Supplements, Herbs, Vitamins, and Actual Evidence: Managing Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia

Below is an outline of various natural herbs, supplements, and vitamins that have been shown to be effective in significantly impacting mood, sleep, and cognition in clinical trials. The recommended doses are an estimate based on clinical trials and not a guideline. This outline is not meant to be a prescription for anyone, but simply an outline to inform anyone interested of the many natural supplements that have been shown to be beneficial in supporting a healthy mind and body. Any addition of supplements, herbs, or vitamins from the list below should first be discussed with your doctor or psychiatrist should you be taking any prescribed medications.

Improve Sleep (Insomnia)

Melatonin (Start at 1mg and go as high as 5mg, max is 10mg)

o Melatonin is a hormone the body naturally produces from the pineal gland and regulates the sleep-wake cycle (Ye et al., 2019)

GABA (800-1500mg)

o Natural intake of GABA has been shown to clearly enhance sleep, however intake of supplements is less conclusive (Hepsomali et al., 2020)

o Supplemental GABA intake has been shown to possibly restrain wakefulness (Yu et al., 2019) rather than promote sedation or sleep

o Activates calming neurotransmitters and has been shown to decrease time to get to sleep as well as length of sleep (Kim et al., 2019)

L-theanine (100-200mg 2-3x daily)

o Amino acid that increases alpha wave activity which promotes relaxation (Gilbert, 2019)

o Shown to improve response to environmental stressors and reduce cortisol levels (White et al., 2016), which impacts ability to fall asleep and sleep quality

Chamomile (1-2 cups of tea or follow guidelines on pill, powder, or tincture supplement)

o Shown in many studies to decrease symptoms of anxiety, one reason being it contains the compound apigenin which has similar effects as benzodiazepines; a common anti-anxiety medication (Karetnick & Cassetty, 2020)

o Shown to improve sleep quality, especially among older adults (Adib-Hajbaghery & Seyedeh, 2017)

Magnesium (400-500mg)

o Shown to improve sleep quality and sleep duration in a recent longitudinal study (Zhang et al., 2021)

Valerian Root (300-900mg, cycle of after 28 days for a week)

o One of the most studied plant extracts and shows evidence of supporting better sleep quality due to anxiolytic effects, however the research is mixed and more needs to be known (Guadagna et al., 2020; Cassidy, 2021)

Improve Mood (Depression)

Vitamin B12 (2.4mcg-3mcg)

o Shown to increase efficacy of depression medication in decreasing depression symptoms (Syed et al., 2013)

o Low levels of B12 have been shown to possibly contribute to postpartum depression (Dhiman et al., 2021) and other forms of depression (Esnafoglu et al., 2020)

Vitamin B6 (50-100mg)

o Vitamin B6 has been shown to be linked to symptoms of depression, with 100mg per day supplementation showing significant improvement in depression symptoms in women taking oral contraceptives (Johnston & Curtin, 2020), among older women (Odai et al., 2020), and in the general population

5-HTP (100mg-300mg; taking 100mg at a time up to 3x daily)

o Helps to replenish serotonin after 5-HTP goes through decarboxylation and results in 5-HT (serotonin), which helps regulate mood and decreases as we age (Maffei, 2020)

o Tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP, but this is an extra step, therefore it is more efficient to supplement 5-HTP directly to increase serotonin production

Magnesium (300-450mg)

o This is necessary in creating serotonin due to needing both 5-HTP and P5P (pyridoxyl-5-phosphate) for the process to produce adequate levels of 5-HTP (serotonin) (Fredricks, n.d.)

Niacin (B3) (50mg taken at once or 25mg x2 daily if experience flushing or tingling)

o This is necessary to convert tryptophan into 5-HTP, sufficient levels of 5-HTP are needed to produce serotonin (5-HT), which regulates mood

o Some research has shown levels as high as 1000mg-3000mg per day is beneficial

Vitamin D (800IU)

o Shown to improve symptoms of both unipolar and bipolar depression (Berridge, 2017) and a meta-analysis showed clear significant impact of Vitamin D in managing symptoms of depression (Spedding, 2014)

o Deficiency has been linked to poorer mental health outcomes and associated with increase in depression symptoms (Boulkrane et al., 2020)

GABA (800-1500mg)

o A decline in GABA levels is identified in individuals experiencing depression (Duman et al., 2019)

Probiotics (Target as many strains as possible)

o Many studies have shown that probiotic supplementation results in anti-inflammatory effects which may mediate depression symptoms (Park et al., 2018)

o Probiotics have been shown to have antidepressant effects, especially in regulating 5-HT receptors (Li et al., 2019), which are responsible for replenishing/processing serotonin for mood and regulating hormones

Saffron (15-20mg 2x daily)

o Saffron has been shown to reduce depression symptoms in men and women at many age levels (Mazdi et al., 2016; Gholamali et al., 2018; Shafiee et al., 2018) and has been shown to improve depression symptoms specifically in individuals who are overweight (Akhondzadeh et al., 2019)

o Saffron was shown to be as effective as Setraline in reducing symptoms of depression, especially in the older population (Ahmadpanah et al., 2019)

Rhodiola (Start at 100-200mg per day and work up to 400-600mg daily)

o Shown to help decrease symptoms of depression (Amsterdam & Panossian, 2016), especially when combined with Saffron (Bangratz et al., 2018), which has been shown to also be effective on its own (Shafiee et al., 2018)

Decrease Stress (Anxiety)

B12 (2.4mcg-3mcg)

o Contains anxiolytic effects and has been shown to mediate hyperhomocysteinemia, which is associated with 3-6x increase in anxiety and/or depression (Saraswathy et al., 2019), however research is mixed in this finding

5-HTP (>100mg)

o Helps to replenish serotonin after 5-HTP goes through decarboxylation and results in 5-HT (serotonin), and 5-HT has been shown to decrease symptoms of anxiety (Kahn & Westenberg, 1985), especially agoraphobia and panic disorder ( Kahn et al., 1987)