Using over the counter (OTC) medications for anxiety is a relatively new development when compared to using OTC medications for physical symptoms. As many people suffer from anxiety, the appeal of OTC medications is understandable. It’s the convenience of going to the pharmacy and picking an OTC medication to treat any symptom you may have, be it a headache, muscle pain, fever, or cold. In addition, you don’t need a prescription, which requires a doctor’s visit, and that entails calling the office, waiting a few days (or few weeks) for the appointment, and accepting the doctor’s treatment which you only have a minority voice with regards to the decision for treatment. Why not take control of your own mental health and anxiety? Why should you suffer any longer, waiting for someone else’s opinion? We are used to going to the pharmacy to obtain OTC medications for our physical symptoms…but what about for mental symptoms like anxiety? The good news is that there are research studies showing that OTC medications can help for anxiety.
Benadryl For Anxiety
Although most of the medications for anxiety disorder are only available with a prescription, a few OTC medications could be considered for anxiety. Benadryl, or diphenhydramine, can be used to reduce anxiety symptoms. Benadryl dosed at 25mg to 50 mg will help to reduce anxiety, mainly by helping you get rest and sleep, as Benadryl is quite sedating. Because of sedation, Benadryl is usually taken at night. However, if you have anxiety during the day and take Benadryl during the day, it will make you sedated. For temporary relief of anxiety during the day, taking Benadryl will help you to sleep, and this will help to make you less anxious. Benadryl has advantages as it is non-addictive and available as generic diphenhydramine, so the generic form is relatively inexpensive. The disadvantages are that Benadryl can lose its effectiveness with long term use and with regular daily use…this phenomenon is known as tolerance. It is best to use Benadryl on an as needed basis, rather than a daily medication for anxiety. Although Benadryl does not have research studies for effectiveness in anxiety, it is commonly recommended by doctors to their patients with anxiety.
Natural Supplements For Anxiety
Other OTC medications to consider for anxiety include natural supplements, which include dietary and herbal supplements. Natural supplements have research studies showing preliminary effectiveness and safety for anxiety. Natural supplements for anxiety include inositol, lavender, passionflower, L-lysine and L-arginine, valerian, L-theanine, galphimia glauca, omega 3 fatty acids, GABA, ginkgo biloba, chamomile, magnesium, lemon balm, melatonin, and skullcap.
Inositol is a carbohydrate which is sweet in taste. Inositol can be found in fruits and lechitins. One study found that inositol was as effective as fluvoxamine for the treatment of panic disorder (Palatnik et al., 2001). Inositol is a natural compound with few side effects, which makes it an attractive alternative to prescription medications for anxiety which have significant side effects.
Lavender, also known as lavandula angustifolia, is a flowering plant in the mint family, and is native to the Old World. A study found that lavender oil was more effective than placebo for anxiety, had fewer side effects than paroxetine, and had a side effect profile similar to placebo (Kasper et al., 2014). Another study showed that lavender oil was as effective as lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder, and does not have the sedative or addictive potential of benzodiazepines (Woelk and Schläfke, 2010).
Passiflora, commonly known as passionflower, is a flowering plant, and has a pantropical distribution. One study revealed that Passionflower was as effective as oxazepam for generalized anxiety disorder, and that oxazepam caused impairment in job performance (Akhondzadeh et al., 2001). More studies are needed to confirm these findings.
L-lysine and L-arginine
L-lysine and L-arginine are taken in combination to help with anxiety. L-lysine is an essential amino acid, whereas L-arginine is a conditionally nonessential amino acid. The combination of L-lysine and L-arginine was effective at reducing anxiety symptoms in healthy adults (Smriga et al., 2007), and modified hormonal responses to psychosocial stress in healthy subjects (Jezova et al., 2005). Studies in clinical samples (in subjects with anxiety disorder) are needed.
Valeriana officinalis, commonly known as valerian, is a flowering plant native to Europe, Asia, and introduced into North America. One study showed that valerian was more effective than placebo for obsessive compulsive disorder, and only had somnolence as a side effect (Pakseresht et al., 2011). However, another study revealed valerian was not more effective than diazepam or placebo, but a major limitation was that the study suffered from a small sample size (Andreatini et al., 2002). More studies are needed for valerian in anxiety.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. Theanine reduced anxiety symptoms more than placebo in healthy subjects (Unno et al., 2013). In another study, L-theanine was effective at reducing anxiety symptoms in those with psychosis (Ritsner et al., 2011). More studies are needed for L-theanine for anxiety.
Galphimia glauca is a flowering plant, and it grows in Latin and South America. One study showed that galphimia glauca was as effective as lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder, and it was well tolerated and safe (Herrera-Arellano et al., 2012). More studies are needed regarding galphimia glauca for anxiety.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids and important for normal metabolism. One study showed that omega 3 fatty acids reduced anxiety in healthy subjects (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2011). Another study showed that omega 3 fatty acids were effective at reducing anxiety in a group with a diagnosis of substance abuse (Buydens-Branchey et al., 2006). But another study showed it was not effective for obsessive compulsive disorder (Fux et al., 2004). More studies in clinical samples are needed.
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter found in the central nervous system. One study showed that GABA may have a physiologic anxiety effect when one is in a phobic situation (Abdou et al., 2006). More studies are needed.
Ginkgo biloba, also known as the maidenhair tree, is native to China. Ginkgo showed effectiveness for anxiety when compared to placebo for generalized anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder with anxiety. In addition, it was safe and well tolerated (Woelk et al., 2007). More studies are needed.
Chamomile, a daisy-like plant, is in the family Asteraceae. One study revealed that chamomile was effective when compared to placebo for generalized anxiety disorder (Amsterdam et al., 2009). More studies are needed to replicate these findings.
Magnesium is a chemical element, an alkaline earth metal. Preliminary studies have revealed a possible role for magnesium in the treatment of anxiety (Hanus et al., 2004; De Souza et al., 2000). More studies are needed.
Lemon balm, also known as melissa officinalis, is an herb in the mint family. It is native to Europe and the Mediterranean. One study showed that lemon balm combined with valerian led to decreased anxiety in healthy subjects when compared to placebo (Kennedy et al., 2006). Studies in clinical samples are needed.
Melatonin is a hormone, and the chemical name is N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine. Melatonin has a few studies showing it is effective for anxiety (Acil et al., 2004; Khezri and Merate, 2013; Khezri et al., 2013). However, studies in clinical samples are needed.
Scullcap is a flowering plant also known as Scutellaria and is distributed worldwide. One study found that scullcap decreased anxiety in healthy subjects (Wolfson and Hoffmann, 2003). Studies in clinical samples are needed.
Natural Supplements Not Recommended For Anxiety
Although kava has been used extensively in Polynesian cultures for anxiety, it is not recommended due to side effects. Kava is made from the roots of the plant piper methysticum and originates from the western Pacific. A recent study revealed that kava was effective for generalized anxiety disorder when compared to placebo (Sarris et al., 2013). However, there have been reports of liver failure and toxicity with taking kava (Yang and Salminen, 2011). At this time, kava is not recommended for anxiety due to the potential for liver damage.
Tryptophan is another natural supplement that has been used for anxiety, but is not recommended due to side effects. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid in the human diet. Tryptophan has a couple of studies showing it is effective for social anxiety disorder (Hudson et al., 2007; Pecknold et al., 1982). However, pharmaceutical-grade tryptophan use declined significantly in 1989 after it was found to be associated with eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS). However, when tryptophan is given as an intact protein (such as deoiled gourd seed), there is no risk of EMS. In addition, when protein-source tryptophan is given with a high glycemic carbohydrate, it is effective for reducing anxiety (Hudson et al., 2007). At this time, tryptophan is not recommended until more studies confirm the safety of tryptophan for anxiety.
St. John’s wort; Hops
St. John’s wort and hops are natural supplements that have been used for anxiety treatment, but are currently not recommended for anxiety. St. John’s wort has negative studies for anxiety (Kobak et al., 2005). No studies for anxiety treatment in human subjects were found for hops.
OTC medications such as Benadryl and natural supplements for anxiety are viable treatment options, generally have fewer side effects, and are generally less expensive than prescription medications for anxiety. In the near future, OTC medications for anxiety will be as common as the OTC medications for physical symptoms, given the high prevalence of anxiety in the general population. With more research studies and clinical experience, these OTC medications will have an important role in the treatment of anxiety.
Fortunately, there is an OTC natural anxiety supplement which was developed based on research studies and decades of clinical experience- KalmPro. I formulated KalmPro to be natural, effective, safe, and convenient- without all the side effects and costs of prescription medications for anxiety.