Anxiety is one of most common human feelings, especially in this generation. But at high levels, and for longer periods, it my affect your mental health and thus physical health too. It is an aversive emotional state, in which the feeling of fear is disproportionate to the threat. Anxiety is implicated in a number of psychiatric disorders, such as depression, panic attacks, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Anxiety disorders affect 16.6% of population worldwide and numerous efforts have been made to understand the pathophysiology of the disease and treatments.
Generalized anxiety disorder is a syndrome of ongoing anxiety and worry about many events or feelings that the patient generally recognizes as extreme and inappropriate. Individuals manifest both physical and psychological symptoms leading to significant distress or impairment.
People suffering from OCD tend to have bothersome and intrusive thoughts that generate anxiety (obsession) and perform repetitive actions (compulsion). Obsessions include unwanted thoughts, impulses, or images that cause great anxiety. Compulsions include repetitive behaviors or mental acts that those affected feel driven to perform.
People suffering from panic disorders often have panic attacks, defined as discrete periods of sudden symptom onset usually peaking in 10 minutes and can occur with most anxiety disorders.
Individuals with PTSD avoid stimuli associated with the trauma and feel an extreme amount of fear and anxiety after presenting stimuli.
Anxiety and other psychiatric conditions are one of the most frequent conditions seen by clinicians and often require long-term treatment with medications. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and benzodiazepines are important class of drugs used to treat generalized anxiety disorders.
However, it has been observed that they exhibit side effects like suicidal ideation, decreased alertness, sexual dysfunction and dependency, drugs of natural origin are promising alternatives to treat neuropsychiatric disorders.
Ayurveda, the Indian traditional system of medicine uses herbs and their preparations to treat various neuropsychiatric disorders. Numerous herbs have been used for centuries in folk and other traditional medicine to calm the mind and positively enhance mood. Some effective remedies are here:
Centella asiatica is reputed for its beneficial effects in various neurological disorders. Gotu Kola has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some preliminary findings suggest that Centella asiatica has anxiolytic activity in humans and it remains to be seen whether this herb has therapeutic efficacy in the treatment of anxiety syndromes in large population.
In Indian traditional medicine, several herbs have been used as nerve tonics. The most popular of these herbs is brahmi, a well-known memory booster. Brahmi is used in Indian tradition medicine in treatment of number of brain disorders namely anxiety and poor memory. Bacopa monniera extract or its constituent bacosides showed anxiolytic activity in animals.
This has been an important herb in use within Ayurvedic and indigenous medical systems for over 3000 years. Both preclinical and clinical studies demonstrate the use of ashwagandha for anxiety, inflammation, Parkinson’s disease, cognitive and neurological disorders. It is also used therapeutically as an adaptogen in nervous exhaustion, insomnia, debility due to stress. A recent study has demonstrated the anxiolytic potential of a compound natural health product which had Withania as the main herb in an open label human trial.
Preliminary research shows lemon balm can reduce some symptoms of anxiety, such as nervousness and excitability.
Passiflora incarnata is a folk remedy for anxiety. The anxiolytic effects of passionflower are well documented in rodents. Its effect on humans are yet to be study in detail.
There is substantial evidence that kava has a positive effect on the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Animal studies have demonstrated anti-anxiety activity of kava. Several randomized double-blind clinical studies in GAD patients showed beneficial effect of kava-kava in reducing anxiety.
St. John’s wort is a popular supplement for treating depression but is much less popular for treating anxiety disorders.
Extract of Ginkgo biloba significantly reduced the detrimental effect of learned helplessness in a subsequent conditioned avoidance task.
Galphimia glauca Cav. is a plant used in Mexican traditional medicine as a “nerve tranquilizer”. Previous studies have demonstrated anxiolytic effect of methanolic extract from this plant species.
In Ayurveda, compound formulations are generally used in the therapy as the combination of many drugs provides a synergistic therapeutic effect and also includes ingredients which help to minimize the adverse effects of few other major drugs. Formulations containing two or more of the above-mentioned herbs have found to treat anxiety efficiently. Some such formulations are:
Despite a large number of animal studies evaluating the potential anxiolytic effects of herbal drugs, very few controlled clinical studies have been conducted. Preliminary evidence suggests that herbal medicines may have a role in the treatment of anxiety disorders and warrants further research. However, we would like to clearly warn that most of the remedies are not approved for clinical use.
Disclaimer: some of the herbal remedies may interact with other medicines leading to drug-drug interactions, which may cause severe side effects and in some cases it may be fatal.