Natural Alternatives to Anxiety Medications

Naturally Savvy
Naturally Savvy

In 1998, the U.S. FDA reported the presence of unidentified contaminants in certain health food store brands of 5-HTP but no related illnesses have, to date, been documented. These contaminants can be avoided by purchasing a brand derived exclusively from natural-source Griffonia simplicifolia seeds.

Inositol

This naturally occurring form of glucose has the ability to act as a neurotransmitter for serotonin, noradrenaline, and choline receptors in the brain. Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown that virtually all types of anxiety disorders can benefit from supplementing with inositol (12,000 mg daily in divided doses).

Kava Kava

This herb is a well documented and scientifically supported anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia herb that can help relieve acute and chronic anxiety without making you feel drowsy or fatigued. Kava kava has no addictive potential and is as effective as many benzodiazepine tranquilizers (such as lorazepam and diazepam).

Kava kava should be avoided if you drink alcohol or are taking benzodiazepines such as Valium or Xanax, sleeping pills such as Seconal or Halcion, or anti-depressants such as Prozac or Zoloft. Kava kava can worsen the tremors of Parkinson’s disease and should be avoided by anyone with this disorder.

At least seven studies showed kava extract was superior to placebo in the treatment of anxiety. These studies involved doses of kava from 100 mg three times daily up to 400 mg twice daily (60 to 240 mg of kavapyrones). No side effects have been reported at these dosage levels, but kava kava can enhance the toxicity of alcohol and just about all tranquilizing drugs if used in combination at dosages above the recommended levels.

St. John's Wort

Known mainly as an antidepressant, this herb also relieves chronic anxiety without addiction and significant side effects. Unlike kava kava, which usually works immediately, you must take St. John’s wort for four to six weeks before you feel its effects.

St. John’s wort lowers anxiety levels as well as benzodiazepine tranquilizers, but does so without the side effects, such as fogging thinking. St. John’s wort is thought to work by decreasing the uptake (rate of removal) of serotonin in the brain, thereby increasing serotonin levels, which induces calm feelings.

The usual effective dose is 300 mg of the fresh freeze-dried extract (of a standardized extract containing 0.3% hypericin, the active ingredient) taken three times daily.

St. John's wort is a very complex substance with over a dozen bioactive compounds. It contains agents with antibiotic and anti-viral effects, at least one anti-inflammatory compound, a weak phytoestrogen, coumarins, and possibly an MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor).

No adverse effects in humans have ever been reported for St. John’s wort in the scientific literature. St. John's wort can cause photosensitivity in certain animals.

Valerian

Valerian is a natural sedative containing ingredients similar to those found in benzodiazepine tranquilizers like Valium. It is useful for relieving anxiety because it helps you sleep, isn't addictive, and doesn't make you feel groggy the next morning as sleeping pills can.

The usual effective anti-anxiety dose is a 150 mg capsule twice a day. If it causes drowsiness when taken during the day, take one 300 mg capsule one hour before bedtime. Valerian takes several weeks before one notices an improvement in sleep.

If you are already using sedatives such as phenobarbital or benzodiazepines, avoid valerian.

GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid)

GABA, a non-essential amino acid, is a chemical compound found in the brain that helps decrease nerve impulses. It also facilitates sleep and has a calming effect for the anxious or jittery mind.

A dose of 2500 mg twice daily for most adults may provide immediate relief for acute anxiety or panic attacks. GABA works in the brain as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, keeping the brain and body from going into "overdrive." The highest concentration of GABA in the body is in the hypothalamus, a region of the back of the brain that regulates sleep cycles, body temperature, and the activity of the pituitary gland, the master endocrine gland effecting all hormonal functions of the body.

Another way in which GABA works to enhance muscle and nerve function is by boosting growth hormone (GH) levels significantly (about five times after 90 minutes of supplementation) if taken before bedtime. While real GH is only available by prescription and costs up to $15,000 for a year’s supply and must be injected, GABA’s growth hormone-elevating effects cost about 50¢ a day and rival that of potent pharmaceutical compounds.

Supplementation of GABA is quite effective for anxiety disorders as well as insomnia, especially the type of insomnia where racing thoughts keep the individual from falling asleep.

Undesirable effects of too much GABA may include tingling or numbness in extremities or trunk of the body and mild shortness of breath. These side effects are temporary and disappear if the dosages are reduced.

Calcium and Magnesium

These minerals are effective anti-anxiety agents, especially in those suffering from the effects of low blood sugar or caffeine-related anxiety.

Hair mineral analysis usually shows abnormally high levels of these minerals if the individual has a problem with blood sugar control. Paradoxically, what brings the very high calcium and magnesium levels back to normal is supplementation with high doses of calcium and magnesium.

Recommended doses are 1000-2000 mg of calcium and 500-1000 mg of magnesium.

L-Theanine

L-Theanine is another amino acid; this one occurs naturally in green tea. It works basically by increasing the alpha waves in the brain, allowing relaxation to occur naturally.

L-Theanine increases GABA production, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It increases mental acuity, promotes concentration, improves learning, and decreases blood pressure if it’s too high. Side effects are virtually non-existent and the supplement is also non-addictive.

The dose is 1000-3000 mg daily.

Other Natural Tranquilizers

Black cohosh, chamomile, root, gotu cola, skullcap, and hops are other effective commonly used tranquilizer alternatives. Many homeopathic remedies are also quite effective for many people.

One or some combination of these natural alternatives should be effective for all but a minority of individuals suffering from anxiety disorders. For a personalized program, see your naturopath or holistic medical doctor.

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Dr. Zoltan P. Rona is a graduate of McGill University Medical School (1977) and has a Master’s Degree in Biochemistry and Clinical Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut (1984). He is past president of The Canadian Holistic Medical Association (1987-88) and is the author of three Canadian bestsellers: The Joy of Health (1991), Return to the Joy of Health (1995) and Childhood Illness and The Allergy Connection (1997). He is co-author with Jeanne Marie Martin of The Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook (1996) and is the medical editor of the Benjamin Franklin Award winning Encyclopedia of Natural Healing (1998). He has had a private medical practice in Toronto for the past 35 years, has appeared on radio and TV as well as lectured extensively in Canada and the U.S. Dr. Rona currently writes regular articles for Reader’s Digest, Alive, Vitality magazine and for several web sites. His latest book “Vitamin D, the Sunshine Vitamin” was published in 2010. In 2011, Dr. Rona was named Chief Medical Advisor for NAKA Herbs and Vitamins and has developed a line of nutritional supplements (TriStar Naturals) which are sold in health food stores across Canada. He can be found at www.highlevelwellness.ca