Anxiety is one of the most common mood disorders (if not the most common) and definitely one of the top conditions I've seen in practice. I always ALWAYS advise lifestyle changes as first line treatment, which include exercise and eating healthy foods, but when that is not enough I will recommend certain supplements before jumping straight to medication.
I don't love anxiety medication in general because some of them can lead to serious problems, such as addiction (ie. Xanax), and most can cause too much of a calming effect. Anti-anxiety medications also come along with a whole list of side effects (some more pronounced in certain individuals than others) and can end up causing more problems than what the individual started with. So for someone with mild to moderate anxiety, lifestyle changes and supplements are a great way to get your mood back in check.
Here are my 9 top recommendations of supplements to help decrease anxiety:
1. Vitamin B12
What: Vitamin B12 helps with the production of major neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine, which work to modulate mood and decrease anxiety. Read more about this here.
Dose: 1,000 mcg daily as methylcobalamin sublingual, lozenge, or spray
How to take: Morning
2. Vitamin B6
What: This vitamin assists with the production of the major neurotransmitters that regulate mood, which include serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. Vitamin B6 specifically assists with the production of serotonin's direct precursor, 5-HTP - so the more the 5-HTP, the more serotonin that can be made. Read more about Vitamin B6 here.
Dose: 2.5 mg daily as pyridoxal-5-phosphate
How to take: Once or twice daily
What: This amino acid activates GABA in the brain to induce calm without sedation. Read more about this here.
Dose: 100+ mg daily as L-theanine
How to take: With food
4. Lemon balm
What: This is an herb that may help to decrease stress and induce more feelings of calm. Read more about the calming When combined with valerian root it's anxiolytic and anti-insomnia effects may be pronounced - read more here.
Dose: 600 mg or 60 drops tincture daily as Melissa officinalis
How to take: Once daily
What: This is an amino acid that helps to boost dopamine and norepinephrine, which are neurotransmitters that help to calm the mind and decrease anxiety. Read more about L-tyrosine here.
Dose: 500 mg 1-4x daily as L-Tyrosine
How to take: With food
6. DHA/EPA Omega-3 Fatty Acids
What: Omega-3 fatty acids decrease inflammation in the brain which may help to lessen anxiousness and perceived stress by the brain. Read more about this here and here.
Dose: 2,000+ mg daily as combined DHA/EPA
How to take: With a meal
What: This supplement helps to boost GABA in the brain, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for promoting calm and relaxation. Read more about this here.
Dose: 200 mg nightly as Passiflora incarnata
How to take: 60 minutes before sleep (can make sleepy)
What: Chamomile as a supplement has been shown to be an effective treatment of decreasing anxiety. Read more about this here and here.
Dose: 500 mg 1-3x per day as Matricaria recutita or chamomilla
How to take: Bed time (also good for promoting relaxation before sleep)
What: This compound is the direct precursor to serotonin (main neurotransmitter involved with stable mood) and helps to boost serotonin levels in the brain. Read more about 5-HTP here.
Dose: 100 mg 1-3x daily as 5-Hydroxytryptophan
How to take: With a meal
Always speak to your health care provider before trying any supplement and be cautious whenever trying a new supplement because you don't know how you will react.
Diet is always the most important in terms of a healthy body, but exercise can be a great addition to help sculpt your body. Unfortunately, a good majority of individuals exercise regularly but don't see results, and may even end up gaining more fat than what they started with - no bueno!
Here are crucial tips, powered by HealthyBot, on how to optimize fitness to increase fat burning and help you reach your body composition goals.
To put it simply, you want as much muscle as you can because muscle is what increases your metabolism. The more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn at any given time. Gain muscle and minimize muscle loss by adding strength training exercises to your workout routine. This could be any variation of strength training: yoga, barre, pilates, heavy lifting, etc. Another benefit of strength training is that it will cause you to continue to burn more calories even after the strength session is over.
Real Life Example: I had two female patients one day. One was 130 lbs and had 18% body fat and her resting metabolic rate was 1450 (resting metabolic rate is the bare minimum amount of calories you will burn in a day) which means her body was mostly muscle. The second patient was 170 lbs and had 47% body fat (meaning about half of her body was fat) and her resting metabolic rate was 1150. This means that even though the 130 lbs patient weighed 40 lbs LESS, because she was mostly muscle and very low fat, she burned about 300 calories more per day than the patient with almost 50% fat. To put this in perspective, to burn 300 calories it would take about an hour of exercise. This is an example of why you want to build and preserve muscle because it is what will determine how many calories you burn daily.
Just say no to steady-state cardio
This type of exercise is really a waste of time in terms of weight loss. It is inefficient because it leads to muscle wasting rather than muscle building and you really don't burn many calories from it. With steady-state cardio you also stop burning calories once you stop the exercise - this is unlike high intensity interval training or strength training which causes you to continue burning calories for hours after the workout.
Note: Any type of cardio is good for your heart, stress relief, and improved mood - however not good for weight loss.
10,000 steps per day
This means you are moving around more so than sitting, those little movements everyday will add up to you burning more calories. Even just standing rather than sitting will activate more muscles and cause you to burn more calories. Aim to get up and move around at least once an hour, if you subtract 8 hours of sleep, this means you have 16 hours to move. Increase walks throughout the day by walking 10 minutes around the block before work, walking at least 10 minutes at lunch time, and walking after dinner for at least 10 minutes - walking after eating also helps with digestion, another added benefit!
Real life example: All the time I have patients come back from vacation saying they walked a lot but barely did any other exercise and definitely did not follow a healthy diet. More often than not, they end up losing fat and gaining or maintaining muscle. How does this happen?! Well, when you are on vacation you tend to be moving around more, you are constantly on the go, and you are walking all over the place. Don't underestimate the power of walking and movement, it really can make a big difference. Another reason can be due to a more relaxed state and less cortisol production while you are on vacation. Elevated cortisol comes from too much exercise and/or too much stress, and cortisol favors muscle breakdown and fat accumulation. Good reason to book your next vacation!
High intensity interval training (aka HIIT) means you are doing short bursts of exercise followed by short periods of rest. HIIT has shown to be the most efficient and effective form of exercise because it helps you to build muscle and burn more calories even after the workout is done, and is under 30 minutes. This should be done every 48-72 hours, maximum 3x per week because too much high intensity back-to-back doesn't allow your body to rebuild itself and can lead to muscle breakdown and loss - which you know from above is the last thing you want for your metabolism.
Mix it up
Doing different types of exercise means your body is never able to adapt to a workout and keeps your body guessing. Mix up your workouts weekly or every 2-3 weeks. If you continue to do the exact same exercises for longer than a few weeks, your body gets really good at doing these exercises and is not challenged anymore because it knows what to expect. When your body goes on autopilot and is no longer challenged, it will stop burning as many calories.
Give your body at least one day off from exercise per week, it needs this rest time to heal and rebuild muscle. Also too much exercise will cause high levels of cortisol in your body. High levels of cortisol in your body favors fat accumulation and muscle wasting - not a good combo! On your rest day(s) walking and stretching is still great - a rest day does not mean you have to sit on the coach all day.
Sleep is so important because it is when your body rebuilds and makes muscle. It is absolutely necessary for muscle growth and the prevention of muscle breakdown. Someone who is exercising regularly will need more sleep than someone who does not exercise - good excuse to sleep in! Exercise will also allow you to sleep better, and is one of the best ways to increase the quality of your sleep - just make sure you are done exercising at least 2 hours before you want to go to sleep because exercise revs you up and makes you alert, which is the last thing you want before you try to sleep.
Board Certified Nurse Practitioner in California. Blogging about health, fitness and mindfulness.