Lorazepam is prescribed for short-term anxiety caused by panic, stress or trauma. It is a benzodiazepine, a class of drugs that depress the central nervous system. The Mayo Clinic states that lorazepam can be addicting and have unpleasant side effects, including amnesia, sedation and dizziness. Lorazepam works by binding to benzodiazepine sites, also known as GABAa sites, in the brain and enhancing the calming effects of the neurotransmitter GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid. Herbs that bind to these sites perform the same function as lorazepam, without the negative side effects or potential for addiction.
Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is a non-addictive sedative herb used throughout the world to reduce anxiety and promote sleep. In their 2009 book, “Medicinal Plants of the World,” Ben-Erik van Wyk and Michael Wink state that, pharmacologically, Valerian interacts with the benzodiazepine sites in the brain. By binding to benzodiazepine sites, Valerian increases the availability of GABA in brain cells, known as neurons. When GABA is activated, it inhibits neurons from firing, thereby producing a calming, anti-anxiety and sedative effect.
Noni (Morinda citrifolia) is a tropical tree that produces a bitter fruit with medicinal properties. Noni is the Hawaiian name for the plant, which is also called vomit fruit and cheese fruit because of its pungent odor. A study published in the August 2007 issue of “Phytomedicine” found that an extract of noni fruit showed a preference for binding to GABAa receptors, enhancing the availability of GABA and producing sedative and anti-anxiety effects.
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) is an important herb in traditional Chinese, Korean and Japanese medicines. It is known as the “female ginseng” because of its central role in treating women's reproductive problems, including the depression and anxiety often associated with premenstrual syndrome and menopause. A study reported in the November 2006 issue of “Phytochemical Analysis” found that an extract of dong quai root contains two organic compounds, gelispirolide and riligustilide, which can bind to GABAa receptors. The authors suggest that these compounds might explain the sedative effect of dong quai on menopausal women.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is an important medicinal herb in traditional Chinese medicine and Indian ayurvedic medicine. Practitioners use gotu kola to treat a range of disorders, including mental fatigue, poor memory, anxiety, nervous conditions, skin diseases and epilepsy. A study published in the September 2007 issue of the “Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology” found that gotu kola increases GABA levels in the brain by stimulating glutamic acid decarboxylase, an enzyme involved in the production of GABA.
- Mayo Clinic
- “Medicinal Plants of the World”; Ben-Erik van Wyk and Michael Wink; 2009
- “Phytomedicine”; Noni as an anxiolytic and sedative: a mechanism involving its gamma-aminobutyric acidergic effects; Deng S, West BJ, Palu AK, Zhou BN, Jensen CJ; August 2007
- “Phytochemical Analysis”; GABAergic Phthalide Dimers from Angelica sinensis (Oliv.) Diels; Deng S, Chen SN, Lu J, Wang ZJ, Nikolic D, van Breemen RB, Santarsiero BD, Mesecar A, Fong HH, Farnsworth NR, Pauli GF; November 2006
- “Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology”; Effects of traditionally used anxiolytic botanicals on enzymes of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system; Awad R, Levac D, Cybulska P, Merali Z, Trudeau VL, Arnason JT; September 2007