Anxiety disorders are common in the United States. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports approximately 40 million American adults have an anxiety disorder, and approximately one-half of those diagnosed with depression also have an anxiety disorder. Some people prefer not to take medications, while others experience side effects and turn to herbs for relief. You should not take herbs for depression or anxiety without consulting your doctor.
"Best" is a Slippery Concept
Herbs are a time-honored method or dealing with a variety of medical problems. Research in this area lags behind that of conventional medications, however. Most herbal preparations are investigated alone or in comparison to placebo rather than in head-to-head trials, which makes it difficult to determine the best choice from several different alternatives. In addition, people respond differently to both herbs and conventional medicines, so what’s best for one person might not be helpful for another. But two herbs that do seem to have good scientific evidence are kava for anxiety and hypericum for depression.
Kava, a plant-based medicine derived from Piper methysticum, was effective in treating generalized anxiety in a study reported in the October 2013 “Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.” Participants were given a six-week trial of kava extract or placebo, and their anxiety was measured with a standardized scale. Twenty-six percent of the kava group had a significant reduction in anxiety, compared with only 6 percent of the placebo group. The kava group reported more headaches but no other adverse reactions.
St. John’s wort, derived from the flowers of the perennial shrub Hypericum perforatum, is effective for treating mild to moderate depression, according to an October 2010 article in “Nutrition Journal." A December 2011 article in “European Neuropsychopharmacology” reported a high level of evidence to support the use of St. John’s wort in treating major depression. The article’s authors reviewed multiple research studies on the use of a variety of herbal medications for depression, anxiety and insomnia.
In your quest to help manage anxiety and depression, don’t overlook the basics, especially when it comes to nutrition. For example, a 2010 article on the PsychCentral website reports that nutrients such as amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and E and folate may have the potential to help alleviate symptoms and severity of depression. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics notes caffeine, especially in high doses, can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, so you might begin your anxiety-management program by slowly tapering your caffeine until you can eliminate it without hardship.