Powerful vitamins and supplements that help ease anxiety and combat stress naturally
- If you're deficient in a certain vitamin or mineral, it may exacerbate your
- Make sure you're reaching your daily value of vitamin D, B-complex, and omega-3s.
Therapy and medications are common ways to treat anxiety but some research shows that
Nearly one-third of people will have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, and each year up to 19% of the US adult population and 9.4% of children aged 3-17 are affected by them.
Important: "Although adding vitamins and supplements can help reduce the feeling of anxiety, some people may need additional professional help. It's always a good idea to consult your doctor to see what the best course of action is," says Melissa Snover, a nutrition expert and founder and CEO of Nourished.
Here are some common vitamins and supplements for anxiety, what the research shows, and how much you need.
A small 2019 study of people with generalized anxiety disorder who also had low levels of Vitamin D found that weekly doses of 50,000 International Units (IU) for three months reduced the severity of their anxiety symptoms and raised levels of serotonin — a chemical in the brain involved with depression and anxiety.
Although low vitamin D levels can contribute to anxiety, the good news is that getting more of it is simple — it just requires getting some sunshine. Vitamin D is unique in that the body makes it when bare skin is exposed to sunlight.
As little as 10-15 minutes of sunlight on your arms and legs three times a week can be enough to get the recommended amount of vitamin D — 15 mcg, or 600 IU per day.
- Salmon: 2.5 ounces of sockeye salmon contains between 394 to 636 IU of vitamin D, depending on whether it's raw, canned, or cooked
- Oysters: 1 raw cup contains 794 IU of vitamin D
- Mushrooms: Amounts vary depending on the type, but two examples are portobellos which have 976 IU vitamin D per cup and maitake which contain 786 IU per cup
- Egg yolks: Each one has 41 IU of vitamin D
- Deli meats like salami, beef, pork, or bologna have between 30 to 54 IU per three-slice serving
And some foods are usually fortified with it, including:
- Milk from cows and non-dairy milks
- Many breakfast cereals
- Orange juice
If you don't eat many foods containing vitamin D or live in a place without much sunlight, then taking a supplement could be useful. According to the Mayo Clinic dosages of 1000-2000 IU per day are safe to take.
Important: It's always a good idea to check in with your doctor before starting a supplement. In the case of vitamin D, they can test your blood levels and recommend an appropriate dosage.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Just how much omega-3s may help reduce your anxiety is up to you and your doctor. However, a large 2018 review that included over 1200 people found that those who took more than 2,000 mg/day of an omega-3 supplement saw improvement in their anxiety whereas those who took less than 2,000 mg/day saw no improvement.
It's important to specify here that the supplements these study participants took were a combination of eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). (There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA, and lastly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).)
When talking about omega-3's effects on cortisol and anxiety, EPA and DHA are typically the ones that help. The best way to get more EPA and DHA is by eating more fish or taking a fish oil supplement.
- Salmon: 6 oz wild salmon — 1774 mg
- Tuna: Albacore 3.0 oz contains 733 mg
- Sardines: 2.0 oz contains 556 mg
- Cod: 6.3 oz contains 284 mg
- Trout: 2.2 contains 581mg
- Mussel: 3 oz contains 665 mg
- Oysters: 3 oz contains 585 mg
There are eight different B vitamins, known collectively as B-complex. The B vitamins play a role in many physiological processes, including breaking down food for energy, producing red blood cells, and maintaining brain function.
One B vitamin in particular, B6, was found to help reduce anxiety in older women, according to a 2017 study. And other research has found that B6 combined with magnesium reduced anxiety related to premenstrual syndrome.
The amount of B vitamins you need varies per vitamin and depends on your age and sex, but here's what the average adult needs:
- B1: 1.2 mg for men and 1.1 mg for women
- B2: 1.3 mg for men and 1.1 mg for women
- B3: 16 mg NE for men and 13 mg NE for women
- B5: 5 mg for men and women
- B6: 1.3 mg for men and women
- B9: 400 mcg for men and women
- B12: 2.4 mcg for men and women
For a supplement Snover says most doctors recommend 100 mg per day of B-complex.
Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in many different chemical reactions in the body including nerve and muscle function, protein creation, and blood sugar regulation.
Supplementing with magnesium can be used to improve sleep, metabolism, and reduce stress, Medina says.
A 2017 review found that magnesium supplementation can have an effect in reducing anxiety amongst those with:
- Mild to moderate anxiety
- Anxiety associated with PMS
- Anxiety and stress associated with high blood pressure
However, the review concluded that more high quality research is needed since some of the studies lacked robust statistical analysis, proper placebo controls, among other issues.
The daily recommendation of magnesium for ages 18 and up is 400-420 mg for men and 310-320 mg for women. It can be found in foods like:
- Pumpkin seeds: 1 cup contains 168 mg
- Spinach: 1 cup contains 163 mg
- Peanuts: ¼ cup contains 90 mg
- Black beans: 1 cup contains 120 mg
- Bananas: 1 banana contains 61 mg
- Salmon 3 ounces contains 81 mg
If you are having a hard time getting enough magnesium from your diet and want to choose a magnesium supplement keep in mind that there are different forms, some of which have a laxative effect. Magnesium glycinate is a form that is calming and doesn't have a laxative effect.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter — a chemical that sends messages between cells. You may have heard of other neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, both of which affect mood.
Research shows that GABA influences your mood, too, and may play a role in reducing anxiety symptoms. GABA slows down activity in the brain "therefore making us feel relaxed and calm," Snover says.
A study from 2017 found that GABA already present in the brain reduced intrusive thoughts, a very common symptom of anxiety. However, there are questions if GABA taken in supplemental form acts on the brain in the same way.
There is some evidence that supplemental GABA can help with stress reduction, and people anecdotally report GABA helping them feel more calm, but more research is needed to fully understand what effects GABA might have on anxiety.
Foods that contain GABA include:
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Oats, wheat, and barley
- Sweet potato
- Adzuki bean
L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea and in trace amounts in some mushrooms. Snover says, "L-theanine impacts chemicals in the brain including GABA, dopamine, and serotonin. All three of these chemicals directly impact anxiety."
A small 2019 study had healthy participants take 200 mg of L-theanine tablets for four weeks. While taking it, they had reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression and they also slept better.
You can get L-theanine from green, black, oolong, or white tea. Black tea has the most L-theanine — around 24 mg per cup — while green tea has the least — around 8 mg in a cup of tea. So if you want to get a large dose, say 200 mg, a supplement is the way to go.
"There is an impressive growing body of research on the benefits of taking Ashwagandha daily, including studies showing how supplementing this impressive ingredient can help to reduce cortisol levels in the body, as well as reports of increased energy, stamina, and concentration levels," Snover says.
A small 2019 study of healthy adults with stress found that taking ashwagandha daily for eight weeks reduced the participants' subjective stress and anxiety levels, decreased serum cortisol, and improved sleep quality.
However, dosage was important. The researchers found that those who took 250 mg of ashwagandha daily experienced the same change in their anxiety as the placebo group: none. But the group who took 600 mg per day reported reduced anxiety.
Ashwagandha is available as a supplement in pill form. Doses are typically 1000-6000 mg of the root powder and 500-1500 mg of the root extract.
- Are pregnant — ashwaganda may induce miscarriage
- Have a thyroid condition — it can boost thyroid hormone production
- Have hormone sensitive prostate cancer — it may increase testosterone which can impact medical treatment
- Have an autoimmune condition — ashwagandha can make the immune system more active, possibly exacerbating autoimmune conditions
How else to get help for anxiety
A simple thing you can have at home for anxiety, especially when it affects your sleep, is herbal tea:
- Lemon Balm can help reduce anxiety and promote sleep
- Lavender is useful for restlessness and nervous stomach irritation
- Chamomile may help you feel calm and get to sleep
Some other things you can do to reduce anxiety include:
Sometimes anxiety can be a side effect of medications or a symptom of an underlying medical issue such as hormonal imbalances or neurological conditions.
If you experience a sudden onset of anxiety with no obvious cause it is important to check in with your doctor. Anxiety also often goes hand in hand with depression.
Medications and therapy are the most common treatments for anxiety, but research is showing that vitamins and supplements may also help.
Though not likely to be a cure all for anxiety, certain vitamins may be worthwhile, so consider speaking with your doctor about any nutrient deficiencies you may have that could be contributing to your anxiety.
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