What Are The Best Supplements For Anxiety?
Anxiety and stress are among the most pervasive mental health issues affecting people today.
We’ve gone through the science and found evidence-based supplements for anxiety.
It is a normal part of life to experience occasional anxiety. We need it to survive, we don’t need it for no reason though. Some people experience anxiety that is persistent, uncontrollable, overwhelming and outright uncomfortable. When this happens, it interferes with your daily activities, work and relationships.
If this is you, or someone you know, this information can be life-transforming and give your life back from the shackles of anxiety.
Anxiety comes in many forms but we’ll be talking about Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, and stress.
These can affect people of all ages, genders and backgrounds.
Although there is not one single answer as to why anxiety is so common, many attribute it to factors such as social media, poor sleep habits, lowered stigma, and historical underreporting.
Anxiety can be physiological processes inside the body, underpinning the reason why anxiety, panic disorders and stress happen.
This is where food, medications and supplements for anxiety come to benefit.
We’re going to talk about the best supplements for anxiety but there are a few things we have to talk about.
Table of Contents
The Best supplement for anxiety
The best natural supplement for anxiety is magnesium
The Best supplement for anxiety and panic attacks
Inositol is the best supplement for anxiety and panic attacks
The best supplement for anxiety and stress
The best natural supplement for anxiety and stress is ashwaghanda
The Best supplement for anxiety and depression
The best supplement for anxiety and depression is saffron
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety disorders are a group of psychiatric disorders including social anxiety, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD, OCD, and phobias.
While not classified in the DSM, we’ve talked about the signs of high functioning anxiety before.
While we need certain anxiety to survive, too much becomes a problem in our lives.
Someone with anxiety will interrupt non-threatening signals as threatening, thus maintaining an unnecessarily high state of worry and arousal.
Underlying the exaggerated fear response is a network of brain structures that function improperly in a response to a stimulus.
The amygdala, which controls our fear response and fight or flight, is often overactive.
On the opposite end, the prefrontal cortex, which inhibits the fear generation of the amygdala, is under-active.
There are often other parts of the brain that are under-active, the hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, striatum, and insula can also be involved with anxiety.
Some of these “malfunctions” may be accompanied by disturbances in neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, GABA), a dysfunctional HPA axis, altered immune functions, changes in heart rate variability, cognitive functions, and neurotrophic factors (BDNF and nerve growth factor)
What Are the best supplement Brands
Not all supplements are created equal.
It’s important to choose a quality supplement over the cheapest and few of them.
The ones you can get off of the shelf are most likely not good, there have been tests on them and they have quality problems.
Poor supplements may contain lead, arsenic, or plastics… yes even the ones that say “natural”. I’ve gone through and found quality supplements from trusted brands.
As a practitioner, quality is the most important factor to consider when looking for a trusted source to provide health products for patient wellness.
Fullscript offers practitioner-grade supplements of the highest quality.
The Quality of supplements is crucial as they help keep you healthy!
If supplements aren’t manufactured and resold under quality supervision, they can end up with expired ingredients, cross-contamination, improper labels, and other severe issues that can risk your health.
Dietary supplements and wellness products are approached differently than pharmaceuticals. In Canada, Natural Health Products (NHPs) are regulated by Health Canada under the Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate (NNHPD).
Fullscript is incredibly easy to use, is certified carbon-neutral (important if you’re going to be shipping as a company).
You can order once or you can use the authorship feature, so you don’t run out of your supplements.
Do you have to use Fullscript? No.
You can still find quality supplements in stores but it’s hard. I constantly look for these and have found some for sure.
Remember that it’s a highly profitable business sector and they spend a lot of money on advertising – they are designed to sell you.
Not all magnesium does the same thing. There are different types of B12, some better and more effective than others.
Some formulations will make you deficient in other nutrients. This is why I highly suggest practitioner-grade supplements, they focus more on the quality and purpose of the supplements rather than selling you to make a profit (though, that’s their goal too).
Why I Take An Alternative Approach First
Why supplements for anxiety might be an appropriate start for you to manage your anxiety.
There are many pharmaceutical drugs that have been developed which can help alleviate anxiety, they often come with unwanted effects.
It’s hard to call them side-effects nowadays because we know a lot more about the human body than we did years ago.
We know that we can’t direct just one aspect of the body, the body works in complex systems.
For these reasons, there are a lot of people out there who are skeptical about jumping right into these types of drugs to control their anxiety.
These people are looking for other approaches and want to control their anxiety in more of a “natural” way and not rely on psychiatric medications.
With this all in mind, let’s look at what the science currently says about the best supplements for anxiety.
Certain supplements are especially effective at calming and balancing the brain, which can lessen feelings of anxiety.
The Best Suppplements for Anxiety
Below is the list of the best supplements for anxiety that we’ve found that have the best science behind them. They are in no particular order because each person is unique.
The majority of people with anxiety should look into – magnesium, kava, inositol, ashwagandha, saffron, and have more green tea.
Supplements such as magnesium and lavender have good evidence for dampening anxiety severity to a moderate extent. The benefits of magnesium for anxiety and stress are substantial, yet up to 75% of us are deficient. Magnesium is probably the best natural supplement for anxiety
Magnesium is best used to relax – this goes for your mood, muscles, and blood vessels.
Magnesium is good for relaxing tight muscles, headaches/migraines, and improving sleep quality.
Magnesium is used for more than 300+ different biochemical reactions in your body, it’s vital to make energy, plays a key role in blood sugar regulation, and it has a calming effect on neuronal function.
Low magnesium is associated with inflammation, diabetes, seizures, anxiety, and depression.
Magnesium is an essential dietary mineral and the second most prevalent electrolyte in the human body.
Magnesium deficiencies are common in the western diet because grains are poor sources of magnesium.
In Canada, magnesium, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D (see Box 1) were the nutrients with the highest prevalence of inadequate intakes.
Other prominent sources of magnesium, like nuts and leafy vegetables, are not eaten as often.
It is possible to fix a magnesium deficiency through dietary changes.
If magnesium is supplemented to attenuate a deficiency, it acts as a sedative, reducing blood pressure and improving insulin sensitivity.
68 percent of Americans eating the standard American diet do not consume enough magnesium.
This mineral is found in green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard; legumes; nuts; and seeds.
In general, the foods that contain dietary fibre provide magnesium but the degradation of our soil has drastically reduced the magnesium content in our foods – which may explain why magnesium deficiency is prevalent.
Maintaining healthy magnesium levels is also associated with a protective effect against depression and ADHD.
The intestinal absorption of magnesium varies depending on how much magnesium the body needs, so there are not very many side-effects associated with supplementation of magnesium.
If there is too much magnesium though, the body will only absorb as much as it needs.
If you take too much magnesium for your body, it may cause gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea – a tummy ache and may shit your pants… start low and work up to it!
Kava for anxiety appears to be quite reliable and effective in treating non-psychotic anxiety, with less reliability on the topic of generalized anxiety (which lavender shows some promise for). Kava is commonly referenced as one of the best supplements for anxiety on reddit
Kava seems to be quite reliable and effective in treating non-psychotic anxiety, with less reliability for generalized anxiety (check lavender).
There is a notable increase in overall well-being with people with take kava – particularly cheerfulness. It’s noted that kava can also decrease reaction time, depressive symptoms associated with reducing anxiety, aggression, and blood pressure (though small). Kava has also been shown to improve sleep quality
Kava has been traditionally consumed by people from various Polynesian cultures.
It was primarily used ceremonially and as an intoxicant (like alcohol).
Unlike benzodiazepine drugs, which impair cognition long-term, when standardized extracts of kava root are taken at recommended dosages (between 60 and 300 mg per day) most people don’t experience any impairment of their cognitive abilities.
Kava has been studied thoroughly in both clinical trials and case studies.
Animal studies show that the anxiolytic effect of kava may be due to its ability to block serotonin receptors in the brain. Kava has been shown to interfere with noradrenergic neurotransmission and bind to both gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, both of which regulate mood. It has been suggested that kava may help alleviate symptoms associated with a generalized anxiety disorder by affecting vagal heart rate control (Watkins 2001).
Kava may have the most amount of evidence and magnitude of effect for reducing anxiety.
It also tends to be regarded as a safe and effective anxiety-reducing supplement alternative to Benzodiazepine drugs without the addiction factor
One study looked at introducing Kava at 50mg (WS 1490 extract) when the current Benzodiazepine dosage is reduced by 50%, to later replace the benzodiazepines with 300mg WS 1490 extract daily.
This substitution appeared to be effective, and Kava does not appear to be significantly more or less effective than some standard drugs used to treat anxiety.
Animal studies using injections show the anti-anxiety effects of Kava and its kavalactones can be very rapid and occur as soon as it hits the brain.
A meta-analysis established the range of 210-240mg for Kava to be more effective than placebo at reducing anxiety in the short-term (1-24 weeks)
There appears to be a decrease in anxiety symptoms associated with high dose inositol, and it has been noted to be comparable to fluvoxamine in potency.
Inositol may be the best supplement for anxiety and panic attacks. Inositol works incredibly well for women with fertility troubles and PCOS. Inositol can also help improve acne.
Inositol is a type of sugar that influences both the body’s insulin response and several hormones associated with mood and cognition.
While it’s not actually a vitamin, it’s commonly referred to as vitamin B8.
It also has antioxidant properties that help fight the damaging effects of oxygen-free radicals in the brain and other body tissues.
Inositol is found naturally in cantaloupe, citrus fruit, and many fibre-rich foods (such as beans, brown rice, corn, sesame seeds, and wheat bran).
It is believed that inositol improves depression, anxiety, and mental disorders by stimulating the release of the “feel-better” hormones serotonin and dopamine.
The benefits of reducing anxiety with inositol have mainly been seen in people with panic disorder.
A small study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology investigated the effect of Myo-inositol on 20 people with panic disorder.
After being provided with a daily 18-gram dose of Myo-inositol for four weeks, the participants were given a daily 150-mg dose of Luvox (fluvoxamine)—a commonly prescribed psychiatric drug—for the four weeks. When compared to a matched set of individuals not given Myo-inositol, those who were given Myo-inositol had an average of 2.4 fewer panic attacks per week.
The evidence suggests that ashwaghanda has potent anxiety reducing effects in the context of chronic stress and anxiety disorders. There may be more benefit to social anxiety as well with ashwagandha relative to other anxiolytics. More high-quality studies are needed to get an accurate assessment of how effective it is and the optimal dose. Ashwaghanda is probably the best supplement for stress and anxiety
Ashwagandha is best paired for high stress people, it has been shown to reduce your cortisol levels. It’s also been shown to boost testosterone in men, have antidepressive effects, decrease fatigue, and improve motivation.
Ashwagandha is an Indian herb usually consumed in a root extract.
It’s one of my favourites (along with maca) because it’s an “adaptogen” – it may help correct imbalances in the hormonal and immune systems.
It’s also great for restoring the biological functions disturbed by chronic stress.
Ashwagandha has been shown to reduce mood fluctuations and anxiety in 51 women with menopausal syndrome and some researchers have suggested that it may be useful in treating anxiety disorders in conventional psychiatric practice
Evidence suggests potent anti-anxiety effects in the context of chronic stress and anxiety disorder, with lesser potency in standard forms of anxiety not related to stress.
In 2012, a study looked at 64 randomized volunteers and asked the subjects to take either ashwagandha or a placebo twice a day for 60 days.
The group with the ashwagandha contained 300 mg of the concentrated extra made from the root.
During the treatment period, regular phone call check-ins that the volunteers were taking the herbs or placebo and to note any adverse reactions.
The group taking the ashwagandha for anxiety showed a significant reduction in anxiety scores after the 60 days relative to the placebo – without side effects.
More notably, the serum cortisol levels were substantially reduced in the herbal group – a marker for stress. Cortisol is commonly known as the stress hormone and goes up when we are stressed.
High levels of cortisol long-term create problems done the road which include fatigue, mental fogginess, and damage to brain structures for emotion and memory.
Lavender has been traditionally used in herbal medicine for centuries for its anti-anxiety and calming properties.
There appears to be a notable decrease in symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and with oral ingestion of lavender supplements; aromatherapy seems effective and implicated in reducing state anxiety (acute, situation based, anxiety), but has less robust evidence to support it. One study suggesting oral supplementation was comparable to lorazepam. Improvements in sleep quality have been noted in insomniacs and persons with generalized anxiety disorder mostly.
Lavender is one of few essential oils used in aromatherapy with evidence for general anxiety reducing effects, alongside rose oil having some evidence.
Lavender supplementation can temporarily alleviate anxiety.
Though lavender does not have a sedative effect, lavender aromatherapy can improve sleep quality, as well as reduce insomnia. Some evidence suggests lavender can increase slow-wave sleep patterns.
There is some evidence to suggest lavender may offer benefits for people suffering from dementia, but it is very preliminary and much more research is needed.
Red Clover Extract
A reduction in anxiety (associated with menopause) has been noted in an independent trial while it was much more significant (near 80%) in another study.
talk about the science here
GABA has been shown to inhibit the excitatory impulses in the brain, including those responsible for panic, alarm, anxiety, worry and fear. Classically, those who experience these symptoms are prescribed anti-anxiety medications like Ativan or another benzodiapene, for example. While they can be clinically effective, these medications often create unwanted side effects. This is where a supplement like GABA can shine as it delivers the deficient neurochemical to help balance the brain and nervous system, without the related side effect concerns.
It slows down and stops the firing of brain cells and brings the mind to a state of relaxation and calmness.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, GABA for short, is an amino acid that helps to regulate brain excitability and calms an over-firing in the brain.
GABA and GABA enhancers, such as the anticonvulsants gabapentin and L-theanine (the one found in green tea), function to inhibit the excess firing of neurons.
This results in a feeling of calmness and more self-control.
GABA counters the main excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate. You can think of it as Batman to the Joker.
The brain has a smart way to balance activation and relaxation, noise and silence, yin and yang. It does so through glutamate and GABA
Low levels of GABA have been found in many mental health disorders, including anxiety and some forms of depression.
Rather than overeating or drinking or using drugs to calm your anxiety, you can try natural ways to boost GABA may help.
Some researchers report that GABA doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier (think of it as a fence to block out certain molecules).
Some studies are contradictory, however, showing an increase in alpha brain waves – the ones that indicate a relaxed state.
GABA still seems to have a calming influence on the brain imaging studies the Amen Clinic has done.
Saffron seems to be a reliable supplement for anxiety. When considering some of the most widely-used rating scales, Beck Anxiety Inventory and Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, the effect seems to be small, though when using all measures of anxiety, it's large. Saffron may be the best supplement for anxiety and depression - especially if you lean towards the depression side
Saffron works incredibly well for depression
Saffron Powerfully Modulates Anxiety and Depression.
Saffron extract may support mental health by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.
Saffron supplementation improved anxiety symptoms in a study of 60 patients after 12 weeks.
You may not have heard of Saffron, mainly because it’s the world’s most expensive spices – it’s worth more than gold.
It is grown mostly in Iran, Greece, Spain, and Italy.
Its traditionally consumed to help digest spicy food and soothe an irritated stomach.
Saffron is my favourite spice because there has been significant research showing that it can help boost serotonin and benefit mood, memory, and sexual function (hello!).
It can also help with symptoms of PMS, and when it’s combined with methadone, it can help alleviate withdrawal symptoms of patients undergoing treatment for opioid addiction.
Though there are limited human studies on the subject of saffron and depression, they are still high quality.
The studies that exist are against placebo but also against reference drugs such as the SSRI fluoxetine – these are strong markers for its beneficial effects!.
These studies show that saffron, at the recommended dose, has antidepressant properties comparable to the reference drugs.
Taking 5-HTP as a supplement increases the production of serotonin, the “happiness neurotransmitter” by the central nervous system.
5-HTP also appears to help reduce appetite, weight, and sleep terrors
5-HTP is a compound which gets converted into serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin is one of the principal neurotransmitters involved in happiness and anti-depression.
5-HTP has been used with success to restore serotonin levels in those that may suffer from decreased serotonin levels, such as the depressed and those with high levels of body inflammation (typically seen in metabolic syndrome).
A study found that patients with panic disorder experienced reduced anxiety and panic when taking 5-HTP, although the study also found that patients who did not have panic disorder did not experience the same reduction in their symptoms of anxiety.
5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, is the precursor to serotonin.
This neurotransmitter is sometimes touted to be responsible for happiness.
5-HTP is a simple way to increase brain serotonin levels.
It does this by bypassing the rate-limiting step, and users reap either the rewards or the hazards of increased brain serotonin.
It’s more available than L-tryptophan and easily taken up in the brain – 70% vs 3% of L-tryptophan.
It’s about 5-10 times more powerful than L-tryptophan, 5-HTP boosts serotonin levels in the brain and helps calm ACG hyperactivity. The ACG is the anterior cingulate gyrus, you can think of it as the brain’s gear shifter.
Several double-blind studies have shown it is also an effective mood enhancer and appetite suppressor.
5-HTP has been used with success to restore serotonin levels in those that may suffer from decreased serotonin levels, such as the depressed and those with high levels of body inflammation (those with metabolic syndrome).
Using L-theanine as a supplement for anxiety has shown a reduction in various studies. It may have the ability to reduce anxiety due to a challenging task acutely. We suggest that you have more green tea before supplementing for anxiety.
L-theanine is also great for relaxation, increasing attention/focus, and reducing stress
L–theanine is thought to work by decreasing “excitatory” brain chemicals that contribute to stress and anxiety while increasing brain chemicals that encourage a sense of calm.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea.
It’s able to cross the blood-brain barrier and can increase dopamine.
It also increases GABA and serotonin, it seems to tend to have a balancing effect on the brain. L-Theanine is one of the main active ingredients found in green tea, alongside caffeine and green tea catechins.
It helps promote relaxation and reduce drowsiness, making it potentially synergistic with caffeine.
Studies suggest L-theanine’s greatest benefits are a reduction in anxiety, stress, and a greater ability to relax.
These effects will also likely lead to an increase in sleep quality due to a night of deeper sleep, though I don’t suggest it for insomnia.
While we don't suggest a multi-vitamin for a stand alone option to reduce anxiety, it can provide a great option to limit the amount of stress and anxiety that someone may feel. There are a few quality multi-vitamins on the market and we've looked for the best ones with the right ingredients.
A double-blind study with 80 healthy males aged 18 to 42 compared the use of a daily multivitamin-mineral formula with a placebo control for 28 days.
The multivitamin contained B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Compared to the group taking the placebo, those taking the multivitamin showed significantly lower self-reported anxiety and perceived stress.
If you’re looking to feel better fast, now and later, you’ll need to give your brain the nutrition it requires.
There’s plenty of evidence that many aren’t getting enough to it.
A study from UBC found Canadian fruit and vegetable consumption down by 13 percent.
A piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association also asserted that most adults don’t get all the vitamins they need through diet alone and recommended a daily vitamin supplement for everyone because it helps prevent chronic illness.
If you want to look at the number of Canadians deficient in certain vitamins, you can look here.
Close to 90% of Canadians are deficient in Vitamin D, followed by magnesium, vitamin A, calcium, zinc, vitamin C, and folate.
I believe some of these numbers are higher than they appear as well.
In the last 15 years, there have been more than 25 reports of the mental health benefits from multivitamin/mineral formulas consisting of more than 20 minerals and vitamins.
Both of those trials showed the reduction of acute stress and anxiety scores in those taking a multivitamin/mineral.
Specifically, in the New Zealand earthquake study, the incidence of PTSD decreased from 65% to 19% after one month of treatment, the controlled group showed little improvement.
Both of these trials suggest that multivitamin/mineral complexes could be an inexpensive public health intervention for normal populations following a natural disaster.
A study in 2010 tested the effects of taking a multivitamin versus placebo on 215 men between the ages of 30 and 55.
After the month of supplementation, the multivitamin group reported improved moods and showed better mental performance. They also had a greater sense of vigour, less stress, and less mental fatigue after completing mental tasks – making them both happier and smarter.
The 2018 study found that nutritional status plays an important role in mental health, and poor nutrition may contribute to the pathogenesis of mental illness. Broad-spectrum supplements with a focus on optimizing vitamin D status may provide a new paradigm for the treatment and prevention of mental illness.
A placebo-controlled study looked at the effects of multivitamins on 81 healthy children and found those who took multivitamins performed better on 2 out of the 3 attention tasks.
quick blurb about what is does and the purpose
talk about the science here
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish oils are part of the best supplements for anxiety because it not only it can help with that but it can help reduce inflammation and drastically reduce depression
Fish oil is also used to decrease depression, triglycerides, and improve ADHD. It’s been shown to help with insomnia in women with PMS.
A 2018 review study suggests that a low intake of omega-3 fats can raise the risk of anxiety and depression and that taking omega-3 supplements could help prevent or treat these conditions.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our well-being and brain health.
According to researchers at Harvard School of Public health, low levels are one of the leading preventable causes of death.
We do not get enough dietary omega-3 fatty acids, heck most Canadian kids are deficient in omega-3s, according to this article
We know that at least 40% of Canadians aren’t getting enough omega-3s
Low levels of EPA and DHA, the two most important omega-3s that we know about are associated with
- inflammation – HERE or HERE (inflammation has also been linked to depression)
- heart disease – HERE
- ADHD – HERE
- depression and bipolar disorder – HERE
- obesity – HERE
- suicidal behaviour – HERE HERE HERE
In a 2020 study from the Amen clinic, the research team correlated the SPECT scans of 166 patients with their EPA and DHA levels found that those with the lowest levels had lower blood flow (the number one predictor of future brain problems) in the right hippocampus and posterior cingulate (one of the first areas to die in Alzheimer’s disease)
In another study by the Amen clinic, they tested the omega-3 fatty acid levels of 50 consecutive patients not taking fish oil (the most common source for EPA and DHA) who came into their clinic.
They found that 49 had suboptimal levels.
On their cognitive testing, they found another correlation between low omega-3 levels with decreased scores in mood.
The difference between fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids is that fish oil refers to a solution of fatty acids where the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are dominant.
Fish is the most common source of fish oil, but an artificially manufactured EPA/DHA dominant mixture from any source could be considered fish oil.
Typical fish oil can contain small amounts of other omega-3 fatty acids, usually DPA and fatty acids that don’t belong to the omega-3 category.
Alpha-linolenic acid (found most abundantly in nuts and seeds), is an omega-3 fatty acid that can be turned into EPA and DHA but is not itself a fish oil fatty acid and the conversion rate is low in many people.
If you do have anxiety, supplementation can be a nice alternative approach to addressing your anxiety.
It should not be your only approach to it but we’ve found it can help reduce anxious thoughts, feel calm, improve sleep and improve the effects of working with a therapist or counsellor.
Anxiety has “software” and “hardware” issues.
The hardware is your neurotransmitters, inflammatory markers, or nerve cells. You need the necessary stuff to build these, either with diet or supplements.
The software is how you talk to yourself, your thoughts, and your previous traumas. You need both working together to have a supercomputer (your brain)working optimally.
BetterHelp is an online platform that has experts that help treat anxiety at a fraction of the cost of in-person therapy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Most frequent questions and answers
Magnesium is generally regarded as the most effective supplement for calming anxiety. Each supplement should be chosen with the individual in mind, some supplements are more effective for other conditions as well. Inositol would probably work better for woman with PCOS, acne, anxiety, and panic attacks for example.
Magnesium is a natural mineral that helps the body and anxiety down. L-theanine, lavender, and kava are also wonderful to calm anxiety naturally.
Ashwaghanda may be the best vitamin or supplement for stress and anxiety. We also like to pair it with green tea