America is one nation under stress. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 40 million adults suffer from severe anxiety disorders each year, and virtually everyone deals with less debilitating but still harmful levels of anxiety on at least an occasional basis. But while we spend billions of dollars on prescription medications that promise to calm us down, drugs aren’t always necessary. According to a recent systematic review of studies conducted by the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation in Los Angeles, “nutritional and herbal supplementation is an effective method for treating anxiety and anxietyrelated conditions without the risk of serious side effects.” That’s particularly true for mild or chronic symptoms, or for situational anxiety (related to an exam, for instance), says Boston-based naturopath Cathy Wong, N.D., C.N.S. Of course, lifestyle solutions—including regular exercise (Wong recommends cardio as well as calming activities like yoga and tai chi), a balanced diet and minimizing stressful experiences as much as possible—can also go a long way in easing anxiety. But for occasional or less extreme issues, the options that follow are well worth exploring.
B-COMPLEX This is a good first step for anxiety relief. “B vitamins are essential for stress management, energy production and neurotransmitter balance,” says Wong. Helpful supplements usually include vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), B7 (biotin), B9 (folic acid) and B12 (cyanocobalamin). Dosage: Look for a B-complex containing all eight essential B vitamins or a multivitamin designed for stress support. Try: New Chapter Organics Perfect Calm ($46 for 144 tablets; drugstore.com)
GABA Also known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, GABA has a calming effect on the brain similar to that achieved by medications such as Valium and Xanax. “GABA is a nonessential amino acid and neurotransmitter that blocks stress and anxiety by preventing neurons from over-firing,” Wong says. “It’s produced naturally in the body but also is available in supplement form.” Dosage: 500 milligrams to 3 grams daily. Try: Rainbow Light Busy Brain Release ($24 for 60 minitabs; rainbowlight.com)
MAGNESIUM A study published in Current Medical Research and Opinion found that magnesium—when combined with Crataegus oxyacantha (evergreen hawthorn) and Eschscholtzia californica (California poppy) extracts—was more effective than placebo in treating patients with mild to moderate anxiety. Also effective for easing muscle tension, the essential mineral’s most common side effect is loose stools, says Wong. Magnesium may also interfere with the efficacy of certain medications including ACE inhibitors, diabetes medication and tetracycline. Dosage: 200 to 300 milligrams twice daily. Try: Twinlab Magnesium Caps ($7 for 200 capsules; vitaminshoppe.com)
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