What is an anxiolytic?
Anxiolytics are minor tranquilizers prescribed to treat and prevent symptoms of anxiety. Many use the term to refer to drugs, but in this article I want to discuss the natural anxiolytics-things like botanicals, herbs, supplements and good ol’ food. These natural anxiolytics can be used as a complement to traditional anxiety treatment or even a helpful alternative to medication.
A side note on medication for anxiety…I will always be an advocate for people to do what feels right for them. If that includes medication for your mental health struggles, I think it can be a helpful option and is completely necessary at times. I am also an advocate for natural treatments as I feel they help bring balance back to our body and mind, and can even support the underlying cause of the anxiety and/or depression. Always speak to your healthcare provider to help you make an informed decision and before beginning any supplement program.
Tryptophan- an amino acid that can boost the production and release of serotonin (a hormone that balances out your mood). Food sources of tryptophan include turkey and chicken, fish, eggs, pineapples, bananas, avocados, plums, dark chocolate and seaweed like spirulina.
Theanine- an amino acid that has anti-anxiety and calming effects and may increase the production of serotonin and dopamine. A great source of theanine is green tea or matcha powder. If you’re a coffee drinker and you regularly struggle with anxiety symptoms or panic attacks, I suggest swapping some of your coffee for green tea or a matcha latte. Depending on how sensitive you are to the effects of caffeine, green tea can be a better option. Worth a try if it means you might not get the shakes and the heart palpitations along with your morning cup of coffee!
Oats- and other complex carbs (slow-burning) can also impact serotonin levels. Opt for gluten-free oats if you need to. Steel cut oats are also a great option for a calming, nourishing effect; they’re full of important nutrients like magnesium. We often consume oats for breakfast but try them later in the day to experience their calming effects. A simple recipe to try: boil water, add oats (1 part oats: 2 parts water) then add in a sweetener like blackstrap molasses. It's high in iron, copper, magnesium, potassium and manganese. Top with some berries and a nut butter!
Omega 3 Fatty Acids- foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Find them in foods like fish, seafood, olive oil, spinach, brazil nuts and chia seeds.
Magnesium- an anti-stress mineral, magnesium supports healthy cognitive function and mood. Magnesium can improve serotonin synthesis and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. There are different forms to supplement with so be sure to speak with a qualified healthcare provider before supplementing. Foods high in magnesium include whole grains, figs, fish and seafood, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, spinach and swiss chard. Another way to add in magnesium is through Epsom salt baths or a magnesium spray.
I like to focus on adding in foods and supplements that are helpful without focusing on restrictions, but now that we’ve covered the add-ins, please remember that evidence increasingly shows that diets high in processed foods can increase anxiety. When you can, limit processed, packaged, convenient foods and I bet you’ll notice a huge difference in your mental well-being.
Skullcap-extracts have been reported to reduce anxiety, due to the components that promote GABA activity. GABA is a neurotransmitter that works to reduce excitability of a neural network, low levels are associated with restlessness, anxiety, insomnia and poor mood state. Anti-anxiety medication also works on GABA receptors, but can have adverse psychological and physical effects.
Kava Kava-components of this plant bind to GABA receptors, dopamine receptors and opiate receptors and serves as a relaxant. Kava is the most studied and also demonstrates the best results against mild anxiety.
St. John’s wort-usually we hear about this aromatic plant as it’s used as an antidepressant. It works to increase brain levels of serotonin and has been shown to reduce anxiety. It should not be taken along with antidepressant medication or used when pregnant.
Ginkgo biloba-studies have shown that these extracts exert anxiolytic and antidepressant activity. Other studies reported that Ginkgo biloba extracts activate GABA pathways and act like benzodiazepines, reducing anxiety in patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
These are just a few of the botanicals that can be helpful in managing anxiety symptoms. There can be contraindications with each one so it’s important to do your research and work with a qualified health professional.
Essential oils can also be used as natural anxiolytics, due to their effect on the nervous system. The best oils to use for anxiety are citrus oils like lemon, orange and bergamot, lavender, rose, clary sage, sandalwood and Roman chamomile.
As you can see, there are lots of options when it comes to managing anxiety symptoms and these are just a small snapshot of what’s available. If you’re interested in learning more and considering using some of these supplements or herbs, book a discovery call with me and we can chat about how you can work with Shine True Wellness.
Disclaimer: This article is meant to inform and educate, not diagnose or treat any health conditions. Please always speak with your healthcare provider if you’re thinking about adding in anything listed above.
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