Eight Proven Ingredients For Fast Anxiety Relief
Our mission for creating JOY was simple – but tough. We were determined to find the very best natural anti-anxiety ingredients for our formula - ingredients that were proven to be effective, safe, non-sedating, and with no nasty side-effects. JOY had to be the best stress and anxiety supplement on the market!
We started with a long, long list of natural anxiety remedies – but we discarded most of them.
Some of them have risky side-effects – those went in the rubbish bin first.
Some of them are just not very effective, and don't stand up to modern scientific research proof – we threw those out as well.
And many others can help anxiety – but will also make you sleepy. That might be fine at bedtime... but for a daytime supplement, it's no good. During the day you need to be calm and focused, not falling asleep at your desk (or worse, at the wheel of your car).
That means JOY does NOT contain any valerian, hops, passionflower, 5-HTP, l-tryptophan – sedating ingredients found in almost every other anxiety relief supplement, that are likely to make you drowsy and non-functional.
We've made sure to ONLY include ingredients that can relieve anxiety – safely and effectively – without making you sleepy at the same time.
So which are the 8 ingredients that stood up to our rigorous selection criteria?
GABA is the brain's own natural tranquilliser, designed to soothe and calm you when your brain starts to go into overdrive.
GABA's full name is gamma-aminobutyric acid, and like serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline it's a brain neurotransmitter. But unlike other neurotransmitters which stimulate brain activity, GABA does the opposite and slows it down.
Most of the anti-anxiety medications and natural remedies that we have, work to enhance GABA in the brain in some way.
So why not just take a GABA supplement?
Well, some people do just that, and find that it works. But for others, GABA supplements don't work so well. The main reason for these mixed results is that the GABA molecule is just a bit too big to easily cross the blood-brain barrier, and so most of it will probably not get to where it is needed.
Added to that, the brain itself regulates how much GABA can get in… when there is more GABA in your bloodstream, then GABA channel blockers are activated.
To get around that, we decided to include some GABA in our formula (just enough to give some fast initial relief). GABA is your brain's own calming brain chemical, ready-made for action – and it works. But we've also included 7 other power-packed ingredients that help boost GABA, improve your resilience to stress, and reduce anxiety.
Read on …
L-theanine is a GABA booster, one of the most effective that we know of. And it's fast, too – because the l-theanine molecule is small and crosses the blood-brain barrier easily. (Many people report a noticeable effect of l-theanine within 15 minutes.)
L-theanine is found in high concentrations in young tea leaves – though you'd have to drink at least 20 cups of tea to get a decent therapeutic effect. We have thousands of years of evidence that it's safe… (And validated by modern safety research as well.)
The best part? L-theanine calms your brain without sedating you.
Researchers have found that even low doses of l-theanine will produce more alpha waves in the brain. We know that alpha waves are associated with a state of relaxed alertness and greater mental focus, and anxiety is associated with lack of alpha waves. But here's something more: when a person is engaged in a task that requires mental focus, there are specific areas of the brain that need to be engaged.
One recent study mapped the brain of human subjects to see which parts showed enhanced alpha during a task requiring selective attention. The researchers found that l-theanine reduced background alpha activity in the brain, but increased the attention-related alpha waves, compared with another group given a placebo. In other words, l-theanine can help concentration at the same time as it reduces stress and anxiety.
As well as its GABA boosting anti-anxiety effect, L-theanine enhances brain dopamine – one of the “feel good” neurotransmitters – and seems to counter some of the stressful effect of excitatory neurotransmitters such as glutamate. As a result, l-theanine not only won't sedate you, but it actually helps mental focus and a sense of active well-being.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a traditional herbal remedy with a long-standing reputation as a stress and anxiety reliever and mood booster. It's also known for helping soothe pain and digestive discomfort. And though it's not a sedative, because of its calming effect it can be helpful for sleeplessness too.
Now science is beginning to confirm traditional herbal medicine, and this humble plant from the mint family is showing up as a particular star.
In one study in Canada a group of scientists tested all the commercially available anti-anxiety botanicals they could get their hands on, and found that of them all, lemon balm extract had the greatest effect on the enzymes that regulated GABA.
So lemon balm too turns out to be a GABA enhancer.
The main effective compound has been identified as rosmarinic acid, which has been shown in other studies to inhibit GABA transaminase – the enzyme that cleans up GABA once it is released by a neuron. As a result, GABA levels in your brain are effectively boosted and you end up feeling calmer.
Research on both humans and animals consistently shows that lemon balm helps protect against stress-induced anxiety - and the effects compound over time.
This supports the view that lemon balm functions both as an immediate remedy for anxiety and also as an adaptogen - a substance that helps us respond better to stress over the long term. And lemon balm appears to have some serotonin enhancing effects, which would support its traditional use as a mood booster too.
But wait, there's more…
Not only is lemon balm helpful for stress and anxiety but it's also getting a reputation as a cognitive enhancer that can improve memory and mental processing speed in healthy young adults. And new research suggests it could have the potential to help age-related cognitive decline and even Alzheimer's sufferers - both conditions that are often associated with anxiety and agitation, and made worse by the usual pharmacological treatment which has a strongly sedative effect.
What if we can relieve anxiety and boost cognitive function at the same time? Lemon balm may be one of the answers.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is sometimes known as “Indian ginseng” because it has similar properties to Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticocus). Both are classified in natural medicine as “adaptogens” - herbs which can help your body adapt by normalising your functioning at times of increased stress. In other words, these herbs will bring you back to a balanced state, increasing your energy or calming you, depending on what is needed.
Ashwagandha has an established place in Ayurvedic medicine going back over six thousand years, with a wide array of reputed benefits (in India it's known as a rasayana or “rejuvenator”, and used as a tonic for those who are run-down or elderly). And as with other traditional plant substances, modern science is now beginning to validate its reputation.
Double-blind studies, using control groups given a placebo, have shown some amazing stress-protective powers for ashwagandha. A standard demonstration of stress for rats in the laboratory is putting them in near freezing water so that they are forced to swim. In several different studies, researchers found that rats given a single dose of ashwagandha just before the test were able to swim almost twice as long as those given the placebo. Moreover, physiological markers of stress such as corticosteroid levels, ascorbic acid, and immune antibodies also showed this protective effect of ashwagandha compared with the placebo.
In another study, this time using situations known to provoke anxiety in rats (for example, one situation was an elevated open maze) researchers found that ashwagandha was as effective as lorazepam (a benzodiazepine often prescribed for anxiety), measured by the time the rats voluntarily spent in the open arms of the maze.
So what about human studies?
Humans are harder to control than rats, so there are fewer controlled human studies. But those we do have look promising. In one human clinical study with patients diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, using a double-blind placebo control research design, 20 patients were given ashwagandha extract and 19 were given a placebo over a period of 6 weeks. Anxiety levels were measured at the start, after 2 weeks, and at the end of the 6 week period, and showed a significant reduction in anxiety (as measured by a battery of rating scales) for those patients who had received the ashwagandha extract.
For women, ashwagandha may have an extra benefit. As well as balancing stress hormones, it can also play a role in helping balance female hormones, particularly during menopause when hormone help is often needed.
Ashwagandha is indeed deserving of its reputation as an adaptogen for stress, and its potential to help with female hormone balance makes this revered ayurvedic remedy a key component in our formula.
Rhodiola rosea is a perennial flowering plant that flourishes in cold climates (the most potent Rhodiola comes from Siberia and the Arctic circle). It was reputedly used by the Vikings to boost immunity and enhance their endurance against the freezing winter climate, and similarly in Siberia.
Scientific studies now confirm that rhodiola reliably protects against the effects of stress in a number of different ways.
One typical study (using a double-blind placebo-controlled design) looked at a group of students taking Rhodiola for 20 days during their exam period. Compared with students taking a placebo, the Rhodiola group showed reduced physical and mental fatigue, better mental performance, and a greater sense of well-being.
Similar studies have shown reduced fatigue and better cognitive performance in groups of military cadets on military night duty and hospital physicians on night duty – both stressful situations where high levels of performance are important.
A further clinical study gave rhodiola extract over 4 weeks to patients in a clinic presenting with high levels of life and work stress, and found that their self-reported stress levels, mood and general functioning (as measured by a battery of rating scales and questionnaires) improved significantly.
As well as protection against stress and improvement in stress-related fatigue and other symptoms, rhodiola seems to have a serotonin boosting effect. And one clinical trial has found that rhodiola given over 6 weeks reduced depressive symptoms (including improved mood and reduced insomnia) in patients diagnosed with mild to moderate depression.
Now, we've deliberately not included any of the well-known serotonin boosters in JOY. We believe that serotonin boosting supplements should be taken independently of anxiety/stress relief supplements, even though many people suffer from symptoms of anxiety and depression at the same time. However, rhodiola rosea is different. Because it functions primarily as an adaptogen, it doesn't just boost serotonin automatically, but seems to normalise brain levels when serotonin is low. (This may account for the common reports of enhanced well-being by those taking rhodiola.)
Women are particularly vulnerable to low serotonin levels when under stress, so rhodiola has a double-whammy effect here: helping to protect against stress and enhance serotonin at the same time.
Another thing we liked about rhodiola for a women's formula: it's been shown to help reduce stress-related binge eating. And what's not to like about that???
(Rhodiola is not a weight loss aid or general appetite suppressant – this effect is just for stress-related binge-eating. In fact, if you've found that stress takes away your appetite, rhodiola has been found to help with that as well.)
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Tulsi, or Holy Basil (scientific name: Ocimum sanctum), has a long history in India as a sacred and medicinal plant that helps with anxiety and stress.
In the Hindu tradition, Tulsi is considered sacred to the Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, beauty and good fortune, and traditionally every Hindu home and temple would have its own Tulsi plant.
Though it's powerful, its effects are gentle, and its history as well as modern scientific investigation indicate that it is safe and effective.
Recent studies in India have shown in both animal and human studies that active extracts of Holy Basil are able to significantly reduce corticosteroid blood levels which have been elevated from stress - confirming the use of Holy Basil as an adaptogen.
One study in Lucknow in India followed 158 patients who showed 3 or more symptoms of stress. The patients were assigned to one of two groups, getting either a placebo or an extract of Holy Basil for 6 weeks. Those patients taking Holy Basil extract were found to show significant improvement in their stress symptoms, as measured by standard rating scales.
Another study in a clinical hospital setting looked at the results of giving 500 mg of Holy Basil twice daily over 60 days to a group of patients diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder . While this was a small study and there was no placebo control group, the results were very promising, with reduced anxiety levels (as measured by the Hamilton Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale) and also reduced feelings of stress and depression reported by these patients.
As well as its beneficial effects for stress, Holy Basil is known to reduce and stabilise blood sugar levels (which tend to be elevated during stress and can lead to rebound sugar cravings). Overall, it's a great natural remedy to help with adrenal fatigue and other stress fatigue conditions.
Altogether, both its history and its science make Holy Basil a natural choice for our final adaptogen ingredient.
These days most of us are aware of magnesium as a mineral essential to our health. It's required for muscle relaxation (low magnesium is one of the causes of muscle cramps) and for healthy brain and nervous system functioning.
And there are a host of other biochemical processes (over 300 that we know of) that require magnesium. So it's important to make sure you get enough magnesium – and because of depleted soils these days, just about everyone is deficient. (It's estimated that up to 80% of women and 70% of men have some form of magnesium deficiency.)
Under stress (and that includes even normal exercise) your body loses magnesium faster than normal, and that process escalates as you get older. If you're a woman in her thirties or forties, living a “normal” stressful western lifestyle, I can just about guarantee you are magnesium deficient. And if you're in your fifties or sixties, ditto and double!
We know extra magnesium can help reduce anxiety and stress, just because of its help with general relaxation and healthy nerve function. And there is some evidence from controlled research studies in rats (supporting clinical observations for humans) that low magnesium levels do lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
But the main reason we include magnesium is that it's needed for the GABA pathways to work.
You see, when GABA is released by a neuron, it acts as a messenger carrying the nerve impulse across the synapse to the next nerve cell. When a GABA molecule reaches its destination, it binds to a GABA channel receptor, which changes shape slightly and allows negatively charged chloride ions to enter the cell – which calms down the nerve activity. But this only works if magnesium is present...
We believe (from what the research shows us) that extra magnesium should be included with every brain boosting supplement. And it needs to be a form of magnesium that is highly bio-available. (Many mood supplements that do include magnesium use magnesium oxide, which is the cheapest form of magnesium but the least well absorbed, and can lead to gastric upset as well.)
Magnesium malate is our preferred form of magnesium – it's one of the recommended chelated forms of magnesium, highly bio-available and well absorbed. And the malate part of the molecule has been found to be useful for fibromyalgia as well, so it seems to give some extra support to restoring energy and reducing pain.
Yes, magnesium needs to be included in a GABA boosting supplement. But it needs something else to work properly – vitamin B6.
Like magnesium, vitamin B6 plays a vital part in a long list of biochemical processes in your body. But the most important of these are in your brain, where B6 is needed for the synthesis of five different neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine – and GABA.
It works like this:
GABA is synthesised in your brain from glucose, or glutamine. But both glucose and glutamine are also precursors for glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter. If everything is balanced and functioning properly, your brain will naturally regulate the amounts of GABA and glutamate by converting one to the other. But if you don't have enough B6, your brain can't produce GABA – and so glutamate takes over. For someone prone to anxiety, that's a disaster waiting to happen!
This is so important that we believe Vitamin B6, like magnesium, should be included in every brain boosting supplement.
Note: Because l-theanine was first discovered in green tea, much of the early research on l-theanine has been done in Japan and other Asian countries - and it is not all available in English. Some references below are secondary sources.
Hidese, S., Ota, M., Wakabayashi, C., Noda, T., Ozawa, H., Okubo, T. and Kunugi, H. (2016) ‘Effects of chronic l-theanine administration in patients with major depressive disorder: an open-label study’, Acta Neuropsychiatrica, , pp. 1–8. doi: 10.1017/neu.2016.33.
Kimura R, Murata T. Influence of alkylamides of glutamic acid and related compounds on the central nervous system. I. Central depressant effect of theanine. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 1971 Jun;19(6):1257-61. PubMed PMID: 4397636 -(original in Japanese) - in Mason, R. 200 mg of Zen: L-Theanine Boosts Alpha Waves, Promotes Alert Relaxation. Alternative and Complementary Therapies 7(2):91-95 · April 2001
Gomez-Ramirez M, Higgins BA, Rycroft JA, et al. The deployment of intersensory selective attention: a high-density electrical mapping study of the effects of theanine. Clin Neuropharmacol. 2007 Jan;30(1):25-38.
Unno K1, Tanida N, Ishii N, Yamamoto H, Iguchi K, Hoshino M, Takeda A, Ozawa H, Ohkubo T, Juneja LR, Yamada H. Anti-stress effect of theanine on students during pharmacy practice: positive correlation among salivary α-amylase activity, trait anxiety and subjective stress. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2013 Oct;111:128-35. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2013.09.004. Epub 2013 Sep 16.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Cases J, Ibarra A, Feuilllere N, Roller M, Sukkar SG. Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Med J Nutrition Metab. 2011;4(3):211–218. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Kennedy DO, Scholey AB, Tildesley NT, Perry EK, Wesnes KA. Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm). Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2002
Kennedy DO, Wake G, Savelev S, et al., Modulation of mood and cognitive performance following acute administration of single doses of Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm) with human CNS nicotinic and muscarinic receptor-binding properties. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2003;28(10):1871-81.
Kennedy DO, Scholey AB, Tildesley NT, Perry EK, Wesnes KA. Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm).Psychosom Med. 2004 Jul-Aug;66(4):607-13.
Awad R, Levac D, Cybulska P, Merali Z, Trudeau VL, Arnason JT. Effects of traditionally used anxiolytic botanicals on enzymes of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2007 Sep;85(9):933-42.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Bhattacharya S. K., Bhattacharya A., Sairam K., Ghosal S. Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study. Phytomedicine. 2000;7(6):463–469. doi: 10.1016/S0944-7113(00)80030-6.
Bhattacharya S. K., Muruganandam A. V. Adaptogenic activity of Withania somnifera: an experimental study using a rat model of chronic stress. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 2003;75(3):547–555. doi: 10.1016/S0091-3057(03)00110-2.
Modi MB1, Donga SB, Dei L. Clinical evaluation of Ashokarishta, Ashwagandha Churna and Praval Pishti in the management of menopausal syndrome. Ayu. 2012 Oct;33(4):511-6. doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.110529.
Pratte MA, Nanavati KB, Young V, Morley CP. An alternative treatment for anxiety: A systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) J Altern Complement Med. 2014;20:901–8. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Cifani C, et al Effect of salidroside, active principle of Rhodiola rosea extract, on binge eating . Physiol Behav. (2010) Dec 2;101(5):555-62
Chen QG, et al The effects of Rhodiola rosea extract on 5-HT level, cell proliferation and quantity of neurons at cerebral hippocampus of depressive rats . Phytomedicine. (2009)
Darbinyan V, et al Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Nord J Psychiatry. (2007) 61(6):503.
Darbinyan V, et al Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue--a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty . Phytomedicine. (2000) Oct;7(5):365-71.
Edwards D, Heufelder A, Zimmermann A Therapeutic effects and safety of Rhodiola rosea extract WS® 1375 in subjects with life-stress symptoms--results of an open-label study . Phytother Res. (2012) Aug;26(8):1220-5. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3712.
Hung SK, Perry R, Ernst E. The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Phytomedicine. 2011 Feb 15;18(4):235-44.
Mannucci C, et al Serotonin involvement in Rhodiola rosea attenuation of nicotine withdrawal signs in rats . Phytomedicine. (2012)
Perfumi M, Mattioli L Adaptogenic and central nervous system effects of single doses of 3% rosavin and 1% salidroside Rhodiola rosea L. extract in mice . Phytother Res. (2007) Jan;21(1):37-43.
Shevtsov VA, et al A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work . Phytomedicine. (2003) Mar;10(2-3):95-105.
Spasov AA, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen. Phytomedicine 2000 Apr;7(2):85-9.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Bhattacharyya D. Controlled programmed trial of Ocimum sanctum leaf on generalized anxiety disorders. Nepal Med Coll J. 2008 Sep;10(3):176-9.
Jothie Richard E. et al. Anti-stress Activity of Ocimum sanctum: Possible Effects on Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis. Phytother Res. 2016 May;30(5):805-14.
Sampath, S. et al. Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract enhances specific cognitive parameters in healthy adult volunteers: A placebo controlled study. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2015 Jan-Mar;59(1):69-77.
Saxena, RC. et al. Efficacy of an Extract of Ocimum tenuiflorum (OciBest) in the Management of General Stress: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2012), Article ID 894509, 7 pages.
Sembulingam K, Sembulingam P, Namasivayam A. Effect of Ocimum sanctum Linn on noise induced changes in plasma corticosterone level. Indian J Physiol
Pharmacol. 1997 Oct;41(4):429-30.
Eby GA 3rd, Eby KL Magnesium for treatment-resistant depression: a review and hypothesis. Med Hypotheses. (2010)
Möykkynen T, Uusi-Oukari M, Heikkilä J, Lovinger DM, Lüddens H, Korpi ER. Magnesium potentiation of the function of native and recombinant GABA(A) receptors. Neuroreport. 2001 Jul 20;12(10):2175-9.
Spasov AA, et al Depression-like and anxiety-related behaviour of rats fed with magnesium-deficient diet . Zh Vyssh Nerv Deiat Im I P Pavlova. (2008)
Vitamin B6 (Pyrodoxine)
GABA: By Alexandr Mitiuc, Fotolia
L-theanine: dusky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Holy Basil (Tulsi): By Forest & Kim Starr, CC BY 3.0