How Supplements Treat Stress In The Brain
Before we jump into therapy options, let’s discuss the two targets in the brain that help decrease symptoms of stress and anxiety:
- GABA: This is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. If our brains were a superhighway, you can think of GABA as the substance that helps put on the brakes.
- Serotonin: This is an excitatory neurotransmitter. This is one of the substances that makes us feel good! Low serotonin is associated with conditions such as anxiety and depression
So the goal of our therapy choices is to increase GABA and serotonin activity in the body to decrease stress.
5 Over-the-Counter Supplements that Combat Stress
Kava is probably the best-researched supplement in treating anxiety and stress. Kava increases GABA receptors to help regulate anxiety symptoms and can be taken for multiple months. You can take kava capsules by mouth, but traditionally it is made into a tea to drink once daily. Yum! Research indicates that kava can be as effective as low doses of prescription anxiety medications such as lorazepam or clonazepam. However, if you have any liver-related disease, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting kava.
Ashwagandha is a very old herb used in Ayurvedic (whole-body) medicine. It helps reduce anxiety symptoms and is often recognized for providing increased vitality. The best part of ashwagandha — virtually no side effects! So if you are worried about adverse events or if you have multiple other conditions, this is your safest option.
Remember serotonin? 5-HTP is its technical name and L-tryptophan is the closely related sister. L-tryptophan breaks down into 5-HTP in the body, so taking either of these will increase your serotonin levels and decrease your anxiety. Specifically, these substances may be beneficial in treating anxiety related to phobias or fears. If you start either L-tryptophan or 5-HTP, you’ll want to watch out for potential muscle aches or cramps.
L-theanine is the beneficial ingredient in green tea that can help with anxiety. L-theanine is an amino acid or building block that helps our body function properly. It is thought that L-theanine can increase levels of both GABA and serotonin so this supplement could be your 1-2 punch to knock out those feelings of stress. L-theanine is also found in green tea if you prefer a morning cup over taking a daily capsule.
Multiple oils have great stress-relieving properties, but my favorites include lavender, patchouli, and frankincense! Essential oils are great and can be used in multiple ways. Grab a diffuser and let it go in your living room during breakfast or dinner, rub a few drops into your wrist, or place a few drops on your pillow before you go to bed at night — the possibilities are endless!
Sona Pharmacy sells all these products individually, but there are also multiple combination products available if you’re interested in combining multiple nonprescription options. You can always call 828-298-3636 to discuss with a pharmacist what option might be best for you.
Natural Medicines in the Clinical Management of Anxiety. Natural Medicines Database. Accessed June 29, 2020.
Sibley, C. 10 Natural Remedies to Consider for Treating Anxiety. Pharmacy Times. Posted October 26, 2017.
Pittler MH, Ernst E. Kava extract for treating anxiety. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(1):CD003383
Bongiorno, P. Ashwagandha for Anxiety. Psychology today. Posted January 8, 2014.