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science nutrition <strong>blog</strong>

By Robert Schinetsky

 

On August 22, 2023, a cover story in The Wall Street Journal titled “The Booming Business of American Anxiety” detailed the ongoing mental health crisis in America.1 Recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), an independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism, noted that nearly one-third of American adults reports feelings of anxiety and/or depression.2

In the article, authors Julie Wernau and Andrea Peterson not only highlighted the numerous contributing factors to Americans’ anxiety, but also the steadily increasing number of options there are on the market for individuals, from wearables and scented skin patches to dietary supplements, pharmaceuticals, and lifestyle “coaches.” These options range from a few dollars (on the low end) to several hundred dollars for certain wearable devices.

A glaring takeaway from the article is that the entrepreneurs have recognized a burgeoning market for stress-relief solutions and are salivating at the prospect. There is (at least) one major concern for many of these anti-stress products – they are backed by little-to-no evidence.

Truth be told, managing feelings of stress and anxiety isn’t a quick-fix solution. It requires a combination of complementary lifestyle factors, including (but not limited to):

  • Regular, vigorous exercises (3-5 times per week)
  • Proper nutrition
  • Quality sleep
  • A healthy social network
  • Strategies for navigating (and recovering from) a stressful encounter

 

In addition to these lifestyle habits, a number of dietary supplements have been investigated and shown to not only improve mood and feelings of well-being but also offer a number of other benefits, including better sleep. In fact, psychiatrist Dr. Daniel G. Amen told The Wall Street Journal that he suggests his followers “take theanine, magnesium, ashwagandha, and…GABA for anxiety.”1

It’s no surprise these four supplements are among those ingredients with strong scientific backing, and considered the best supplements for stress and anxiety. However, those aren’t the only ones to consider, as you’re about to see

BEST SCIENCE-BACKED SUPPLEMENTS FOR ANXIETY & STRESS

GABA

GABA is the body’s primary inhibitory (“calming”) neurotransmitter and combats the actions of glutamate, the body’s main excitatory neurotransmitter. It does this by slowing down (“inhibiting”) the rate of firing of brain cells, which reduces excitation and promotes a sense of calmness and relaxation.

In other words, GABA helps “tapping the breaks” on your nerves when you get stressed.

Being overly stressed/anxious can lead to an imbalance between GABA and glutamate, which not only wreaks havoc on mental health but can also damage brain cells (due to excess glutamate).19,20,21

Research conducted in humans have found that supplementing with GABA can have a relaxation effect similar to that of L-Theanine.22

This same study also noted that GABA supplementation could support immunity under stressful conditions.

Taurine

Lifestyle stress can lead to increased systemic inflammation, which is a contributing factor to aging. Furthermore, natural aging, in and of itself, is associated with lower taurine concentrations in the body (as well as lower levels of hormones, such as testosterone).

Taurine is among the most abundant amino acids in the body and serves numerous roles, including improving hydration, getting rid of excess cholesterol, and protecting cells against damage.3 It is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, acting as neurotrophic factor, binding to GABA-A/glycine receptors, and blocking the excitotoxicity glutamate-induced pathway, which offers neuroprotective effects.4

Research recently published in Science examined the effects of taurine on aging. For the studies, researchers administered taurine to worms, mice, and monkeys and noted that the amino acid increases both health span and life span.5

Mice that received daily taurine supplements lived 10-12% longer than mice that didn’t. Taurine supplementation helped slow key markers of aging such as increased DNA damage, telomerase deficiency, impaired mitochondrial function, and cellular senescence (a state in which cells can no longer divide).5

Not only did the mice live longer, but the researchers also observed that the taurine-treated mice had lower fat stores, stronger bones and muscles, improved agility, and (most importantly for the purposes of this article) less fear and anxiety.5

These findings reflect other previously documented benefits in rats where taurine supplementation helped to counteract stress-induced depression.6

Due to taurine’s effects on GABA, researchers hypothesized that the combination of GABA + taurine may offer superior benefits (e.g., stress reduction, sleep improvement, etc.) compared to either alone.23

Animal studies find that the combination increases glutamic acid decarboxylase expression (the enzyme that catalyzes the production of GABA) as well as GABA levels.24

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is a centuries-old remedy and tonic of Ayurveda. Historically, it has been used for its anti-stress and pro-sexual health benefits. Today, ashwagandha is among the most popular OTC options for individuals seeking stress relief and improved sleep. Modern research confirms what traditional practitioners have known for thousands of years – ashwagandha is one of the best natural anti-stress agents.

 

Lifestyle stress is one of the biggest contributors to declining mental health and is well-known to impair sleep quality. A 2022 meta-analysis on the effects of ashwagandha on stress and anxiety concluded that it has a beneficial effect on both stress and anxiety.7 Another systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that ashwagandha supplementation beneficially impacted sleep quality in adults as well as improved mental alertness on rising and lowered anxiety levels.8

5-HTP

5-HTP is an amino acid naturally produced in the body from the metabolism of L-Tryptophan. Its synthesis is the limiting step in serotonin biosynthesis (and its downstream hormone, melatonin).9 Essentially, supplementing with 5-HTP bypasses a step in the serotonin (and melatonin) production pathway, providing a more “direct” option for supporting healthy mood.

 

As we’ve discussed previously, serotonin has long been thought by researchers as the primary avenue of treatment for depression. However, as we’ve also stated before, that opinion is changing, and dopamine has also been revealed to play a key role in supporting a healthy mood and mental well-being.

Be that as it may, serotonin still plays a key role in your mood, metabolism, cognitive function, and hunger-satiety signaling 5-HTP is a nutraceutical that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and effectively increases central nervous system (CNS) synthesis of serotonin (the same of which can’t be said for tryptophan).[10]

Supplementing with 5-HTP has been found to help individuals with mood, satiety, and even migraines. One study, in particular, demonstrated that 5-HTP supplementation helped obese individuals reduce calorie intake by more than 400 calories.11

Another recent 8-week study, appearing in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, investigated the effects of 100mg 5-HTP on body composition in exercise-trained men and women. Individuals were instructed to track their diet a few days each week using a food-tracking app but were instructed to not change their training or eating habits.39 At the conclusion of the trial, researchers documented that there were no changes in food intake (i.e., total energy intake or grams of macronutrients) between or within groups. Based on their findings, daily supplementation with 100 mg of 5-HTP led to significant reductions in fat mass compared to placebo.39

How does this relate to stress?

Well, dieting for weight loss is a goal millions of people undertake each year. Struggling with cravings, a lack of results, and abandoning a diet all can result in feelings of disappointment, depression, and stress.

5-HTP not only may help to reduce feelings of hunger – it also supports mood enhancement, and other studies suggest that it may be more effective when combined with other options. For instance, one study found that 200mg 5-HTP + 5g creatine monohydrate was able to improve feelings of mood and well-being in women with SSRI-resistant depression.1

New landmark research on psilocybin (a psychedelic chemical compound naturally found in magic mushrooms) found that a single 25mg dose reduced self-reported depressive and anxiety symptoms and improved quality of life.34 To understand just how truly remarkable this study is, the psychiatric profession has been stunted for the better part of five decades in their attempts to develop new, effective, and safe drugs for depression! Most common antidepressants have consistently been found to lead to adverse side effects and/or tolerance.36,37

What does this have to do with 5-HTP or serotonin?

Well, both psilocybin and 5-HTP stimulate the 5-HT2A receptor – a class of serotonin receptors impacting depression, appetite, anxiety, sleep, and sexual behavior.35

Given that serotonin is converted into melatonin, it should come as little surprise that the stress-relief and weight-loss supplement also may improve sleep quality. A recent randomized, placebo-controlled trial in Sleep & Breathing compared a low dose of 5-HTP (50mg/day) to placebo in Parkinson’s patients. At the end of the 4-week trial, individuals supplementing with 5-HTP experienced an increase in REM sleep as well as a minor reduction in both arousal index and wake after sleep onset.40 These findings are in line with previous research demonstrating that 5-HTP increases REM sleep.41 What’s is more interesting is that previous research used significantly higher doses (1500-6000mg)!41

Previous studies also indicate that a combination of GABA + 5-HTP improves sleep latency (how long it takes to fall asleep), increase sleep duration, and enhances sleep quality.13

Important note: individuals taking antidepressant medication should not take 5-HTP supplements unless supervised and approved by a physician.

L-Theanine

Prevalent in green tea, theanine is an amino acid renowned for its calming effects. This is due, largely, to its interactions with GABA.

Theanine readily crosses the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and exerts numerous neurophysiological and pharmacological effects, including:14,15

  • Promoting a state of calmness and relaxation (anxiolytic)
  • Upregulates inhibitory neurotransmitters (e.g., GABA)
  • Modulates serotonin and dopamine
  • Reduces glutamate-induced neurotoxicity
  • Increases production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
  • Improves attention, working memory, and executive function during stressful endeavors

 

Specifically concerning stress, a 2019 study found that supplementing with 200mg L-Theanine daily “... has the potential to promote mental health in the general population with stress-related ailments and cognitive impairments.”16

Animal studies also indicate that the combination of GABA and L-Theanine “has a positive synergistic effect on sleep quality and duration as compared to the GABA or l-theanine alone.”17

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral and electrolyte impacting hundreds of physiological processes including muscle relaxation and sleep quality.18 It also serves as an agonist of GABA, which further underscores its role in fostering a state of calm and promoting sleep.25

Magnesium has been investigated by itself as well as in combination with other prominent relaxation and sleep supplements. On its own, magnesium supplementation improves sleep efficiency, sleep time, sleep onset latency, and early morning awakening.25 Longitudinal studies also document an association between magnesium intake and sleep quality/duration.26

Another study investigated a complex of magnesium and L-Theanine and found the combination could “potentiate the effect of L-theanine on sleep by boosting slow-brain waves.”18 Researchers also noted levels of GABA, dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin.

Melatonin

Melatonin is among the most popular sleep aids on the market, and for good reason – melatonin is the hormone that dictates circadian rhythm and the sleep-wake cycle. Elevated levels of stress coupled with the bombardment of blue light from all sorts of electronic devices in the evening hours (which stunts melatonin synthesis) leads to reduced sleep quality and duration.

Melatonin supplementation has been shown numerous times to improve sleep quality and decrease sleep latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.27,28,29,33 Additional studies note that melatonin is effective in reducing anxiety (as well as improving sleeping quality).30

While some popular podcast hosts have warned against the use of melatonin for safety concerns, the truth is that there is an overwhelming amount of research showing the exact opposite. In fact, a 2022 meta-analysis on “higher doses of melatonin” (>10mg/day) concluded that “melatonin appears to have a good safety profile.”31

Beyond its sleep benefits, melatonin also has been found to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and longevity benefits.

Regarding inflammation and longevity, systemic inflammation increases with age, and inflammation, itself, is the cause of numerous diseases. Recent meta-analytic data concludes that melatonin “reduced levels of inflammatory markers and may be useful for prevention and adjuvant treatment of inflammatory disorders.”32

Takeaway

There may be no way to completely eliminate stress from daily life, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as certain types of stress (e.g., resistance training, high-intensity exercise, etc.) not only build muscle and strength, but also reduce stress and support total body health.

That being said, chronic lifestyle stress negatively impacts the mind and body in countless ways. In addition to regular vigorous exercise, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, spending time outdoors, and unplugging from technology are all known to improve health and well-being.

For added stress relief, research has shown that certain supplements can certainly help.

We’ve compiled the best ones in one affordable (and delicious tasting) supplement – CALMING COCKTAIL.

 Click here to learn how AML Calming Cocktail can help reduce feelings of stress and help you live your best life!

 

† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

© Published by Advanced Research Media, Inc., 2023

© Reprinted with permission from Advanced Research Media, Inc.

AML Calming Cocktail Product

References:

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  2. Latest Federal Data Show That Young People Are More Likely Than Older Adults to Be Experiencing Symptoms of Anxiety or Depression, (KFF, March 20, 2023) https://www.kff.org/mental-health/press-release/latest-federal-data-show-that-young-people-are-more-likely-than-older-adults-to-be-experiencing-symptoms-of-anxiety-or-depression/
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