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Natural Alternatives to Over-the-Counter Anxiety Medications

over the counter anxiety medication

over the counter anxiety medication is the most common mental health condition, affecting over 40 million adults. Prescription medications are commonly used for treating anxiety symptoms. But some people turn to herbal remedies for treatment.

Before using supplements for anxiety, you should know that they aren’t regulated like prescriptions. Their safety and effectiveness aren’t under the same scrutiny. And supplements can cause serious side effects. So they’re best used with medical supervision.

In this article, we’ll review seven natural remedies that you may see on the pharmacy shelf. We’ll discuss how safe and effective they are in helping with anxiety symptoms.  

over the counter anxiety medication Anxiety Medications

over the counter anxiety medication are controlled substances for a reason. It all comes down to anxiety’s action within the brain.

Chronic anxiety (and panic attacks) can influence your central nervous system, causing your brain to release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol more frequently than usual. This can result in various anxiety symptoms, including depression, headaches, and dizziness.

Adrenaline and cortisol are extremely helpful when you’re in a threatening situation – they’re an essential component of your body’s fight-or-flight response, the reaction you have when exposed to dangerous situations. However, when responding to imagined threats (as is familiar with anxiety disorders), your brain continually releases stress hormones unnecessarily.

Can natural remedies help with anxiety?

You’ve probably seen store shelves stocked with natural products that claim to help with anxiety. There may be some merit to some of the claims. There is evidence that some natural remedies help treat the symptoms of anxiety and other mental health disorders.

Afraid That Medication Might Cause Side Effects?

Therefore, to treat anxiety, treatment methods must focus on preventing this neurological reaction. And anything powerful enough to affect the brain in this way you should only use after professional medical advice from a doctor.

And it’s important to ask yourself, “would I want over-the-counter medication for my anxiety?” Anxiety is not a disease that can be cured by taking some medication for a week. Instead, it’s a condition affecting the way you think and feel.

Medication dulls anxiety, but it doesn’t cure it. You’d have to take medication for the rest of your life, which can lead to dependency, side effects, and a reduction in effectiveness over time. It may also prevent you from seeking other methods to reduce your anxiety.

To truly combat anxiety, you need to understand why you’re anxious in the first place. You may need to speak to a mental health professional, such as a therapist, for this – more on that topic later!

Still, medications can help with the emotional distress and physical symptoms anxiety causes. So, why are there no over-the-counter treatment options?

What are the best natural remedies for anxiety?

There are several natural remedies that you can try for anxiety treatment. But not all have studies to prove if they’re safe and effective. Here we’ll review seven herbal alternatives that researchers have studied. And we’ll cover natural remedies with a proven track record of success in treating anxiety.

  1. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)

This may not look familiar to you, but you have lots of 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) floating around in your body. It’s the parent compound to several neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), including serotonin. Serotonin is an essential neurotransmitter for your mood and mental health.

There has been a lot of interest in 5-HTP as a natural anxiety remedy. That’s because of its relationship with serotonin. Many prescription medications for treating anxiety raise serotonin levels in the brain.

Small studies show promise for 5-HTP on its own and in combination with other compounds. But more significantly, higher-quality studies will help prove any anxiety benefits.

Since 5-HTP affects serotonin levels, it may interact with other medications you’re taking. This can cause serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition. So be sure to discuss this with your healthcare provider.

Reason one Potential for Abuse, over the counter anxiety medication

Taken in specific ways, anti-anxiety medications can cause significant mental impairment. The concern is that many people would be taking these drugs off-label if they were available over the counter. That’s too dangerous.

Remember, these are drugs that affect your brain directly. They alter your body’s production and reception of neurotransmitters. That can be useful for reducing anxiety but can cause significant side effects and be extremely dangerous if more is taken than directed. They also interact with numerous other medications, alcohol, and more. These medications cannot be sold over the counter anxiety medication without posing a significant risk to the community.

  • Magnesium

Many adults in the U.S. may need more magnesium. Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a critical role in the body. Older adults and people with chronic diarrhea, Type 2 diabetes, and alcohol dependency are at higher risk of low magnesium levels.

Magnesium may have some potential benefits in relieving anxiety. But more research is needed to determine its actual effectiveness.

Magnesium is naturally found in fruits and vegetables. And although its supplements may seem relatively safe, it’s possible to take too much. This can lead to symptoms like:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramping

Talk to your provider about ensuring you get enough magnesium in your diet.

  • Cannabidiol (CBD)

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid derived from the cannabis plant. CBD has been gaining popularity for many health conditions — including anxiety. CBD works by interacting with your endocannabinoid system. This helps to control the function of your neurotransmitters.

In one small study, people reported an improvement in anxiety and depression after taking CBD oil for three weeks. And they said few side effects. But CBD doses aren’t standardized and vary widely across studies — from 6 mg to 400 mg per dose.

Although you can easily find CBD products, the FDA hasn’t endorsed the health claims. Adding CBD to food products or marketing it as a dietary supplement is illegal. There are also concerns about potential liver damage and medication interactions.

It comes in a variety of formulations

  • Kava kava 

The kava (Piper methysticum) root is from the Pacific Islands. It comes in a variety of formulations. Kavalactones (active plant chemicals) may be responsible for their potential anti-anxiety effects.

One study showed that kava offered a significant improvement in anxiety symptoms. And it may show promise in treating anxiety for short periods.

But the product quality and dosing can vary. And there have been reports of liver damage with specific formulations and doses. 

  • Valerian root 

Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is a well-known supplement for anxiety. Greek physicians realized it had calming effects back in 460 B.C. But the results are mixed with valerian root. Some studies show a benefit in treating anxiety, but others don’t.

Valerian root is also associated with severe side effects. There have been reports of liver damage. This usually occurs when valerian root is taken with other supplements. You may also have withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop taking it.

  • Holy basil

Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), or tulsi, is a staple herb in Ayurveda — a form of medicine practiced in ancient India.

Studies have shown that holy basil can help lower anxiety and stress. This is especially true when someone uses it for a more extended period. Long-term studies will likely provide more information on how holy basil works and the best dose to take.

  • Ashwagandha 

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is another herb in Ayurvedic medicine. Research shows it may lower anxiety and reduce stress hormones (like cortisol). But many of these studies could be more reliable. More research can help to find the full effects of this ancient herb.

Talk to your provider before trying any natural over-the-counter product to help with your anxiety. These products may interact with your medications or worsen other medical conditions.

Reason two Side Effects

Even over-the-counter medications can elicit harmful side effects. And without a doctor’s supervision, this could have serious repercussions. One example of this is Benadryl.

In the past, many people used Benadryl to manage their anxiety symptoms because it’s fast-acting and convenient – taking just 15 – 30 minutes to kick in and lasting several hours. Yes, it reduces anxiety symptoms temporarily, but Benadryl was never intended for long-term use. It comes with various side effects, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness

And these are just the most commonly reported. Other, more severe side effects include:

  • Lower red blood cell levels
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Allergy

(Williamson, 2021)

You may suffer from decreased appetite, weight loss, and other adverse health effects with other medications. Without the assistance of a doctor, these side effects may be deadly. These can be particularly troublesome if you’re in a vulnerable group, such as pregnant women, the elderly, and young children.

Reason three Hands-Off Approach

In the short term, these medicines may provide some relief. But unfortunately, if you use these medicines for so long without any additional coping tips, your brain will start to depend on them as the only way to cope with stress.

As anxiety symptoms ease, you may feel a natural pull away from coping mechanisms you previously used to reduce your anxiety, reading to dependence on over-the-counter medication as your sole treatment approach.

So when you stop taking these medicines, you’ll have lost some of your natural coping skills, which, if you suffer from anxiety, you may already have been struggling with. That’s a significant risk without alternative treatments and a doctor’s supervision.

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