Friday, 8 February 2019

Herbs for Anxiety

Article Ann Walker; Photo © Debs Cook
Many modern drugs, prescribed by doctors for anxiety, work by raising the level of a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is the chief neurotransmitter that reduces brain-cell over-activity. By increasing the amount of GABA, drugs can typically have relaxing, anti-anxiety and anti-convulsive effects and can be very effective. However, long-term use of modern medications can have unwelcome side effects such as slower mental function and withdrawal symptoms.

A research group from Australia were interested in finding whether plant extracts with a history of safe use as medicines, might act in a similar way to these drugs (PMID: 29168225). They scoured the literature to find herbs that had been shown (a) to raise GABA levels in test-tube studies, (b) to reduce anxiety in lab animals and (c) to reduce anxiety in human studies. Ten herbs met these three criteria: Kava, Valerian, Gotu Kola, Hops, Chamomile, Ginkgo Biloba, Passionflower, Ashwagandha, Skullcap and Lemon Balm.

I know from clinical practice that herbal medicines can play an enormous part in supporting mental health and alleviating conditions such as anxiety. After starting my herbal practice, it was the strong positive influence that some herbs can have on mental function that was the thing that astonished me most in dealing with patients – something not highlighted in my training. All the herbs mentioned in this current review are well known to western herbal practitioners and nearly all would feature frequently in their herbal prescriptions. It’s great to see research revealing actual mechanisms of action to support the traditional use of these herbs!

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD, FCPP, MNIMH, RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner