Anxiety and depression are on the rise in almost everywhere in the world. It’s not really surprising that one the most common question asked through this site is: “are there natural ways to reduce anxiety without booze or drugs?” or something similar. Here’s my experiences with “natural buzzes”.
Here I list my experiences with a natural supplements that reduce anxiety and stress naturally and break down their effects and the science behind them.
Natural ways to reduce anxiety
L-theanine for anxiety
Theanine is an amino acid which is obtained from tea plant leaves (Camellia sinensis). Theanine is said to be very good for reducing anxiety, and many people have find that it’s even better than alcohol. There are some interesting studies which have shown L-theanine’s power to combat anxiety and stress.
- L-theanine has been shown to promote the release of alpha brain waves, which have been linked to state of physical and mental relaxation. (Study).
- L-theanine has been shown to reduce psychological and physiological stress responses. (Study)
- L-theanine is associated with relaxation with people who have anxiety. (Study)
- In this study L-theanine promoted relaxation, but did not have anxiolytic effects (Study).
As you can see L-theanine and its relaxing effects are not just based on marketing claims – there is real science behind the claims. Although there are not robust studies that confirms its anxiolytic effects.
My personal experience is that L-theanine works greatly on calming and relaxing the mind and its also good for partying (L-theanine boost glutathione which prevents also hangover). Make sure to read full facts and my experiences with L-theanine.
Kava kava anxiety
Kava root (Piper methysticum) is a herb that is usually called as “social anxiety herb” and “The root of happiness”. Piper methysticum means “intoxicating pepper” – Why is that? Because consuming kava root gives literally same kind an effect like alcohol does.
Traditionally kava root was made to a drink or to a tea which has been used as ceremonial beverage – just like alcohol in the present days. As always you should not only look for ancient tradition uses, but also look new studies about kava:
- Kava produced significant anxiolytic and antidepressant activity and was noted as safe with no hepatotoxic signs. – Placebo-controlled trial (2009).
- Meta analysis about kava concluded: Kava appears be effective treatment option for anxiety (compared to placebo). Short-term use of kava seems to be safe up to 24 weeks. – Meta analysis about kava kava (2003)
- 4-week placebo controlled study: kava showed reduction in anxiety, and it concluded that kava is effective and safe treatment for non-psychotic anxiety. – Kava Kava treatment placebo controlled trial (2004)
- Another kava randomized placebo double-blind trial shows that kava extract works in reducing anxiety without adverse effects. – Clinical efficacy of kava extract WS 1490
- Could kava also make you feel happier and enhance cognitive performance? Well it seems to be true as this study with healthy volunteers seemed to prove. – Enhanced cognitive performance and cheerful mood by standardized extracts of Piper methysticum
“These data imply that kava extract is superior to placebo as a symptomatic treatment for anxiety. Therefore, kava extract is an herbal treatment option for anxiety that is worthy of consideration.” – Efficacy of Kava Extract for Treating Anxiety: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
On the Internet there seems to be a lot of buzz about kava safety. In 2001 there were concerns about the safety of kava, which made many countries to ban and regulate kava root. Later these claims have been proven wrong, and kava is again legal in most countries (self-check to make sure kava is legal in your country).
Here is what Wikipedia says:
“According to a recent comprehensive review of the relevant literature by Showman et al. (2014): “Despite the link to kava and liver toxicity demonstrated in vivo and in vitro, in the history of Western kava use, toxicity is still considered relatively rare. Only a fraction of the handful of cases reviewed for liver toxicity could be, with any certainty, linked to kava consumption and most of those involved the coingestion of other medications/supplements. That means that the incident rate of liver toxicity due to kava is one in 60-125 million patients.” – Wikipedia
Here is what Examine.com says:
“Many reported adverse events, but a few of them do appear to be related to either Kava itself (and some unforeseen prior condition to the person’s liver) or the combination of Kava with something else; causation has not been placed, but it would be prudent to assume a link for now” – Examine
As you can see, there is no scientific proof that safe short-term kava root usage could cause liver damage. But as a preventive measure everyone should follow these safety guidelines with kava kava.
Kava kava safety guidelines:
– Use kava only for short-term relaxation. Don’t take kava everyday more than 1 month without your doctor’s permission.
– Don’t take kava if you use any drugs that can cause liver damage or toxicity (important).
– Don’t use kava with alcohol or if you drink a lot alcohol.
– Don’t use kava if you have diagnosed liver disease.
– Only use products that contains only kava root. (Traditionally only kava root/rhizome material was used. Using kava leafs might pose a health risks)
– If you develop symptoms of liver disease (yellow eyes or skin, darker urine) stop using kava and consult your doctor immediately.
– If you use any medications or drugs check possible interactions from your doctor before using kava.
Before ordering make sure kava kava is legal in your country. For example kava is perfectly legal in US, but in Poland its banned.
Kava yogi tea – Herbal tea containing kava root extract with 30% kavalactones (the active ingredient of kava). This is probably the most easiest and safest way to use kava kava root. Pour about 16 oz of hot water to a cup and fill it with 1-3 tea bags, depending how strong kava tea you want to make. Personally 3 tea bags provides same kind a relaxation and tranquil effect like half bottle of red wine, without hangover. This tea is not the best tasting tea (taste is similar to gingerbread) but I drink it for relaxation, not for taste.
Kava Extract – Rhizome and root organic grain alcohol extract for quick relaxation. Pour ~ 40 drops of this to little amount of water and keep it under your tongue for a while. Usually it kicks in really quickly, promoting relaxation and tranquil state.
In my opinion kava is not for partying or lowering social anxiety for dates, as in those situations there is good change that you might use alcohol. But its perfect for general late night relaxation compared to alcohol. If you have problems with sleeping, kava might help promoting relaxation.
Rhodiola rosea for anxiety
It’s common to experience very calm and peaceful state after using rhodiola rosea and generally speaking it has a good reputation in alleviating anxiety and social anxiety. It’s currently researched for treating mild to moderate depression. But more research is needed before anyone can do proper conclusions.
Here is couple studies about rhodiola rosea for anxiety, stress and depression:
- In this study Rhodiola rosea relieved the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, at least based on the HARS results. However the study had a significant shortcomings: no placebo group and the sample size was very small.
- Rhodiola rosea has been shown to help in mild depression – According to: Swedish Rhodiola Rosea Extract Effective In Treating Mild To Moderate Depression In New Clinical Trial
- Stress relieving effect of rhodiola rosea was tested in Sweden with persons between ages 20-55 with stress-related fatigue. It was shown to reduce the secretion of cortisol, increase performance and ability to focus for people suffering from a burnout. The group who got the rhodiola rosea had significantly lower cortisol levels than the placebo group. – According to this study
- The same results were also demonstrated in a study conducted in China, which tested rhodiola rosea and Ginkgo bilobas effects in healthy humans. Cortisol levels in a rhodiola and ginkgo group remained at the same levels as before the test, but in the placebo group cortisol levels increased substantially. – According to this study.
Rhodiola rosea conclusion:
For my personal experience rhodiola is not good for partying or making you more social. It’s mainly good for adapting and reducing general stress, it might also be used to calming mind for tasks where you need to focus better.
For more information check out article: Rhodiola Rosea Benefits – Ancient Tonic for Modern Problems for facts, warnings and recommendations with rhodiola rosea.
Chamomile and anxiety
Chamomile is one of most famous medicinal herbs known to mankind that has been used traditionally for relaxation and calming, but compared to kava is not that effective. Other traditional uses are reducing inflammation, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, hay fever and muscle pain and spasms. There is many ways to consume chamomile, but one of the most famous ways is chamomile tea, which is consumed more than a million cups daily.
Chamomile and anxiety studies:
“Chamomile may provide clinically meaningful antidepressant activity that occurs in addition to its previously observed anxiolytic activity.” – Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) may provide antidepressant activity in anxious, depressed humans
Generally chamomile is one of the safest herbs. Though so its not recommend for people who have asthma, as there might be some problems taking chamomile if you have asthma. Also it is noted that if you’re pregnant you should not use chamomile as it might increase chance of miscarriages (see this).
Works good on relaxing stomach and has little calming effect for sleep, but definitely not for partying. I mainly use chamomile before going to sleep and occasionally as a digestive aid.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Most of us know that ashwagandha is one of the best natural testosterone booster, which actually works. But did you know that ashwagandha is also very famous for its ability to prevent and reduce anxiety. It’s said ashwagandha reduces social anxiety almost as good as alcohol and works synergistically with alcohol. There is a lot studies that confirms ashwagandha’s ability to ease anxiety, stress and reduce cortisol levels.
Here is what studies say about ashwagandha:
- Ashwagandha (600mg daily 60 days) reduced social dysfunction by whopping 68%, lowered anxiety and insomnia by 69%, and knock off depression by immense 79% – that’s pretty good for a cheap natural supplement don’t you think?
- Another study stating that deep breathing, multi vitamin and 300mg ashwagandha extract lowered 56% BAI score (Beck Anxiety Inventory):
- And another study concluding the power of ashwagandha and its anxiolytic potential:
“In the Ashwagandha group, by Day 60 there was a significant reduction in scores corresponding to all of the item-subsets: 76.1% for the “Somatic” item-subset, 69.7% for the “Anxiety and Insomnia” item-subset, 68.1% for the “Social Dysfunction” item-subset, 79.2% for the “Severe Depression” item-subset. In contrast, in the placebo control group, the corresponding reductions in scores were much smaller: 4.9%, 11.6%, –3.7% and –10.6%, respectively. As can be readily seen, the difference is at least 58 percentage points and as high as 89 percentage points.” – ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.
“Seventy-five participants (93%) were followed for 8 or more weeks on the trial. Final BAI scores decreased by 56.5% (p<0.0001) in the NC group and 30.5% (p<0.0001) in the PT group. BAI group scores were significantly decreased in the NC group compared to PT group (p = 0.003). Significant differences between groups were also observed in mental health, concentration, fatigue, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life with the NC group exhibiting greater clinical benefit. No serious adverse reactions were observed in either group." - Naturopathic care for anxiety
“It is concluded that this ethanolic extract of Withania somnifera has useful anxiolytic potential and merits further investigation.” – anxiolytic efficacy ff an ethanolic extract of withania somnifera.
Ashwagandha’s ability to reduce anxiety naturally has been proven in many scientifical human studies. It’s also cheap, safe effective herb for raising testosterone and lowering your cortisol levels. Ashwagandha is generally safe for normal healthy people. With the exception of: Don’t use ashwagandha if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, have stomach ulcer, immune systems disease, or are going to surgery. If you are using medications/drugs talk to your doctor before using Ashwagandha.
Organic India Ashwagandha capsules – Organic Ashwagandha root in capsules. One capsule contains 400mg ashwagandha, which is little more than recommended minimum dose 300mg. Definitely one of the most highest quality ashwagandha products on the market. (Most of the studies about ashwadanga have used extract, this is powdered root in capsule.)
Life Extension, Optimized Ashwagandha Extract – Sensoril® ashwagandha extract. If you don’t get benefits with normal ashwagandha powder this is way more potent choice.
I am also using ashwagandha powders to add in tea or make alcohol tincture from them.
Lavender for anxiety
Lavender is a flowering plant and its essential oil is commonly used to lower anxiety and it might also help with sleeping (1, 2, 3, 4).
Many studies have proven that lavender oil is effective for reducing anxiety as aromatherapy and oral supplement form.
Studies about using lavender to reduce anxiety:
- Silexan (lavender oil supplement formula developed in German) was effective as lorezepam in treating generalised anxiety disorder. Silexan capsule contains 80mg of lavender oil, and it was taken everyday for 6 weeks in this study.
- Even just a smell of lavender seems to reduce anxiety, according to these studies made with dental treatment patients.
- In this randomized, double-blind trial 539 adults with GAD were put on 160mg or 80mg Silexan with placebo group and active control group with paroxetine. Again lavender seems to reduce anxiety atleast in Silexan form.
- Another placebo controlled study investigating anxiolytic efficacy of silexan (80mg/day) with 221 adults who had anxiety disorder which is not specified. Yet another study stating that Silexan just seems to work and its also safe?
- Study which tested how lavender oil affects to emotional states noted this:
“In conclusion, our results demonstrate that silexan is as effective as lorazepam in adults with GAD. The safety of silexan was also demonstrated. Since lavender oil showed no sedative effects in our study and has no potential for drug abuse, silexan appears to be an effective and well tolerated alternative to benzodiazepines for amelioration of generalised anxiety.” – Lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to Lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder.
“Although anxiety about future dental visits seems to be unaffected, lavender scent reduces state anxiety in dental patients.” – The effects of lavender scent on dental patient anxiety levels
“Statistical analyses revealed that compared to control condition both ambient odors of orange and lavender reduced anxiety and improved mood in patients waiting for dental treatment” – Ambient odors of orange and lavender reduce anxiety and improve mood in a dental office.
” In addition, Silexan showed a pronounced antidepressant effect and improved general mental health and health-related quality of life. Incidence densities of adverse events (AEs) were 0.006 AEs/d for Silexan 160 mg/d, 0.008 AEs/d for 80 mg/d, 0.011 AEs/d for paroxetine, and 0.008 AEs/d for placebo. In GAD Silexan is more efficacious than placebo. AE rates for Silexan were comparable to placebo and lower than for the active control paroxetine.” – Lavender oil preparation Silexan is effective in generalized anxiety disorder
“Lavandula oil preparation had a significant beneficial influence on quality and duration of sleep and improved general mental and physical health without causing any unwanted sedative or other drug specific effects. Lavandula oil preparation silexan is both efficacious and safe for the relief of anxiety disorder not otherwise specified. It has a clinically meaningful anxiolytic effect and alleviates anxiety related disturbed sleep.” – Silexan, an orally administered Lavandula oil preparation
“The results revealed that lavender oil caused significant decreases of blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature, which indicated a decrease of autonomic arousal. In terms of mood responses, the subjects in the lavender oil group categorized themselves as more active, fresher relaxed than subjects just inhaling base oil. Compared with base oil, lavender oil increased the power of theta (4-8 Hz) and alpha (8-13 Hz) brain activities. The topographic map showed obviously more scattering power in alpha range waves particularly in bilateral temporal and central area.” – The effects of lavender oil inhalation on emotional states, autonomic nervous system, and brain electrical activity.
As you can see, according to studies lavander seems to be effective lowering anxiety, at least in silexan form.
Best way to take lavender is to supplement it orally. Topical application of lavender oil could lead to skin damage and even bigger problems. (see Lavender and Tea Tree Oils May Cause Breast Growth in Boys). Lavender oil might be endocrine disrupting agent, that’s why it might not be the best choice for men. Don’t rub it to yourself, at least not in the balls in any form (many soap contains lavender oil and tea tree oil). If you are obsessed about testosterone levels I suggest to skip lavender entirely.
Some massage places offer lavender aromatherapy as its proven to lower anxiety (see above studies), but they don’t rub it to your skin usually, if they do – please educate them.
As you can see there are some scientifically proven supplements and herbs that reduce anxiety naturally. Please note that every person has different background, inherited genetics, metabolism and life situation, and the result may vary with natural herbs and supplements that reduce anxiety. But if I’d be now struggling with anxiety: I’d first test L-theanine, Ashwagandha and Rhodiola Rosea as they seem’s to be very effective for most people.
Passionflower, St John’s Wort, Valerian, Lemon balm, GINKGO are other herbs that might lower anxiety naturally, which I haven’t tested or their scientifical proof is weak. I might write about these later or add them to this list.
Please note these are just my notes and experiences from the products I have used to lower my anxiety. Everything here is for information purposes, not a medical advice. I’ll only share what worked for me, and I am in no way implying that results are typical.