To what extent are dietary supplements effective in reducing anxiety and stress?

With the market for food supplements constantly growing, it is, without a doubt, the aspect of beauty that has evolved the fastest in the last year. More and more natural solutions are being created to take care of our well-being from within. Although in principle this type of nutricosmetics became more popular on an aesthetic level to improve the appearance of the skin, enhance hair growth, to relieve abdominal swelling and digestion, now the new focus of attention seems to be on those supplements diets more related to mental health. Of course, they do not work at the level of a drug nor are they intended to but they can serve as support in peaks of stress or anxiety, to improve mood or concentration, to highlight some of the most common. But how effective are they? Are they recommended for everyone? When and how should they be consumed? Two experts answer all the questions that may arise.

The first thing that we must make clear is that any issue related to mental health should always be treated by a professional, so if anxiety or stress appears for a long time and are not due to a specific peak, consulting a specialist is the clue. That said, supplements can help to a certain extent to calm the symptoms that appear when we have a more hectic pace that is affecting our well-being, but they are not anxiolytic drugs. “The most important difference is that being a product of natural origin, there are many variants that can be modified whether we use a part of the plant or the whole, how it is extracted, the origin, the richness of plant assets, the manufacturing method, the concentration of the product, however, when we talk about drugs, we are directly using the already standardized active principle, which will always be the same”, points out the pharmacist Meritxell Martí. Does this mean they are less effective? Not quite. As the expert clarifies, “although there are distinctions, many supplements are effective, taking into account that they are natural and that they can never replace a prescribed drug without medical authorization”, therefore, he stresses that it is still advisable to consult the pharmacist about which is the most appropriate and possible incompatibilities since they should not be taken lightly either.

Regarding in which cases it would be advisable to resort to supplementation, the pharmacist Belén Acero, owner of Farmacia Avenida de América, a specialist in dermo pharmacy and nutrition, highlights that they would be advised in situations of mild and/or punctual stress. If this stressful situation is maintained over time, it produces symptoms that lead to a worsening of the patient’s quality of life, due to the appearance of obvious symptoms of anxiety which is a non-adaptive phenomenon that occurs without there being a threat or objective stressful element, it would always be recommended going to the doctor, who will be the one who will evaluate whether the person needs the prescription of anxiolytic drugs, antidepressants and psychological therapy”. Supplements are not, therefore, an alternative to a drug and cannot function as substitutes for it, but the expert does clarify that they can help, for example, in the event that the doctor has recommended lowering the dose of the drug or even its withdrawal, when the anxious symptoms have greatly improved or even resolved.

Although, obviously, food supplements do not bring happiness, they can be beneficial in this regard. “To improve our mood, we can use precursors of serotonin also known as the hormone of happiness, pleasure or well-being, such as tryptophan or hydroxytryptophan, which can also help us with emotional hunger. Adaptogens increase our resistance to stress and, in some cases, such as ginseng or maca, they will help increase our energy; others such as bacopa have been shown to improve memory and the ability to concentrate; and others, such as damiana, have antioxidant and immunomodulatory properties”, explains Belén Acero.

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