There’s no doubt about it: these are stressful times. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that symptoms of anxiety disorder in the U.S. population have tripled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And, while pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medications exist, these can be highly addictive and feature a litany of potentially dangerous side effects. But, did you know that peer-reviewed research has revealed that certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients may possess natural anxiety-reducing effects?
Let’s take a look at four of the best mood-stabilizing, calming supplements.
Fish oil helps support emotional equilibrium
Fish oil contains EPA and DHA, a pair of polyunsaturated fatty acids known as omega-3s.
These beneficial anti-inflammatory fats are not only great for heart health but may have antidepressant and anxiety-reducing effects as well. In fact, researchers say that omega-3s are a “must-have” for the brain, which is, itself, composed of 60 percent fatty acids.
In a recent review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network, researchers reported that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids could cause improvement in anxiety symptoms.
Scientists at the renowned Harvard Medical School chimed in, acknowledging that EPA and DHA have “potential to benefit people with mood disorders.”
Omega-3s are essential nutrients which must be obtained through diet or supplementation – and studies show that people who don’t ingest enough are at higher risk for anxiety and depression.
You can ramp up your dietary intake of omega-3s with cold-water fatty fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and shrimp. But, if you are a vegetarian or vegan - no worries, omega-3s are also found in flaxseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts.
Natural health experts typically advise fish oil in dosages of 500 to 1,000 mg a day - but check first with your own integrative physician. And, of course, make sure to choose a high-quality fish oil from a reputable vendor.
Brighten your outlook with the “sunshine vitamin”
Produced in the skin in response to sunlight, vitamin D is a vitamin-like hormone that acts like a natural steroid. In addition to its bone-building duties, it plays a huge role in boosting the immune system and in regulating mood.
Vitamin D also fights inflammation, recognized by scientists as a key mechanism in the development of depression. Studies have shown that low vitamin D levels are linked with depression and mood disorders - and that supplementation may help ease anxiety.
Unfortunately, between 40 and 80 percent of Americans are estimated to be low in this important nutrient – particularly in wintertime, when sunlight is scarce. While the best way to get vitamin D is by exposure to direct sunshine, you can also consume it in fatty fish, cage-free eggs and organic mushrooms.
If you live in a northern climate, or if you are vegan or vegetarian, you may need vitamin D supplementation to keep up healthy levels (advised by natural health experts as 50 to 80 ng/mL). Your integrative healthcare provider can help to advise you about what's best for you.
"Bonus tip:" Make sure to choose vitamin D3 (calciferol), which is more easily absorbed by the body than plant-based vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). And, some of the co-factors that enhance absorption are: zinc, boron and magnesium.
“B calm” naturally with B-complex vitamins
B-complex vitamins play an important a role in the breakdown of food, the release of energy and the production of protein and DNA. They are also essential for brain and nerve function.
A 2018 study found that people who ate foods high in B-complex vitamins scored better on anxiety scales than those with lower intakes, while authors of a 2019 review published in Nutrients credited vitamin B supplementation with lowering stress levels.
Vitamin B12, or cyanocobalamin, appears to be particularly important to mental health.
Low levels of vitamin B12 are linked with depression and mood disorders, with scientists warning that deficiencies can cause anxiety, panic and even – in severe cases – hallucinations.
Another vitamin in the B family - vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) - synthesizes serotonin and dopamine, a pair of neurotransmitters needed for stable mood and relaxation. And, small studies have shown that increasing vitamin B6 can decrease anxiety from PMS.
Clearly, avoiding shortfalls of B vitamins is a valuable weapon in preventing anxiety and depression. Naturally, an integrative physician can advise an appropriate amount of vitamin B-complex supplement, depending on your health status.
Turn to the “mellow mineral” for anxiety relief
Sometimes referred as the body’s “orchestrator,” magnesium is an essential mineral that is responsible for over 300 functions in the body. Not only does magnesium ease tension and anxiety by regulating neurotransmitters important to mental health - such as serotonin and GABA – but it also reduces levels of cortisol, the “stress” hormone.
Research supports magnesium’s mood-stabilizing effects. A 2017 review revealed that magnesium helps with pre-existing mild to moderate anxiety – including anxiety resulting from premenstrual syndrome.
And, in one compelling study, 12 weeks of 450 mg a day of elemental magnesium was shown to be roughly as effective in reducing depression as 50 mg a day of imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant. But, be warned...
You can find magnesium in good supply in organic dark leafy greens, legumes, avocados, dark chocolate and almonds.
The National Institute of Medicine recommend that men should consume 420 mg of dietary magnesium a day, while women should try for 320 mg. Yet, natural health experts typically recommend supplementary magnesium at around 400 mg a day, but – as always – check first with your own knowledgeable integrative doctor.
The straight truth: Living in these pandemic times is enough to induce fits of nail-biting anxiety in even the most serene individuals. When it comes to safely “taking the edge off,” these naturally calming supplements could do the trick.
Sources for this article include:CalmClinic.com