10 Herbs For Anxiety And Depression (With Clinical Research)
By Sara Novak
It has been a doozy of a year for mental health. From fear of COVID-19, to sadness at the loss of loved ones, to economic woes, the list goes on. We have lost sleep, we have had trouble fitting in self care, we have taken to drugs and alcohol, and we have let our diets slip. But as things start to improve, we are all refocusing on not just surviving, but thriving. Need a mental health boost? These herbs have been shown to improve your mental health without many of the side effects that come with pharmaceutical drugs.
Table OF Contents:
- Why we are depressed
- What depression and anxiety look like in the brain
- What to do if you are depressed
- 10 herbs with clinical research shown to help with anxiety and depression
Why We Are Depressed:
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a third of Americans now show signs of anxiety or depression stemming from a number of issues:
- Lack of sleep
- Anxiety over getting sick
- Nervousness over economic concerns
According to Stanford Health, around 50 percent of the cause of depression is genetic, and around 50 percent is unrelated to genes. Lack of sleep is another main driver. In fact, insomnia and trouble falling asleep have long been linked to depression and anxiety. A study published in the journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience found that “about three quarters of depressed patients have insomnia symptoms.”
What Depression And Anxiety Look Like In The Brain:
Some fascinating research has shown that people with depression and anxiety have some differences in the brain that can be spotted on brain imaging scans. Two researchers, Dr. Youjin Zhao and co-author Dr. Su Lui, looked at the brain scans of 37 people with major depressive disorder, 24 with social anxiety disorder, and 41 people in good mental health. Researchers noticed differences in gray matter in the brain as well as the thickness of the cerebral cortex in those with depression and anxiety. Gray matter in the brain is the dark tissue that consists of nerve cell bodies and branching dendrites. The cerebral cortex is the layer of brain tissue in the outermost level of the cerebrum.
What To Do If You Are Depressed:
There is a scale of depression and anxiety, ranging from mild to extreme. If you are experiencing moderate to extreme depression, talk to a medical professional. This is not a doctor’s advice. But if you are experiencing more mild depression and anxiousness, here are some tips that can help.
- Choose A Healthy Diet - What you eat matters. Choose a whole foods diet filled with local, organic sources of protein, fruit, tubers, agave, honey, fermented foods, extra virgin olive oil, MCT oil, and avocado oil.
- Exercise - Exercise is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce anxiety and depression. A study published in The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine found that “exercise has been shown to be an effective and cost-efficient treatment alternative for a variety of anxiety disorders.”
- Step Outside - Sunlight is a simple, natural, and free treatment for anxiety and depression. A study published in the journal Issues in Mental Health Nursing found that exercising outdoors in the sunshin, eating foods rich in vitamin D, and/or taking dietary supplements may improve one's mental well being.
- Spend Time By Yourself - Getting to know yourself better is a great way to deal with the waves of emotion that can roll through life. Whether it is through meditation, yoga, deep breathing, chanting, qigong, or any activity where you really have to be mindful and pay attention. Doing the inner work can be helpful when times get difficult. According to a study published in the journal American Family Physician, "mindful meditation and exercise have positive effects as treatments for depressive disorders.”
- Talk To A Professional - Talking to someone who is not in your family or friend network can go a long way in ironing out some issues. Talk therapy has been proven an effective technique for the treatment of depression and anxiety.
- Be Social - Being social is an important part of keeping your mental health intact. When we are around people, our levels of serotonin go up. When we are by ourselves for long periods of time, it can set anxiety and depression into action. That is why the pandemic has been particularly difficult for all age groups. Humans are meant to be social and when we cannot, it takes a toll on our mental health in a big way. Part of good mental health is making sure that you have at least a few social activities planned each week doing all the things that you love to do with the people you love to do them with as well.
- Consider Herbal Therapy - Below is a list of herbal treatments that have at least some clinical research behind them showing that they are effective for treating depression and anxiety. Get what you need without having to go the pharmaceutical route.
10 Herbs With Clinical Research Showing They Help With Anxiety And Depression:
No matter what causes of your depression and anxiety, there are a number of herbs that can help tilt your mood in the right direction. Here are just a few that have shown some clinical results.
Mucuna pruriens is a tropical legume that grows naturally in Africa and Asia but is now widely cultivated throughout the world. It goes by a number of names including monkey tamarind, velvet bean, Bengal velvet bean, and Florida velvet bean. A number of studies have shown that mucuna works as a treatment for depression. According to a study published in the International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda mucuna helps with “dopaminergic systems” in the body and has “antidepressant” impacts on patients.
Dopamine promotes increased well-being, focus, enjoyment, and interest in life. It is what makes us feel happy and care-free. With 20 percent L-DOPA (the immediate precursor of dopamine), DOPA Mucuna helps the body with what it needs to make this important neurotransmitter. Mucuna pruriens is now available to you in this convenient third-party lab tested supplement. Need an extra boost? Try UMZU’S Mucuna Pruriens: Focus, Well-Being, & Brain Support. It is a high quality, naturally sourced supplement that keeps your brain functioning optimally throughout the day.
Also known as Indian ginseng, ashwagandha is an ancient herb that has been used for centuries for the treatment of anxiety and depression. A study published in the journal Annals of Clinical Psychiatry found that ashwagandha “may hold promise in the treatment of depression and anxiety symptoms in those with schizophrenia.” Another study published in the journal Medicine found that “ashwagandha's stress-relieving effects may occur via its moderating effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis.”
Read More: 13 Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
Phosphatidylserine is a component of cell membranes that is really important and has been shown to have a number of benefits when taken as a supplement. A study published in the journal Advances in Therapy found that short-term supplementation of phosphatidylserine and phosphatidic acid in patients with Alzheimer’s disease showed a stabilizing effect on daily functioning, emotional state, and self-reported general condition.” Another study, published in the journal Mental Illness found that phosphatidylserine combined with omega 3 fatty acids was associated with a reduction in serum cortisol levels in patients with late life depression.
Phosphatidylserine has also been shown effective for the treatment of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). A study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition ESPEN “substantiated the efficacy of phosphatidylserine in reducing symptoms of PMS.”
4. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba comes from a tree that is native to China. It has been widely used as a natural treatment for anxiety and depression for years now. A study published in the journal Medicine (Baltimore) found that ginkgo biloba “can effectively improve depressive symptoms” in elderly patients. Another study published in the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment found that ginkgo biloba may be a positive treatment for patients with post-stroke depression.
Cortigon by UMZU has a potent dose of Ginkgo Biloba in every capsule
5. Bacopa Monnieri
Bacopa Monnieri is a perenial creeping herb found in the wetlands of India. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that Bacopa Monnieri may be a potentially safe treatment for depression and other cognitive behaviors that occur as a result of aging. Another study published in the journal Neurochemical Research followed depressed rats and found that Bacopa Monnieri may work on the mechanism that causes stress and depression in the brain.
6. Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola Rosea is a perennial that grows naturally in the wild Arctic in regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. It has been used for centuries as a treatment for anxiety and depression in traditional medicine. A study published in the journal Phytomedicine found that the herb regulates cell response to stress, affecting various components of the neuroendocrine, neurotransmitter receptor, and molecular networks which may have beneficial effects on mood. Another study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research found that “the experimental group demonstrated a significant reduction in self-reported anxiety, stress, anger, confusion and depression at 14 days and significant improvements in total mood.” Finally, a study published in the journal Current Pharmacology Reports found that in addition to stress-reduction, Rhodiola rosea extracts have recently shown anti-aging and anti-inflammation effects.
7. Panax Ginseng
Panax ginseng is a plant that grows in Korea, China, and Siberia. It should not be confused with other ginseng plants like American ginseng and Black cohosh as it works on the body's systems in an entirely different manner. It is used to supplement with, to flavor beverages, and to make soaps. A study published in the journal Cell Proliferation found that Panax ginseng may be beneficial for the treatment of depression. Another study published in the journal Molecules Online looked at the neuroprotective qualities of Panax ginseng.
8. Tulsi (holy basil)
When I was living at an ashram a few years ago, I drank Tulsi tea like it was going out of style. The tea combined with daily yoga, meditation, pranyama, and chanting must have done the trick because I came back home feeling like a million bucks. I still drink holy basil tea on a regular basis and it seems that I was onto something. A study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology found that holy basil has anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects when used on rats. Another study published in the journal Pharmaceutical Biology found that holy basil “shows anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties at the same dose and can be a potential therapeutic agent against mixed anxiety and depressive syndrome.” Another study published in The Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice found that while holy basil was effective at relieving stress, it was not as effective as the oral sedative Alprazolam at stress reduction in dental patients.
You have likely heard of maca because it has become all the rage as of late. Added to smoothies galore, people love the stuff. The research seems to back this up. A study published in the journal Climacteric found that “maca appeared to reduce symptoms of depression and improve diastolic blood pressure in Chinese postmenopausal women.” Another study published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that black maca seemed to promote “antidepressant activity” in mice. Another study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food “demonstrated that maca extract showed antidepressant-like effects and was related to the activation of both noradrenergic and dopaminergic systems, while reducing oxidative stress in the mouse brain.” Much of the research has been on animal models and much more research still needs to be done, but this is promising nonetheless.
10. Butea Superba
While it is most known as an aphrodisiac and for increasing male fertility, Butea Superba has also been shown to improve mood and the effects of depression and anxiety. It is a vining shrub in the legume family that grows in India and has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of anxiety and depression. A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that Butea Superba has been shown to treat chronic stress-induced depression symptoms by restoring “signaling systems and neurogenesis” in the hippocampus of the brain.