HomeArticlesThe best science-backed supplements for stress relief

The best science-backed supplements for stress relief

Certain lifestyle changes can relieve stress, but research shows that some supplements may also be helpful. From magnesium to turmeric, here are the best science-backed supplements to help alleviate stress.

If you feel that your stress levels have hit an all-time high, you’re not alone; over 33% of Americans report feeling extreme stress, 73% claim that stress has negatively impacted their mental health, and 48% say that they have trouble sleeping due to stress-related factors [1].
While occasional stress is normal, chronic stress can affect your inflammatory markers, immune system, and heart health and lead to elevated blood pressure and risk of stroke and heart attacks. 
Thankfully, there are ways to alleviate those feelings of stress and anxiety. Specific lifestyle changes (like physical activity, meditation, and self-care) are beneficial, but science shows that certain supplements may also make a difference. Yet while supplements aren’t a magic pill to completely dissipate stress, certain ones have been shown to lower anxiety levels, tame sleep troubles, and ease depression symptoms. Here are the best supplements for stress relief, according to science.
stress relief supplements offer
ashwagandha powder

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an evergreen shrub native to India and Southeast Asia and a commonly used medicinal herb in Ayurvedic medicine.
Ashwagandha has numerous health benefits, as it may be beneficial for reducing blood sugar, cholesterol, and inflammation, as well as enhancing sleep, immunity, sports performance, memory, and brain function in both men and women. Additionally, ashwagandha may help improve male fertility and improve sexual dysfunction in females.
This herb is also commonly used to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. For instance, studies show that taking ashwagandha reduces cortisol levels in the blood and significantly lowers symptoms of stress and its associated disorders–like fatigue, insomnia, and cognitive impairment. 
Human studies have associated ashwagandha supplementation with cortisol reductions ranging from 14.5 to 27.9% in stressed but otherwise healthy individuals, which is substantially greater than many other supplements [2]. Moreover, research suggests ashwagandha may have some antidepressant effects and may be more effective for reducing social anxiety than some medications [2]. 

Dosing recommendations

Typical ashwagandha root extract dosages range from 250–600 mg/day, with the most common dosing protocol being 600 mg/day divided into two doses for morning and night [2]. However, one study found dosages ranging from 750 to 1,250 mg/day for 30 days to be well-tolerated and safe, and while more research is needed, it appears safe to take up to 1,000 mg/day for up to 12 weeks [3,4]. 

Precautions

You should avoid taking ashwagandha if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, have a thyroid condition or autoimmune disease, or take immunosuppressants, sedatives, diabetes drugs, or blood pressure reducers [4].
Foods high in magnesium

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays many critical roles in the body, including protein synthesis, bone health, energy production, disease prevention, and heart, muscle, and nerve function [5]. It also helps relax muscles, quiet the mind, and regulate melatonin production, making for a powerful sleep aid due to its impact on muscle relaxation [41]. More research on magnesium and reduced sleep disturbances is needed, but some studies have demonstrated that magnesium supplements improve several measures of insomnia, including sleep efficiency and time [41].
Studies also have found that magnesium plays a large role in brain health, as a deficiency is linked to depression-like changes in the brain [6]. As such, research suggests that magnesium supplementation may help alleviate symptoms of depression and reduce anxiety, but more research is needed in this area to establish efficacy and treatment standards [7,8,9,10]. 

Dosing recommendations

Magnesium needs vary by age and gender. Here is the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for magnesium [11]:
  • Males 14-18 years: 410 mg/day
  • Males 19–30 years: 400 mg/day
  • Males 31+ years: 420 mg/day
  • Females 14-18 years: 360 mg/day (400 mg/day during pregnancy)
  • Females 19–30 years: 310 mg/day (350 mg/day during pregnancy)
  • Females 31+ years: 320 mg/day (360 mg/day during pregnancy)
Despite its importance in the body, it’s estimated that 60% of adults do not meet the RDA for magnesium [12]. 

Precautions

Magnesium supplementation isn’t right for everyone, as supplements may interact with certain medicines (including diuretics, heart medicines, and some antibiotics) and could cause negative issues if you have diabetes, kidney, heart, or intestinal disease [13]. 
mushroom powder in a bowl

Medicinal mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms are fungi that offer powerful health benefits, such as improved cognition, better sleep quality, reduced inflammation, and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. These adaptogens have long been used in Eastern medicine to promote healing, enhance immunity, aid digestion, and relieve stress. Common varieties include lion’s mane, reishi, Chaga, and maitake mushrooms and can be taken as a powder, an extract, or in their natural state.
Whether you’re looking to improve sleep, boost mental health, reduce inflammation, or enhance athletic performance, research suggests that medicinal mushrooms can offer some impressive benefits. For instance, studies show that reishi mushrooms have a compound called triterpene that can improve sleep, reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, and ease depression [14,15]. Research also indicates that maitake mushrooms may play a role in healthy immune function, cancer prevention, stress levels, lowered cholesterol levels and improved blood sugar levels [16,17]. 

Dosing recommendations

The dosage for medicinal mushrooms depends on your age, weight, height, and strength of the supplement. As such, you should carefully read the label instructions before taking medicinal mushrooms.

Precautions

Each medicinal mushroom has different precautions, so talk with your healthcare provider to find the one that works best for you. 
For instance, you should avoid taking reishi if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have a blood disorder, will be undergoing surgery, or have low blood pressure. Maitake mushroom extracts may interact with warfarin and may not be fully safe for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have diabetes, an autoimmune disease, or mold sensitivity [18,19]. 
Turmeric in a black dish on a wooden table

Turmeric

Turmeric is a bright yellow spice made from the root of the Curcuma longa plant that is native to Southeast Asia.
There are many science-backed health benefits to turmeric, as it has the potential to lower markers of inflammation and oxidative stress and improve symptoms of arthritis and depression. This could be due to curcumin (a naturally occurring compound that gives turmeric its bright yellow color), which has unique anti-inflammatory and neuro-modulating effects that may be able to exert antidepressant benefits in those with depression.
One meta-analysis found that curcumin in turmeric reduced depressive symptoms in patients with major depression, particularly in middle-aged populations and those given turmeric for longer periods and at higher doses [20]. 
Studies have also found curcumin to be somewhat effective in reducing anxiety symptoms, as it  may elevate serotonin and lower stress hormones, like cortisol [21]. 

Dosing recommendations

There is no standard dose for turmeric; however, the World Health Organization (WHO) has established 1.4 mg of curcumin/pound of body weight (0–3 mg/kg) as an acceptable daily intake [22]. 
Turmeric supplementation that provides 500-1,000 mg/day of curcumin may help improve symptoms of depression and anxiety and offer numerous other health benefits related to inflammation, arthritis, depression, and intestinal bowel disease [21,23]. That said, while curcumin may reduce symptoms of depression, it should not be considered an alternative or primary treatment for depression.

Precautions

While turmeric typically doesn't have serious side effects, mild side effects (like stomach upset, nausea, dizziness, or diarrhea) may be more common when taken at higher doses.
You should avoid taking turmeric if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have diabetes, gallstones, gallbladder, kidney disease, bleeding disorders, or immunity problems [24]. Moreover, turmeric can interfere with many medications including anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs, estrogen, and medicines used to treat diabetes and certain cancers. Because of this, it's best to consult your doctor before using turmeric supplements. 
stress relief supplements no offer
Vitamin D rich foods

Vitamin D

Otherwise known as the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in calcium absorption and immune function, as well as bone, muscle, and heart health. 
Vitamin D also has important anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties that support brain health and may help improve anxiety symptoms [25]. Notable research has found that vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased anxiety and depression, poor sleep quality, and bad moods, all of which can negatively impact stress levels [32].

Dosing recommendations

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for people between the ages of 1 and 70 is 600 IU/day, and for adults over 70, the RDA is 800 IU/day [26]. However, a growing body of evidence has found these amounts are too low, particularly if you do not get adequate sun exposure, already have low levels, or have an increased risk for low vitamin D, such as people who are obese, have dark skin or are older than 65 years old [27,28,29]. 
For moderate supplementation, a daily dose of 1,000–2,000 IU of vitamin D3 is sufficient to meet most people’s needs, with the safe upper limit set at 4,000 IU/day [26,27]. However, recent research shows that vitamin D supplementation can be used at 5,000 IU/day (or up to 10,000 IU/day) without any adverse effects [30].

Precautions

If you are breastfeeding or have had an unusual or allergic reaction to cholecalciferol (or other allergies related to foods, dyes, preservatives, or animals), talk with your healthcare provider before taking a vitamin D supplement [31].
green tea supplements

L-theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid found primarily in black and green tea that promotes relaxation and sleep [33].
Studies have demonstrated L-theanine’s ability to improve stress-related symptoms (such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia), as people who took it experienced reduced sleep quality problems and sleep disturbances throughout the night [42]. However, evidence has also shown that L-theanine’s sleep benefits may be amplified when taken with gamma-aminobutyric acid (aka GABA), a neurotransmitter that improves sleep disturbances [43].
Furthermore, research indicates that L-theanine may promote mental health in the general population with stress-related ailments and cognitive impairments and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety [34,35]. It can also benefit those who experience increased blood pressure in stressful situations. For example, one study found that people who usually experienced higher blood pressure after specific mental tasks found that L-theanine helped reduce an increase in blood pressure [36]. 

Dosing recommendations

At Elo, we generally recommend 100 mg/day of L-theanine, but this number increases to 200 mg/day for those looking to boost cognition, lower stress, and improve sleep.

Precautions

L-theanine may lower blood pressure and increase the effects of antihypertensive drugs [36]. As such, it’s recommended to talk with your healthcare provider before using this supplement.
foods high in zinc

Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a role in immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and cell division [37]. However, research indicates that zinc might also be beneficial in alleviating symptoms of stress, as there appears to be a correlation between low zinc plasma levels and people with anxiety. As such, zinc therapy has been shown to increase plasma levels, which may improve anxiety and stress symptoms [38]. 

Dosing recommendations

The RDA for zinc is as follows [37]: 
  • Men over 14 years old: 11 mg/day
  • Women 14-18: 9 mg/day
  • Women over 18 years old: 8 mg/day
  • Breastfeeding and lactating women: 12 mg/day and 13 mg/day for 14-18 years old, respectively, and 11 mg/day and 12 mg/day for over 18 years old, respectively

Precautions

While zinc supplements are usually well-tolerated, they can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain in some people, along with coughing, headache, and fever in those who exceed more than 40 mg/day [39]. 
Zinc can also hinder your body’s ability to absorb copper, which may lead to a mineral deficiency over time, and should be taken under the supervision of a healthcare provider [40].
Furthermore, zinc supplements have been shown to interfere with the absorption of certain antibiotics (like quinolones and tetracyclines) and may reduce their effectiveness if taken simultaneously [37]. 

Summary

Occasional stress is normal, but chronic stress can affect your inflammatory markers, immune system, and heart health, leading to elevated blood pressure and risk of stroke and heart attacks.
While certain lifestyle changes (like physical activity, meditation, and self-care) are beneficial, science shows that certain supplements may also make a difference. Supplements such as ashwagandha, magnesium, L-theanine, and vitamin D have been shown to lower anxiety levels, tame sleep troubles, and ease depression symptoms. While they aren’t meant to be a cure-all, they may be beneficial when added to your daily routine.
Disclaimer: The text, images, videos, and other media on this page are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace personalized medical care. 

Key takeaways

  • While supplements aren’t a replacement for other stress relief tactics, science shows that certain ones can prove beneficial for alleviating stress, improving sleep, and reducing symptoms of anxiety.
  • Ashwagandha, turmeric, magnesium, L-theanine, medicinal mushrooms, vitamin D, and zinc have been shown to help reduce blood pressure, relieve stress, reduce depressive symptoms, lower anxiety, and improve sleep quality.
  • While these supplements can be beneficial for stress relief, they can also have some adverse side effects. Talk with your healthcare provider before adding any to your supplement routine. 

References

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