In this article, we’ll look at what nutritional supplements are recommended for managing stress and reducing anxiety, based on data and science.
While there’s no such thing as “magic pills” that will remove all anxiety from your life, there are some supplements out there that can help you de-stress and feel a little better at the very least.
Natural Supplements for Stress and Anxiety
If you’re considering taking a nutritional supplement during times of stress and anxiety, there’s no shortage of supplements out there that claim to help you manage turbulent times.
But which ones (if any) actually work?
To answer this question, we’ll turn to the most objective source of information available: PubMed, the online database maintained by the United States National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health that catalogs all science journals and clinical studies.
Here are four natural supplements that may help you get at least some relief:
Do Magnesium Supplements Work for Anxiety?
Magnesium is an abundant mineral in the body that’s naturally present in many foods, added to other food products, and available as a dietary supplement.
Magnesium is required for energy production, contributes to the structural development of bone, and plays a role in the active transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes, a process that is important to nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction, and normal heart rhythm.
A 2017 research review found that magnesium supplements do appear to work for anxiety, based on several small studies.
In a 2017 study, researchers found that:
“Existing evidence is suggestive of a beneficial effect of Mg on subjective anxiety in anxiety vulnerable samples. However, the quality of the existing evidence is poor. Well-designed randomized controlled trials are required to further confirm the efficacy of Mg supplementation.
In a 2020 research review, researchers stated that, “stress could increase magnesium loss, causing a deficiency; and in turn, magnesium deficiency could enhance the body’s susceptibility to stress, resulting in a magnesium and stress vicious circle.”
And a 2021 study found that taking a magnesium supplement “with or without vitamin B6, could provide a meaningful clinical benefit in daily life for individuals with stress and low magnesemia.”
There is some conflicting evidence about the ability of magnesium to treat depression, so if you’re depressed, talk to your doctor and seek other treatment methods. In a 2020 research review called The Role and the Effect of Magnesium in Mental Disorders: A Systematic Review, researchers had this to say:
“We found three positive studies showing the efficacy of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression. In contrast, Fard et al. (2017) showed that magnesium did not reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms in postpartum women.”
Magnesium Safety and Side Effects
High doses of magnesium from supplements or medications can cause nausea, abdominal cramping and diarrhea.
In addition, the magnesium in supplements can interact with some types of antibiotics and other medicines. Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re considering a magnesium supplement, especially if you routinely use magnesium-containing antacids or laxatives.
Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) is important for normal brain development and for keeping the nervous system and immune system healthy.
Food sources of vitamin B-6 include poultry, fish, potatoes, chickpeas, bananas and fortified cereals. Vitamin B-6 can also be taken as a supplement, typically as an oral capsule, tablet or liquid.
In contrast to the study mentioned above in the Magnesium section, a 2018 study showed that taking a magnesium supplement with vitamin B6 provided more stress relief benefits than just magnesium alone.
Vitamin B6 Safety and Side Effects
The Mayo Clinic says that taking Vitamin B6 in supplement form is generally safe.
Consuming vitamin B-6 through food appears to be safe, even in excessive amounts.
However, taking too much vitamin B-6 from supplements may cause:
- A lack of muscle control or coordination of voluntary movements (ataxia)
- Painful, disfiguring skin lesions
- Heartburn and nausea
- Sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitivity)
- Reduced ability to sense pain or extreme temperatures
Check with your doctor before taking vitamin B-6 if you’re using any medications. Possible drug interactions include:
- Antiepileptic Medications
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), a member of the mint family, is considered a calming herb.
Several small studies have shown that lemon balm supplements may be good for anxiety:
- A 2021 metaanalysis found that “lemon balm significantly improved mean anxiety and depression scores compared with the placebo”.
- A 2018 study showed that 8-week supplementation with 3 g MO can decrease depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disorder in patients with CSA.
- A 2014 study found that lemon balm could have beneficial effects on mood and cognitive performance.
- In a 2011 non-placebo-controlled trial, researchers had this to say regarding treating anxiety with lemon balm: “treatment has been demonstrated to improve mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders, its associated symptoms and insomnia in humans.”
Lemon Balm Safety and Side Effects
Lemon balm supplements are possibly safe when used at a dose of up to 500 mg daily for up to 6 months. Side effects are generally mild and might include increased appetite, nausea, dizziness, and wheezing. There isn’t enough reliable information to know if lemon balm is safe to use for more than 6 months.
Lemon balm may change thyroid function, reduce thyroid hormone levels, and interfere with thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Avoid lemon balm if you have thyroid disease.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second most prevalent active ingredient in the cannabis plant, and is usually derived from hemp, a cousin of marijuana.
Here’s what we know about CBD and anxiety:
- In one study, 80% of patients decreased anxiety levels within the first month of using a CBD supplement.
- A 2019 research review that looked at articles published from case reports, case series, or randomized controlled trials on human subjects found that “CBD has a promising role as alternative therapy in the management of anxiety disorders. However, more studies with standardized approaches to dosing and clinical outcome measurements are needed to determine the appropriate dosing strategy for CBD and its place in therapy.”
- A 2021 journal article called Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety and Mood Disorders said that “given its safety profile, CBD is considered a promising new agent in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders.”
- A 2020 journal article called Use of Cannabidiol for the Treatment of Anxiety: A Short Synthesis of Pre-Clinical and Clinical Evidence stated that “existing pre-clinical and clinical evidence supports a possible role for CBD as a novel treatment for anxiety disorders. The findings reviewed in this study demonstrate the potential of CBD to produce anxiolytic-like effects in pre-clinical models and the potential of CBD to induce acute anxiolytic effects when administered as a single dose in healthy volunteers and individuals with SAD.
- A 2019 double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study that assessed the efficacy of CBD treatment for Japanese late teenagers with social anxiety disorder found “significantly decreased anxiety” for study participants who took CBD.
Will CBD Get You High?
CBD does not cause a “high” like marijuana because it’s too low in THC, the psychoactive substance.
CBD is non-toxic and non-intoxicating.
Is CBD Safe to Use?
According to a report from the World Health Organization, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
That being said, there are several serious safety considerations:
- CBD can thin blood, so people with thin blood or who are on blood thinners should consult a doctor before taking it.
- CBD is known to inhibit the CYP450 enzyme system which is a primary means with which the body processes a large assortment of conventional medications (NSAIDs, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, steroids, anesthetics, etc.). Meaning, with both CBD and these drugs in the system, they’re processed slower than normal which can lead to problems, especially liver toxicity.
- Another issue is that certain drugs are designed (prodrugs, like codeine which metabolizes into morphine inside the body) to activate during processing, and CBD can inhibit the amount of the drug being activated.
According to a 2017 review from the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, the three most common side effects from clinical studies looking at patients who used CBD to treat epilepsy and psychotic disorders were strong changes in food intake, some diarrhea, and tiredness at high doses.
Can taking nutritional supplements during times of stress and anxiety really work to help you get relief?
Based on the current body of evidence available, there do seem to be some supplements available in pill form that can help you achieve these outcomes … but larger studies are definitely needed to better understand the efficacy, safety, and dosing.
Talk to your doctor if you’re having persistent anxious thoughts and before taking any new supplement for anxiety, stress, or sleep so they can help determine the best option(s) for you.
And if you’re interested in trying any of these supplements, then check out Pure Food’s American-sourced, NSF-certified supplements for stress, anxiety and sleep right here: