As a physician, I believe in treating stress, anxiety, and insomnia with a variety of options, not only those in the mainstream of western medicine. While prescription medications can provide effective treatments, many of my patients prefer to explore alternative options.
For this reason, I often recommend dietary supplements like L-theanine, Melatonin, Magnesium, Vitamin B6, and 5-HTP. I have found that these natural, research-backed treatments are great alternatives to prescription sleep and anti-anxiety meds, which are often overly sedating and potentially habit-forming.
L-theanine: The Stress-Reducing Amino Acid
L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves. Studies have shown that L-theanine can reduce symptoms of anxiety and improve cognitive function (1). It works by increasing levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps to relax the mind and reduce feelings of anxiety.
Theanine also helps to balance the stimulating effects of caffeine, making it a great supplement while drinking tea or coffee. (Though theanine is found naturally in tea leaves, a cup of tea contains only a small concentration of it.)
Can’t Sleep? Try Melatonin, The Body’s Natural Sleep Hormone
Melatonin, a hormone that the body produces at nighttime, tells our brains to get sleepy. As a supplement, it can help with insomnia. Studies have shown that melatonin can improve sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep (2). It is also safe to use long-term, making it an excellent option for those with chronic insomnia. Melatonin is readily available and comes as a pill, liquid, or gummy. (Some formulations include both melatonin and L-theanine!)
The Mineral that Promotes Calm: Magnesium
Magnesium is an essential mineral—meaning that we need it for optimal health—and it’s involved in over three hundred reactions in the body! Among its many duties, magnesium regulates the body’s stress response, promoting a sense of calm. Studies have shown that magnesium supplementation can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression (3). It may also improve sleep patterns and sleep quality.
Regulate Your Mood with B6
Vitamin B6 is an essential vitamin—that is, our bodies don’t manufacture it, so we have to get it from our diet (or from supplements). B6 plays a role in the production of neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine. These feel-good chemicals are involved in regulating our mood, relieving anxiety, and increasing our sense of pleasure and well-being. Studies have shown that B6 is a great supplement for those suffering from stress and anxiety (4). B6 also helps with the production of melatonin, so it’s useful for those with insomnia as well.
Boost Serotonin with 5-HTP
5-HTP is a chemical precursor to serotonin, one of those feel-good neurotransmitters I mentioned above. 5-HTP comes as a natural supplement, derived from the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia plant. Studies suggest that taking 5-HTP can reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
Natural Supplements and You
While prescription pharmaceuticals work for many people, I also believe that incorporating natural alternatives is an effective way to manage stress, anxiety, and insomnia. Though these supplements are regarded as safe and effective, always talk to your doctor before taking any new supplements.
L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18296328
Melatonin in the treatment of insomnia: a systematic review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18802419
The effectiveness of magnesium supplementation in increasing sleep time in individuals with insomnia: a systematic review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28135735
Vitamin B6 in the treatment of depression. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pub