students, omega-3 supplementation (2 grams EPA, 350 mg DHA) lowered inflammation and anxiety. Follow-up analyses revealed that reducing the serum omega-6:omega-3 ratio also reduced anxiety scores.

And in early pregnancy, high DHA levels predict low anxiety scores.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency is a risk factor for anxiety. The evidence, considered by some to be low quality, nonetheless suggests that supplementing with magnesium can reduce subjective anxiety. The mechanistic evidence is stronger, as magnesium is one of those minerals that plays a role in hundreds of very basic and essential physiological processes—including the generation of ATP, the body’s energy currency. Without adequate energy production, nothing works well. One’s mental health is no exception.

Magnesium supplementation reduces subjective anxiety (the only kind that matters) in the “mildly anxious” and in women with premenstrual syndrome.

Magnesium L-threonate, a form particularly good at getting into the brain, is worth trying for more immediate, noticeable effects.

3. Zinc

Zinc deficiency is common in people with anxiety, including Chinese males and Americans. And although mainlining oyster smoothies probably won’t fix serious anxiety, a follow-up in the group of Americans with low zinc levels found that zinc supplementation did reduce anxiety levels.

4. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, helps regulate production of serotonin and GABA—two neurotransmitters that control depression and anxiety. In mice exposed to anxiety-producing situations, pyridoxine increases GABA, reduces glutamate, and reduces anxiety. In humans, correcting a magnesium deficiency with magnesium and vitamin B6 has a stronger effect on anxiety than magnesium alone. (Good to note: women on hormonal birth control may be depleted of vitamin B6 as well as other vitamins and minerals.)

The best sources of vitamin B6 are turkey, beef, liver, pistachios, and tuna.

Now, the NATURAL INTERVENTIONS….

These aren’t essential nutrients. Rather, they’re plant compounds with pharmacological effects and, in most cases, hundreds of years of traditional usage for dampening, inhibiting, or resolving anxiety.

5. Kanna

Kanna comes from a succulent plant native to South Africa. The story goes that an anthropologist noticed elderly San Bushmen nibbling on a particular type of succulent plant while displaying incredible cognitive ability and remaining calm, cool, and collected. The fact that they weren’t dealing with daily commutes, traffic jams, annoying bosses, and mounting bills probably had something to do with it, but it turns out that the succulent plant wasn’t hurting the cause.

Kanna has been shown to dampen the subcortical threat response, which is normally heightened in anxious states. It also increased well-being and resistance to stress in health adults who took it in a safety study.

6. Theanine

Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea and available as a supplement, isn’t going to obliterate your nerves before a big performance. One study showed that it (along with the benzodiazepine Xanax) reduced resting state anxiety but not experimentally-induced anxiety. Then again, neither did Xanax.

Theanine is instead a mild anxiolytic. If you get anxiety from caffeine, take 200 mg of theanine with your coffee. It will smooth out the experience, reduce/remove the anxiety, and leave the stimulation.

7. Kava

Kava is a plant native to the South Pacific. Traditionally, its roots were chewed fresh with the resultant liquid often spit into communal bowls for consumption, pounded to release the moisture, or sun-dried, ground, and steeped in water to make an intoxicating, relaxing mild sedative. Nowadays, the active kavalactones are also extracted and pressed into capsules.

I don’t use kava, but I have tried it a couple times in the past. For what it’s worth, I don’t have anxiety issues but it did seem to pair well with caffeine (similar to theanine).

8. Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea is a longtime favorite adaptogen of mine. It hails from the barren wastes of Siberia, where for millennia people from all over the ancient world coveted it. There’s something about the harsh environment of the northern tundra that made rhodiola rosea incredibly resilient—and bestows upon those who consume it a similar type of mental resilience.

2015 study sought to determine the impact of rhodiola on self-reported anxiety, stress, cognition, and a host of other mental parameters. Eighty subjects were divided into either a twice-daily commercial formula (containing 200 mg rhodiola) group or a control group. Compared to the controls, the rhodiola group showed notable improvements in mood and significant reductions in anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression after 14 days.

Rhodiola rosea, along with theanine, features prominently in my anti-stress (and anti-anxiety) supplement Adaptogenic Calm. (If you’re interested, here’s a video of me talking about how I use it.)

9. Lavender

There’s a great lavender farm on the island of Maui. One of the favorite memories from that trip is strolling through the fields of lavender, brushing against the leaves and flowers, just basking in the relaxing scent that permeated the entire property. A very low-stress environment, to be sure.

One study gave lavender oil capsules to major depressive disorder patients suffering from anxiety who were already taking antidepressants. Not only did adding the lavender reduce anxiety, it also improved sleep.

Perhaps the most impressive study is this one, where generalized anxiety disorder patients either received lavender oil or a benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drug. Patients receiving the lavender had the same beneficial effects as the benzo patients without the sedation.

Lavender oil aromatherapy also seems to reduce anxiety, at least in cancer patients. One weakness of aromatherapy research is the difficulty of giving a “placebo smell.” Essential oil scents are quite distinct.

10. CBD Oil

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis.

Most recently, a large case series (big bunch of case studies done at once) was performed giving CBD to anxiety patients who had trouble sleeping. Almost 80% had improvements in anxiety and 66% had improvements in sleep (although the sleep improvements fluctuated over time).

In a five-year-old girl with PTSD (a category of patient that just shouldn’t exist) in whom pharmaceutical anxiety medications did not work, CBD oil provided lasting relief from anxiety.

Here’s how to find a good CBD oil.

What do you folks like for anxiety? What’s worked? What hasn’t? What did I miss?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.

References:

Cunnane SC, Crawford MA. Energetic and nutritional constraints on infant brain development: implications for brain expansion during human evolution. J Hum Evol. 2014;77:88-98.

Boyle NB, Lawton CL, Dye L. The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety. Magnes Res. 2016;29(3):120-125.

Mccarty MF. High-dose pyridoxine as an ‘anti-stress’ strategy. Med Hypotheses. 2000;54(5):803-7.

Walia V, Garg C, Garg M. Anxiolytic-like effect of pyridoxine in mice by elevated plus maze and light and dark box: Evidence for the involvement of GABAergic and NO-sGC-cGMP pathway. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2018;173:96-106.

De souza MC, Walker AF, Robinson PA, Bolland K. A synergistic effect of a daily supplement for 1 month of 200 mg magnesium plus 50 mg vitamin B6 for the relief of anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, crossover study. J Womens Health Gend Based Med. 2000;9(2):131-9.

Lu K, Gray MA, Oliver C, et al. The acute effects of L-theanine in comparison with alprazolam on anticipatory anxiety in humans. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2004;19(7):457-65.

Terburg D, Syal S, Rosenberger LA, et al. Acute effects of Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin), a dual 5-HT reuptake and PDE4 inhibitor, in the human amygdala and its connection to the hypothalamus. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013;38(13):2708-16.

Nell H, Siebert M, Chellan P, Gericke N. A randomized, double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trial of Extract Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin) in healthy adults. J Altern Complement Med. 2013;19(11):898-904.

Fißler M, Quante A. A case series on the use of lavendula oil capsules in patients suffering from major depressive disorder and symptoms of psychomotor agitation, insomnia and anxiety. Complement Ther Med. 2014;22(1):63-9.

Woelk H, Schläfke S. A multi-center, double-blind, randomised study of the Lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to Lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder. Phytomedicine. 2010;17(2):94-9.

Shannon S, Opila-lehman J. Effectiveness of Cannabidiol Oil for Pediatric Anxiety and Insomnia as Part of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Report. Perm J. 2016;20(4):16-005.

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34 thoughts on “10 Natural Anxiety Remedies”

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  1. Rhodiola doesn’t work long term. Might be why the study is only for 14 days? After a few months, it put me into a serious depression: crying for no reason and extreme feelings of hopelessness. And it all went away within 24 hours of stopping rhodiola.

    1. Almost all adaptogens should be cycled on and off. If you were taking RR non-stop for months that is not a good idea.

    2. Rhodiola did not work for me – it clearly increased my anxiety! Everyone is unique, so what works for one may not work for another. I have found GABA and L-Theanine to be very helpful; but have only taken at night, so don’t know how I’d react during the day.

  2. I would exercise caution with ingestion or topical application of lavender. It highly estrogenic (discovered when baby boys began developing breasts after their parents had been rubbing them with lavender oil to soothe them). Huff away at the scent, but otherwise be wary.

    1. “Lavender oil does not mimic estrogen nor does it enhance the body’s own estrogens. It is therefore not a ‘hormone disruptor’, cannot cause breast growth in young boys (or girls of any age), and is safe to use by anyone at risk for estrogen-dependent cancer. A 2007 report by Henley et al found that both lavender and tea tree oils had a weak in vitro estrogenic action. The unnamed products that were used to conduct the study contained lavender and tea tree oils, but they were diluted with a chemical that is a known estrogen mimicker (dimethyl sulfoxide.) Lavender was suggested as the cause of three cases of prepubertal gynecomastia (breast growth) in boys, and tea tree was suggested in one case. The report was subsequently criticized on a number of grounds. For example it was pointed out that there was no evidence of either essential oil causing the gynecomastia in any of the four cases, and that in vitro estrogenic findings frequently do not extrapolate to a similar action in warm bodies. Though often cited, these findings have not been duplicated, nor has lavender been linked to estrogenic issues in the past.”

  3. As a patient with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I want to emphasize two statements you made that can easily be missed–medications for anxiety are life-saving for some people, and the necessary management of symptoms with medication far outweighs any possible side effects given a certain level of severity for the individual patient.

    There is significant cultural stigma around issues of mental health and mental illness. One way to help reduce that stigma is to acknowledge and recognize that mental health disorders are legitimate medical issues that can require legitimate medical intervention. Too often, I see articles and posts about natural remedies for anxiety that imply (or explicitly state) that managing anxiety in a more natural way is better in one way or another than using medication–unfortunately, this increases stigma for those who do require medication and decreases the likelihood that patients will seek treatment when it is necessary.

    I appreciate your recognition that natural remedies are not always an appropriate answer and want to be sure to explicitly communicate to your readers that, while it is wonderful that some patients are able to find natural remedies that work for them, there is absolutely zero shame in needing medication to treat one’s mental health, and it is equally wonderful that those treatments are available for those who need them.

    Thank you for addressing this topic–it is not always an easy one to talk about!

    1. C, thanks for sharing your experience. Indeed, I’m grateful we have the medical interventions available that we do, and it’s good Primal sense to do what is best for one’s health, including mental health. I always want to respect that health management is a highly personal process. Information here, including natural interventions and natural remedies, may have a place in their treatment, or it may not, depending on their individual needs. Best — M

      1. Mark, would you be able to do a post covering tapering off anti-anxiety medications? My mom has been on clonazepam for 15 years or so (since she was in her mid twenties) and she wants to taper off but has extreme difficulties with it and ant get her doctors to help her with it by prescribing less. I’d hate for her to have to rely on this medication for the rest of her life. Also, is there any connection between these types of drugs and obesity? My mom was 125 at her highest weight before taking klonopin and soon after began gaining a lot of weight.
        Any input is appreciated. Thanks for all you do and for this post.

        1. You should check out “the mood cure” by Julia Ross. She goes over how to taper off SSRI’s, benzodiazepines, and other psych meds. I followed her protocol in the book to get off the SSRIs I was on for 10 years. I have been completely off for a year now and doing well. Good luck!

      2. Quite possibly the best book about anxiety and depression is Lost Connections by Johann Jari. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It falls completely in line with the Primal Blueprint tenets as well.

      3. “For instance, there are the benzodiazepines, highly-addictive tranquilizers with the potential for abuse. They make driving unsafe. They lower productivity. They sedate you.”

        I find statements like the one above to be unhelpful. It implies that these medications are only useful in extreme cases, scaring off many people who might in fact be helped by them. The fact that some medications create a physical dependency does not mean they are “highly addictive.” Physical dependence and addiction are two very different conditions. Yes, every person who takes benzodiazepines on a regular basis (rather than PRN or “as needed”) will develop a physical dependence, but that does not mean they are “addicted.” And yes, there is a “potential for abuse” that needs to be taken into account, and doctors can and should monitor their patients’ use closely. But please be aware that avoiding medication out of fear of addiction or abuse may mean that a lot of unnecessary suffering is left untreated. If you are suffering with anxiety, please consult your doctor. And better yet, if you can, consult a specialist in psychopharmacology. And yes, be sure to discuss with them your own and your family’s history of addiction if that is a serious concern for you.

        1. To use a couple of times a year to stop a raging panic attack is one thing, but believe me Barbara I know from personal experience you do NOT want to go down the path of regular benzodiazepine usage. Mark’s statement is 100% accurate. We need to at least be honest about the choices we make.

          1. Yes, I agree, let’s be honest about the choices we make. And let’s also be informed about the choices we make. I worry that some who suffer from clinical anxiety may shy away from discussing pharmaceutical options with a doctor because they’ve been led to believe that “natural remedies” are always the healthiest solution. I’m not against natural remedies per se, and I’m not intending to make a blanket endorsement of benzodiazepine use, but what happens when someone has “raging panic attacks” more than a “couple times a year”? Should they simply suffer through them? I would like to think that they would at least consult a doctor about medication that may alleviate their suffering.

    2. As someone with diagnosed OVD, depression and GAD I didn’t get that impression at all from this article. Yes I’ve been on medication but I’m always seeking alternative treatments. I also work in the pharma industry in R&D and can tell you many psychiatric medications have no greater impact than placebo and most researchers are still trying to understand how to best treat it.

  4. Love this post (and the sleep one)! I started taking CBD oil for an injury months ago. The injury healed, but I’ve continued the CBD to take the edge off of anxiety + aid tissue recover post (strenuous) yoga. Personally, I find the effect super-subtle, but notice if I discontinue…so start up again.

    For sleep, I prefer a mixed CBD-THC product (legal here in Canada) – not enough THC to feel high, but makes sleep come way easier for me. (If I take too much, it actually makes sleeping more difficult.)

  5. I laughed when I saw that rhodiola “hails from the barren wastes of Siberia.” I grow it in my rock garden here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It’s not quite the Siberian tundra, but our weather has certain similarities–it’s still snowing here (May 1)!

    1. I would kill for some snow, my god. I hate the heat and it’s in the 80’s here on the North Carolina coast, and I’m like where the hell did Spring go? Seems like we always skip straight to summer and I’m dying already. We hardly got a winter this year (I’m clearly not meant to live in this climate).

  6. Yoga breathing can also be helpful for both anxiety and sleep.
    It was my SCUBA instructor who first introduced me to controlled breathing as a way to control anxiety. When diving, panic can easily equal death. Works on the surface too.

  7. A sensible supplementation regime can be a big help but I’d add using the minds own method of reducing anxiety.
    Sometimes we can change the sources of anxiety (the problems). Other times we cannot change a problem. Coping is an under-estimated skill. It makes sense that the mind should have a homeostatic mechanism that facilitates coping.
    It is believed that day dreaming and simple reverie are spontaneous periods where the mind slows (calms) and even becomes still. This mental stillness is intermittently experienced by normal healthy people. Mental homeostasis is anticipated to have an optimum and will be facilitated by mental stillness of adequate duration ie regular practice of a really simple deeply relaxing experience known as Stillness Meditation.
    Stillness meditation is different to mindfulness meditation. A 100 years ago, the word mindful was applied to certain religious beliefs in an attempt to translate them into English. In its common usage, there is no such thing as mindfulness meditation per se. Most of the research on mindfulness has not been on one type of meditation but on several. However, it is possible to make some generalizations. In a general sense, mindfulness refers to deliberately focusing on one thing or the present moment. In mindfulness meditation there is mental activity narrowed to a single focus such as breathing, visualization, mantras, chanting, candle gazing or an emotion (eg compassion).
    A full mind is not empty or still. Being mindful of one thought or thing is not an empty mind. A mindful mind cannot be still. However, people say mindfulness helps. Dulling the mind down to one thing – a monotone – is clearly helpful. Dulling is meant in a nice way!
    However, less is more in the area of meditation. In Stillness Meditation there is: no focus on breathing, no visualization, no mantras, no candle gazing, no thinking about compassion etc. Stillness lies beyond mindfulness – a really simple relaxing experience. There is little or no thought, little or no sensation and little or no emotion as the mind becomes still. In primal times, the way of life facilitated a certain amount of mental stillness, however, these days the incessant activity of modern lifestyles means that we must re-learn how to become still and adopt its regular practice. Learning to live an active life while at ease.

    Closely following a good set of instructions, or better, a teacher can help learn these skills. This method is very safe for nearly all people, however, anyone being treated for anxiety\depression and so on should tell their doctor about changes they plan to make for their health.
    yours in stillness

    Owen Bruhn

  8. Great post and for some individuals, a supplement may be a better choice than a psychiatric medication. As a psychologist, though, I think it is important to at least mention the benefits of psychotherapy. Both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have shown to be incredibly efficacious in treating and reducing anxiety. CBT is often considered a first approach, either prior to initiating medication or in conjunction with meds.

    1. +1000 KG. The book “Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic” by David Barlow and Michelle Craske was the single best CBT framework I was able to discover, made a huge impact on my (ongoing) journey to recover from lifelong panic episodes.

  9. Niacinamide works wonders for anxiety taken in high enough doses I’ve found. Also serves as a great sleep aid.

  10. Do primal fish oil capsules contain vitamin A as cod liver oil does? I was getting terrific, very noticeable benefits from cod liver oil until the doc found my liver enzymes were off, and what followed was an “OMG, you’re gonna die!” panic, with a battery of expensive tests for months. I had to go off all supplements and worried about my health all the time until tests started to come up normal again. I can’t even take low dose multivitamins because of the vitamin A now. But I do miss that great stress-free feeling I got from the cod liver oil.

  11. I’ll add another category of “anxiety,” namely dysautonomias. These conditions feature malfunctioning or unbalances autonomic nervous systems. In my case (hyperandrenergic POTS with low blood volume, in case anyone is curious), my sympathetic nervous system is overactive, which causes physical symptoms of anxiety in the absence of actual psychological anxiety. Many people with these disorders are misdiagnosed as having GAD, in fact. What do I take for it? Clonidine to keep the sympathetic nervous system in check and Florinef to bulk out blood volume.

    Anyway, this website has good additional information for anyone who thinks this might describe them:
    http://www.dysautonomiainternational.org

  12. oh dear lord, a 5 year old with PTSD. I’m so glad she found relief, but that breaks my heart

  13. Great post. I suffered from anxiety off and on starting in my early 20s. By my early 40s it was getting worse but I thought it was just something I had to live with. As I gradually transitioned from my vegetarian/sometimes vegan lifestyle to primal, my anxiety just went away, along with the digestive issues that I also thought were just something I had to live with.
    I went primal to clear my skin, and it worked. The reduction in anxiety and digestive stress was an unexpected bonus. I definitely think animal fat is necessary to keep my brain happy and healthy.
    As far as CBD oil goes, I have found it to be very helpful for sleep.

    1. Erin, I make no claims around my (or anyone’s else’s) supplements for children, and I’ll also mention that my formulations are designed with adults in mind. That said, I would discuss adaptogens for with your child’s pediatrician and see what recommendations he/she might have for your child’s age and needs. Best — M

  14. Great article, Mark!

    What about adding fermented foods to this list, which helps with social anxiety (at least)?

    If one goes to nih.gov and searches
    social anxiety fermented

    some good stuff comes up!

  15. Well, this was a timely post.

    My go-to anxiety supplement is ashwagandha. Anyone else?Definitely takes a while to build up in the system and be effective, though.

    I also use lavender/frankincense/mandarin orange oil diluted in almond oil applied topically. Over a period of time, it seems to have a cumulative effect on reducing my stress level.

    I’ve been moderately anxious all my life with periods of very serious anxiety. Gluten does seem to be a trigger. I was on a low dose of cymbalta for a year; it was moderately helpful for anxiety for a time. Then the weight gain, sluggishness and weird digestion started to outweigh the benefits.

    1. I JUST posted about Ashwagandha! I should have read all the comments first. 🙂

  16. I sometimes find rooibos feels good after an anxious day. Also nettle find is noticeably calming.

    My anxiety was severe for a long time (had to quite school!), until Homeopathy finally reduced it.

    I tried many supplements before that.

  17. Does anyone have any recommendations for a supplement available in Canada that’s of similar composition and quality to the Primal Omegas? If not, is it possible to combine things…?

  18. I use Ashwagandha root for a stress/anxiety relief. It’s rally worked for me, and is a natural sleep aid.