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June 2021

Which Supplements Soothe Stress?

Changes in life lead to stress and anxiety. So in these times of tumult, it’s no surprise stress is on the rise. In a recent American Psychological Association survey, nearly half of Americans reported emotional and physical symptoms of stress, such as mood swings and tense muscles.

You can’t always control the world around you. However, you can take steps to shift your body’s reaction. In addition to lifestyle changes like a healthy diet and exercise, some supplements may help take the edge off.

Here, a few calming options to consider:

  • Ashwagandha. This pill is produced from the root and berry of an evergreen shrub. In one small study, eight weeks of taking ashwagandha eased stress and improved overall quality of life. It may work by reducing inflammation or lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It also has effects on blood glucose and blood pressure. Check with your healthcare provider if you’re taking related medicines.

  • Chamomile. Some early research suggests chamomile supplements might help manage anxiety. Steer clear if you have allergies to ragweed, marigolds, daisies, or mums. They’re related plants, so you might have a reaction.

  • Melatonin. Darkness prompts your body to produce this hormone, so many people take it to sleep more soundly. Melatonin shows promise in easing troubled slumber caused by jet lag, as well as reducing anxiety before surgery. Read labels and seek out synthetic versions. Those made from animal products can harbor viruses.

  • Passionflower. Native Americans have long used this climbing vine as a sedative. Today, it’s marketed as an anxiety and sleep aid. A small amount of research backs its calming powers, especially before medical procedures, but conclusions are not definite. Side effects include drowsiness, confusion, and a loss of coordination.

  • Folate. Best known for preventing birth defects, folate—a B vitamin that often comes in a synthetic form called folic acid—may also have positive effects on stress and mental health. Getting enough can ward off irritability, depression, poor concentration, and fatigue. Just don’t go over the recommended maximum of 1,000 micrograms for adults, or you’ll risk other health problems.

  • Magnesium. This essential mineral keeps your nervous system humming along smoothly. Though it’s available in many foods, American diets often fall short. Pills in forms such as magnesium citrate, magnesium lactate, and magnesium chloride are easiest for your body to absorb.

One supplement to skip: kava. This Pacific island herb has been shown to reduce anxiety. However, it’s also linked to potentially fatal liver injury.

Check in with your pharmacist or healthcare provider before taking any supplement, including those that are generally safe. That way, you can be sure they don’t interfere with any of your other medicines or otherwise harm your health.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2021
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