Certain supplements may help a little with mild to moderate anxiety. But in most cases, the evidence is slim. So don’t expect a miracle cure.
And even though you can get them without a prescription, supplements can come with risks or side effects. So proceed with caution. Be sure to talk to your doctor first, especially if you are taking prescription meds.
What the Evidence Says
- Kava. You can find kava in various forms, including capsules, powders, and liquid extracts. It’s often labeled as a stress reliever, and some evidence suggests it may have a small effect on anxiety. However, kava can cause serious liver damage. In fact, researchers had to stop a clinical trial of kava because of this concern.
- Passionflower. You can get this supplement dried for making tea or as an extract, capsule, or tablet. Some small studies suggest passionflower may help with anxiety. But experts say there’s not enough evidence to know for sure. If you want to try it, it’s generally safe. But it can make you drowsy.
- Valerian. Some people report less anxiety and stress when they take valerian, which comes from a pink flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. Study results are mixed though. You can get a tea or tincture of the plant’s dried roots and capsules or tablets of the dried plant. It may cause headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness.
- Chamomile. Extract from the daisy-like flower may help with anxiety according to small clinical studies. You can get it in teas, extracts, tablets, or capsules. Note that some people are allergic to this herb.
- Lavender. People take lavender capsules or inhale its vapor to help with anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping. Study results about its effects on anxiety are mixed.
- Lemon Balm. Medical use of this lemon-scented herb dates back more than 2,000 years. But there’s not a lot of evidence of its benefits. In at least one small study, lemon balm extract relieved stress in people with mild to moderate anxiety.
- Amino Acids. A small trial in Japan showed that a combination of two amino acids -- 2.64 grams each of L-lysine and L-arginine daily -- helped to reduce stress and anxiety. Both amino acids are available in tablets and capsules.
- Magnesium. Several studies suggest that magnesium may improve anxiety. But experts consider the evidence poor. That doesn’t mean that magnesium doesn’t have benefits. It simply means the studies don’t necessarily prove that. Magnesium is available in tablets.
- Fish Oil. Better known for its potential heart health benefits, this “good fat” might reduce anxiousness. In a small trial, medical students taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements had lower anxiety. These gel capsules are easy to find in supermarkets.
- Antioxidants. One study showed people with anxiety had low levels of vitamins A, E, and C. These are antioxidants that help reduce damage to your cells. Taking these vitamins for six weeks helped reduce anxiety.
What About CBD Oil?
You might have noticed CBD oil popping up in stores or online lately. CBD stands for cannabidiol. It comes from marijuana plants, but it won’t get you high.
Are Supplements OK With My Prescriptions?
If a doctor diagnosed you with an anxiety disorder, there’s a good chance you’re taking a prescription drug. Many people with anxiety or depression take drugs known as SSRIs that work by changing your brain chemistry. Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft are common SSRIs.
You should be aware that herbal remedies are not harmless. Adding them to other drugs might cause serious problems. Those problems may include fever, diarrhea, chills, extreme drowsiness, or seizures. Taking vitamins is often OK. To be on the safe side, don’t take any supplements before asking your doctor. If you are taking supplements or any over-the-counter medications, make sure to tell you doctor about them.
General Warnings About Supplements for Anxiety
Before you take supplements for anxiety, here are some things to consider:
- The evidence for supplements varies. You may feel more relaxed or less anxious when taking certain herbal remedies or vitamins. But clinical trials haven’t proven that they can treat an anxiety disorder.
- The supplements you buy online or in stores may differ from the ones researchers have used in clinical studies.
- Supplement makers must label their products correctly. But federal rules for dietary supplements aren’t as strict as they are for prescription drugs.
- Dietary supplements can have serious side effects, including liver damage.
- Researchers haven’t tested supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children.
If you are struggling with anxiety, see a doctor for help.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Anxiety at a Glance,” “Kava,” “Passionflower,” “Valerian,” “Chamomile,” “Lavender,” “Using Dietary Supplements Wisely.”
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Kava.”
Clinicaltrials.gov: “Kava for the Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).”
Mayo Clinic: “Herbal Treatment for Anxiety: Is It Effective?” “Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).”
Journal of Psychopharmacology: “Subchronic treatment with St John's wort produces a positive shift in emotional processing in healthy volunteers.”
Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism: “Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances.”
Biomedical Research: “Oral treatment with L-lysine and L-arginine reduces anxiety and basal cortisol levels in healthy humans.”
Nutrients: “The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress -- A Systematic Review.”
Brain, Behavior, and Immunity: “Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial.”
Indian Journal of Psychiatry: “Role of antioxidants in generalised anxiety disorder and depression.”
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Can CBD Help with My Anxiety and Depression?”
Starting Point Behavioral Healthcare: “Are vitamins and supplements OK with my anxiety & depression meds?”