Anxiety is Common—Healthy Solutions Aren’t
I think most people can remember at least a few times when they’ve been anxious. Maybe it was right before giving a presentation at work, or the day they were ready to walk down the aisle with their soon-to-be spouse. As distracting and annoying as that level of anxiety can be, it’s to be expected now and then. But for all too many, it’s a crushing weight they experience every day. In fact, approximately 40 million Americans age 18 and older have an anxiety disorder.
Conventional drugs to treat anxiety are almost as well known for their side effects as for their degree of relief. In fact, a team of researchers from France and Canada linked use of benzodiazepines, a common class of prescription medications used for treating anxiety, to an increased risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Familiar benzodiazepines include the brand names Valium, Xanax, Librium, and Ativan. The study reported that taking a benzodiazepine for 3 to 6 months raised the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 32%, and taking it for more than 6 months boosted the risk by 84%.
And while there are many botanicals that have been recognized to be useful in varying degrees for anxiety (valerian, alpha-linolenic acid, flaxseed, kava, and gotu kola), some people may experience side effects and interactions from them as well. Plus, the time-frame for relief may be too long with some of them. But there is another clinically tested, but unexpected herbal ingredient for anxiety: echinacea.
Now you may be saying to yourself, “Come on, echinacea? I thought it was for my immune system. How can echinacea calm my fears and reduce my anxiety?” I was skeptical myself, at first. Not anymore.
A Secret in Echinacea
The echinacea extract I recommend to relieve anxiety, stress, and feelings of being overwhelmed is not the same one you’d use when you have a cold or the flu. It’s a different, specialized root extract of Echinacea angustifolia, especially studied for anxiety relief.
This specialized root extract of Echinacea angustifolia contains echinacoside and features a unique alkamide profile. These compounds have been shown in studies to have calming, relaxing effects in the brain, similar to Valium or Librium, but without the sedation and side effects. You can’t use just any form of echinacea and expect the same results.
So, how is it that Echinacea angustifolia can be used for both colds and flu and generalized anxiety disorder? While they are the same species, the phytochemical composition of the plant is entirely different.
Let me give you an example. You and I are the same species, Homo sapien, yet we are entirely different. We don’t look alike, we don’t function alike, and we have different fingerprints, different DNA, and different genes. Much of these differences are driven by the environment. Humans adapt to any given environment.
Plant species are exactly the same. Any given plant grown in an entirely different environment takes on a different set of phytochemicals. The species is the same; the chemical composition is different. These changes are brought about by the composition of the soil, what’s in the air, the amount of moisture, too much or too little, or whether the plant is grown in the sun or if it is grown in the shade. The chemical composition can also be influenced by the day and even the hour of harvesting, and the extraction process used.
Researchers at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest studied different species of echinacea. One type of Echinacea angustifolia had a different set of fingerprints, DNA, and chemical composition than other Echinacea angustifolia plants that are studied for the immune system.
While analyzing the plant, researchers found that it contained compounds (echinacoside and alkamides) that could influence brain chemistry, including the cannabinoid receptors. Endocannabinoid receptors influence the way the brain experiences anxiety and have become a focus of behavioral research in their own right.
After comparing all the echinacea species, only one—Echinacea angustifolia—provided the levels of anxiety-reducing compounds needed to produce dramatic results.
In a further study, seven types of echinacea extracts were compared to the prescription anti-anxiety drug, chlordiazepoxide (also known by the brand name Librium®). Only one echinacea preparation demonstrated a robust ability to reduce anxiety in a wide dosage range comparable to the prescription drug—the unique Echinacea angustifolia extract. That’s the one I recommend.
This special echinacea root extract not only met the drug’s anti-anxiety effects, it exceeded them. It also didn’t cause any drowsiness—a common side effect of prescription drugs for anxiety. Aside from drowsiness and lethargy, the other adverse effects for chlordiazepoxide include confusion, edema, nausea, constipation, menstrual abnormalities, jaundice, altered libido, involuntary movements, and controlled substance dependence/addiction. That’s quite a list. It gives me anxiety just thinking about it.
And the potential serious adverse effects for the special echinacea preparation?
Fast-Acting, Dramatic Results
Clinical research shows fast-acting results. In one study, the special extract of Echinacea angustifolia was tested with individuals experiencing increased anxiety and tension. After just one day, the participants noticed a reduction in stress and anxiety, with an even greater reduction in just seven days.
And, in another study published in the March 2012 issue of Phytotherapy Research, people recorded noticeably reduced stress and anxiety in just three days!
The study included 33 volunteers (22 women and 11 men) with an average age of 41. All experienced anxiety, which was assessed using the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), a validated method of measuring anxiety levels. Only individuals meeting the threshold for elevated anxiety levels were included in the study.
Participants used the echinacea extract for one week, and anxiety was evaluated before, during, and after using the product. The extract decreased STAI scores within three days, an effect that remained stable for the duration of the treatment (seven days) and for the two weeks that followed treatment. There were no dropouts and no side effects.
Aside from the lack of side effects, a fast-acting, natural approach like this one makes life much better, much sooner. With other herbs, that’s not always the case. It takes eight weeks to achieve significant results with chamomile, three to eight weeks for kava (depending upon whether it is a water or ethanolic extract), and six to ten weeks for lavender.