According to recent statistics, over 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, while over 260 million suffer from anxiety. These conditions can greatly impact the quality of one’s life in many ways that can affect both body and mind.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- Loss of interest in things that once provided pleasure
- Feelings of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness
- Thoughts of death or suicide
However, depression can also cause physical symptoms like appetite changes leading to weight changes, trouble concentrating, fatigue, low energy, and trouble sleeping. A person must exhibit some of the above symptoms for at least two weeks for a diagnosis.
When it comes to anxiety, this disorder is more than just everyday stress. People who suffer from this condition feel anxious thoughts and concerns that intrude upon daily life. This means they may worry about things out of proportion to the anxiety trigger or stressor. Symptoms of those with generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Overthinking plans and solutions
- Difficulty handling uncertainty
- Inability to let go of worries
- Unable to feel relaxed
- Difficulty concentrating
- Perceiving events as threatening even when they aren’t
- Trouble sleeping
Treatment for both anxiety and depression typically consists of medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and/or psychotherapy. However, some people may require other adjunct treatments, such as dietary supplements to help lessen symptoms.
This is because research shows that inflammation may relate to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Read below to learn more about supplements that could help lessen symptoms in those with anxiety or depression.
Top ten supplements for anxiety and depression
Also known as L-5hydroxytryptophan, 5-HTP shows potential as depression and anxiety treatment. It’s a natural chemical in the body but is also a form of dietary supplement. It works by producing the feel-good hormone serotonin. In turn, 5-HTP is known for its ability to help those with depression and sleep disorders.
Experts report that 5-HTP can reduce the severity of generalized anxiety disorder as well as panic attacks. The recommended and safe dosage for anxiety is about 50 to 100 milligrams three times daily. This dosage can reduce daytime anxiety and improve sleep. Other experts suggest that up to 300 milligrams 5-HTP three times daily is safe for consumption.
Research shows 5-HTP can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression with fewer side effects than certain antidepressants like fluvoxamine. Potential side effects of 5-HTP include diarrhea, dizziness, or nausea. However, you should always consult with your healthcare provider before taking any new supplement or stopping any prescribed medication.
Known for its consumption as a herbal tea, chamomile is a flowery herb with the potential for depression treatment. The tea, made from dried chamomile flowers, contains antioxidant chemicals called flavonoids.
Chamomile extract is another form of this herb in which these chemicals can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. A 2016 study shows that chamomile extract taken for 8 weeks can reduce symptoms in those with a generalized anxiety disorder. In this study, patients took 1500 milligrams of pharmaceutical-grade chamomile extract.
Another study confirms such findings and shows that chamomile extract can reduce symptoms of those with moderate to severe anxiety. These patients also received 1500 milligrams of pharmaceutical-grade chamomile extract in three divided doses daily.
From these and other similar study results, experts suggest that chamomile extract can decrease chronic moderate to severe anxiety symptoms. Also, drinking a single-ingredient chamomile tea once daily for two weeks can improve sleep and mental health in postpartum women.
Chamomile is well-tolerated and generally safe with most people. However, those taking blood thinners or with allergies to similar plants like ragweed, marigolds, daisies, or chrysanthemums shouldn’t take chamomile.
This B vitamin is important for cell growth and DNA production in the body. Without enough folate, it can have a negative impact on brain health. B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood. Therefore, experts suggest that low levels of B vitamins like folate could increase the risk of depression.
One study shows that folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, can help improve a patient’s response to certain antidepressants. This study used 2.5 milligrams of folic acid and 20 milligrams of an SSRI daily.
Folate intake is likely safe for most people when taken orally or by injection in doses of 1 milligram or less. However, high doses may cause side effects like abdominal cramps, rash, diarrhea, nausea, gas, or sleep issues to name a few.
Those with a history of seizure disorder, cancer, or heart disease should consult with their healthcare provider before taking folate. The recommended dosage for improving the effectiveness of depression medication is 200 to 500 micrograms daily.
This slow-growing herb, which comes in the form of American ginseng or Panax (Asian) ginseng, is known for many potential health benefits. These benefits include boosting energy, lowering blood sugar, and lowering cholesterol levels. Not to mention that ginseng may reduce stress and promote relaxation. Because of these calming qualities, ginseng also shows potential in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms brought about by stress.
A 2017 study shows that this impact of ginseng on anxiety and depression is because both of these conditions are inflammatory. And since ginseng has anti-inflammatory properties, it can help lessen the symptoms of such inflammatory conditions.
Also, a 2018 animal study shows that Panax ginseng extract (PGE) exhibits antidepressant-like effects by inhibiting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis mechanism. In other words, PGE helps suppress the central stress system in the body.
Furthermore, another kind of ginseng, White ginseng, may also show potential for fighting anxiety and depression. This is because a 2019 study shows that White ginseng activates the neurons responsible for producing the feel-good hormone serotonin.
Ginseng supplements are safe for most in recommended dosages. However, pregnant women should not take the herb due to the lack of safety studies. Also, ginseng may interact with certain antidepressants, heart, blood pressure, and diabetes medications. Therefore, you should talk to your doctor before starting ginseng if you’re taking other medications.
Potential side effects of ginseng consumption include headaches, irritability, diarrhea, or other digestive problems. The use of ginseng for more than 5 years shows the potential for benefitting cognitive function in later life. The recommended dosage of ginseng extract is 100 to 400 milligrams daily, or 1 to 2 grams of dried root powder daily.
Lavender is an herb native to northern Africa and the Mediterranean mountainous regions known for its medicinal essential oils. It’s known for its use in treating fungal infections, wounds, and anxiety.
Research shows that a standardized essential oil extract of Lavandula angustifolia (SLO), which contains some constituents of lavender can help treat anxiety. It can help produce a calming effect without dependence, tolerance, or withdrawal.
Also, a 2016 study shows that inhaling the lavender scent for 4 weeks can help prevent stress, depression, and anxiety. Although this study looked at women post-childbirth, inhaled lavender shows to help other adults reduce anxiety as well.
Also, one type of lavender oil preparation called Silexan shows promise to help those with anxiety. Study results show that just two weeks of treatment with this supplement can help reduce anxiety symptoms. It shows the ability to improve sleep and quality of life. This supplement did not cause any adverse effects except for mild gastrointestinal symptoms. The recommended dosage of this preparation was 80 milligrams or 160 milligrams daily.
Lavender is safe for most people when taken orally, inhaled, or applied topically. Potential side effects may include constipation, headache, and increased appetite when taken orally. Those who are pregnant, boys who have not reached puberty, and those on certain medications should not take lavender. You should avoid lavender intake if you are taking sedatives, sleep medicines, or blood pressure medicines.
6. Omega-3 fatty acids
Healthy fats are known for their role in heart health. However, omega-3 fatty acids may also help those with depression or anxiety. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils, are full of oxidative stress-fighting antioxidants.
Most studies recommend doses of 1 to 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily for anxiety and depression treatment. Potential side effects may include burping, indigestion, constipation, and upset stomach, among others. Those supplements that contain more EPA show high-quality evidence in treating depression for up to 8 weeks.
At this time, experts recommend only using omega-3 fatty acids as an adjunct treatment to prescribed mood disorder medications. Also, omega-3 fatty acids can interfere with blood-thinning medications. Therefore, be sure to let your healthcare provider know before you start taking omega-3 fatty acids.
Best known for its yellow hue and the subtle fragrant taste it provides dishes, saffron can also help treat depression. Although studies are in their early stages, results so far show promise. For example, a 2019 study review shows that saffron can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The mechanism of treating depression is in the dried saffron petal and in crocin, the main antioxidant in saffron. Research shows that the dried saffron petal is effective in treating mild-to-moderate depression based on a 6-week clinical trial.
On the other hand, crocin shows the ability to amplify the effects of SSRIs in treating patients with mild-to-moderate depression. It’s thought that saffron’s antioxidant content helps fight off oxidative stress in the body that is linked to mood disorders.
Furthermore, research shows that saffron may exert beneficial anti-depressant effects with fewer side effects than other medications. Saffron is considered safe for most when taken up six weeks, but you should not take more than 1.5 grams daily. The recommended dosage for saffron is 30 milligrams daily for depression treatment. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider to make sure saffron does not interact with any current medicines you’re taking.
S-adenosyl-L-methionine, or SAM-e, is a compound found naturally in the body that helps produce and regulate hormones. This supplement can help treat conditions like osteoarthritis, liver disease, and depression.
When it comes to depression treatment, more research needs to confirm the efficacy of SAM-e. However, a 2017 review shows promise for its use for multiple neuropsychiatric conditions like anxiety or depression upon further study. Experts suggest that SAM-e has promise to act as a first-line complementary and alternative medicine for depression treatment.
The effects of SAM-e in treating depression are likely related to increased brain levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Not to mention that the synthesis of such neurotransmitters by SAM-e requires vitamin B12 and folate.
The recommended dosage for depression is 1600 milligrams of SAM-e in two divided doses for up to 8 weeks alone or together with certain antidepressant medications. SAM-e is generally safe to take but can interact with some antidepressants. It can increase serotonin to dangerous levels, so be sure to contact your healthcare provider before taking SAM-e. Potential side effects include nausea, anxiety, dizziness, constipation, and diarrhea.
9. St. John’s Wort
Also known as Hypericum perforatum, St. John’s wort (SJW) is a wild plant known for its mental health medicinal properties.
A 2017 study review looked at the impact of SJW on those with depression. Study results show that taking SJW daily for 4 to 12 weeks can lessen symptoms in mild to moderate depression. This study also shows that SJW had similar safety as SSRIs.
SJW is considered safe to take orally for up to 12 weeks to one year. However, there are not enough long-term studies on the use of this supplement for depression treatment. Some potential side effects include stomach upset, fatigue, dry mouth, vivid dreams, restlessness, or headache. Those who have the following conditions should not take SJW.
- Pregnant or trying to become pregnant
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Bipolar disorder
- Severe depression
- Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder
Also, those with having surgery should stop taking St. John’s wort within two weeks before surgery.
The active ingredients in SJW are hypericin and hyperforin. Research shows that hypericin has a protective effect against depression symptoms. The recommended dosages of SJW extract for mild to moderate depression include:
- 300 milligrams three times daily of an SJW extract standardized to 0.3% hypericin content
- 250 milligrams twice times daily of an SJW extract standardized to 0.2% hypericin content
- 300 milligrams three times daily of an SJW extract standardized to 5% hyperforin content
St. John’s wort is prescribed in Europe for depression and sold over the counter in the United States. You should always consult with your healthcare provider before taking SJW since it can interact with certain medications. For example, if you take St. John’s wort while taking antidepressants, it could cause a harmful serotonin increase. St. John’s wort can also weaken the function of birth control pills, oxycodone, or blood thinners, to name a few.
10. Vitamin B12
This water-soluble vitamin, found naturally in animal products, may play an important role in mood disorders. Vitamin B12 is important for nerve and blood cell health as well as making DNA in the body. Of these functions, vitamin B12 plays a role in producing certain brain chemicals that affect mood. In turn, low levels of vitamin B12 in the body can increase risk of anxiety and depression.
To properly diagnose B12 deficiency, you should have iron, homocysteine, folate, mercury, and vitamin B12 levels checked. This is because all these components work together in the vitamin B12 metabolic system.
A 2017 study shows that those with mood and anxiety issues could benefit from nutritional supplements like vitamin B12. However, researchers suggest that although vitamin B12 may not reduce depressive symptoms in all patients, it could help improve quality of life.
The most effective oral dose of vitamin B12 for those who are deficient in 647 to 1032 milligrams daily. Vitamin B12 is safe for most people even in larger doses when taken by mouth or applied to the skin. Those who are allergic to cobalt or cobalamin should not take vitamin B12. Check with your doctor before starting vitamin B12 treatment if you have a coronary stent or certain eye conditions.
Final thoughts on Supplements for Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are serious mental health conditions that can impact the quality of life. And sometimes medication and therapy may not be enough to help lessen symptoms. Therefore, with the approval of your healthcare provider, the addition of a dietary supplement like those above may help.
It’s important to note that supplements should not replace any prescribed medications for mood disorders like anxiety or depression.
If you or someone you know suffer from anxiety or depression, you should contact a qualified professional for help. You can find help by calling the National Hotline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, health editor, and founder of LighttrackNutrition.com. She has been a dietitian since 2010, and has helped thousands of patients in arenas like weight management, fitness, long-term care, rehab, and bariatric nutrition. Staci has also been writing and editing since 2011 for such websites as CDiabetes, Anirva, and Casa de Sante, to name a few and has been a featured expert for websites like Shape.com, ThisisInsider.com, and Eat This Not That. Staci hopes to provide others accessible, accurate, and practical health and wellness information so they can make lasting healthy lifestyle changes.