Stress and anxiety

Natural supplements for stress and anxiety

Stress is a major factor that can impact the health of many people and is often a significant concern for those experiencing it. In today’s world, perceptions of stress and anxiety are increasing with worries about finances, geopolitical instability, the environment, as well as individual health issues, particularly following the pandemic.

Stress isn’t just an uncomfortable emotion; it is a physiological response to a stimulus and can have wide- reaching effects in the body. Ongoing stress is associated with the development of chronic disease.

A 2023 YouGov study states that one in 14 UK adults (7%) feel stressed every single day and 74% of people feel so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope.1 With statistics like these, it is essential to moderate the stress response and support resilience in order to protect and optimise health.  

With the festive period approaching, some may feel increased pressure due to finances, social events and family relationships and therefore it is a perfect time to consider how we can support health and ameliorate the effects of stress. In this blog, we will look at what stress is and how it affects the body, and we will look at some natural products that can help to support a healthy stress response and reduce anxiety.  

The stress response 

Common causes of stress

Many people consider stress to be from influences outside of their control, known as external stressors, which come from events and situations that occur. These certainly play a role and are most commonly recognised as stress factors.  

External factors: 21st Century living: relationships, work, finances, weddings, house moves, social gatherings, noise, social media. 

It is also important to be aware that stress can also come from our own physiology and the body will treat these types of stressors in exactly the same way as external factors. Therefore, it is important to understand that even if we do not have emotional stress, if the body is under stress from internal dysfunction, it will still put us in the stress response.  

Internal factors:  Anti-nutrients e.g., caffeine, drugs, gluten/food sensitivities, alcohol, additives, poor diet, dehydration, gut flora, infections, poor sleep, pain, thoughts, beliefs, perceptions 

Threat to life is subjective – the amygdala (part of the brain associated with emotion)  ‘decides’ what is dangerous – war, pestilence, dangerous animals; for other people it might be their job, threats to their family, workload, excessive noise – the physiological response is the same. 

Some stressors are hard wired (all mammals elicit some measurable stress response to spiders and snakes) where others are learned from our environment.  

Physiological response 

The stress response begins in the brain and is governed by the autonomic nervous system, as well as the hypothalamus, which are closely linked to each other.2,3 

When stress is detected, the sympathetic arm of the autonomic nervous system is activated. This increases blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, cholesterol and sweating as well as inhibiting digestive and immune function. This fundamentally directs energy to muscles, brain, and cardiovascular systems, inhibiting non-essential systems in order to preserve energy. 

At the same time, stress is detected by the hypothalamus in the brain, which triggers a hormonal response. It releases CRH (corticotrophin releasing hormone) which triggers the pituitary to release ACTH (adrenocorticotrophin hormone) and that stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal glands; this is known as the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis.  

Adrenaline elicits a similar response to the sympathetic nervous system, supporting the fight or flight response. It rapidly responds to stress by increasing heart rate and getting blood to the muscles and brain. Cortisol increases blood sugar and blood pressure; these changes help us survive short periods of stress. Cortisol is also responsible for feeding back to the hypothalamus in a negative feedback loop to switch off the HPA axis. However, if stress is prolonged, cortisol levels remain high, which has a significant impact on wellness. This is associated with chronic stress and can lead to dysfunction of the HPA axis and is associated with anxiety related disorders as well as other chronic diseases.

Skip to Key Takeaways

Effects of stress on health 

When we are under stress, we can have feelings of overwhelm and anxiety. It is also important to be aware that stress has a physiological impact on the rest of the body and can have a significant effect on long term health.

Long term prolonged stress has been shown to affect the immune system where it can increase inflammation but also reduce immune resilience to infection. It also affects the gut microbiome, blood sugar regulation and cognitive health both directly and indirectly.

Therefore, long term stress has been shown to contribute to obesity, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline, to name a few. 

In addition, stress is associated with an increase in anxiety and related mood disorders. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. It can alert us to dangers and help us prepare and pay attention.

Anxiety disorders differ from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness and involve excessive fear or anxiety. They are the most common form of mental health disorders, affecting nearly 30% of adults in their lifetime.  

Nutritional supplements that can help with stress and anxiety

With the above in mind, it is useful to consider nutritional interventions which can help regulate the stress response and ameliorate anxiety, these include:  

Magnesium bisglycinate 

Magnesium is an essential mineral that is a cofactor for over 300 enzymes within the body. Much of magnesium’s enzymatic activity occurs in the central nervous system and is essential for the production of many neurotransmitters. Thus, it plays as significant role in regulating mood, sleep and relaxation and hence can have an influence on perceived stress and anxiety.

Additionally, magnesium is an important nutrient for the adrenal glands and is used up quickly during periods of stress, which can lead to fatigue, poor sleep and low mood.4 

Supplementation with a complex of magnesium, B vitamins, Rhodiola and L-theanine from green tea showed reduced stress on chronically stressed but otherwise healthy individuals after 28 days and modulated stress and perceived pain during stressful thermal stimulus.5 

Furthermore, studies have shown that magnesium 3,6,7 

  • contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue, to normal functioning of the nervous system, muscle function and psychological function. 
  • helps to increase levels of GABA (our calming neurotransmitter) 
  • Inhibits the release of excitatory neurotransmitters and acts as an antagonist at the glutamate, NMDA receptor. 

Clinical manifestations of deficiency include weakness, generalised anxiety, panic attack disorders, insomnia, and fatigue.  

Magnesium in the form of bisglycinate is bound to the amino acid glycine and may be additionally useful for supporting sleep and relaxation. Glycine has been shown to calm the nervous system and can enhance sleep quality.8 


Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera is a very revered herb of the Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine and is used for various kinds of disease processes, especially as a nervine tonic. Its main use currently, within nutritional therapy, is as an adaptogen. This means that it is able to support the body adapting to environmental and physiological changes, specifically stress on the body. Studies also indicate ashwagandha possesses anti-inflammatory, antitumour, anti-stress, antioxidant, immunomodulatory, hemopoietic, and rejuvenating properties. 

A recent systematic review demonstrated that ashwagandha supplementation significantly reduced anxiety and stress levels compared to the placebo.9

Recent studies have shown that ashwagandha enhances the body’s resilience to stress. In experimental models it increased the stamina during a swimming endurance test and prevented adrenal gland changes of ascorbic acid and cortisol content produced by swimming stress. Therefore, it is useful for supporting and protecting adrenal function in periods of stress.  

It is thought that ashwagandha’s stress-relieving effects may occur via its moderating effect on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis10 and has been shown to lower morning cortisol.11 

Studies have shown that ashwagandha:12 

  • prevents decrease of adrenal cortisol and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) which occurs due to stress. 
  • may be useful in the prevention of stress-induced ulcers of the gastrointestinal tract. 
  •  root extract can be used for body weight management in adults under chronic stress. 


L-theanine is an amino acid commonly found in tea leaves and is particularly high in green tea. For many years, people have been offered a cup of tea to help relax them during stressful periods and this calming effect of a ‘cuppa’ is due to the presence of l-theanine. It has been shown to aid relaxation13 and have neuroprotective14 effects on the brain when exposed to stress. 

Studies have shown that l-theanine: 15 

  • helps to diminish the stress response by reducing heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol and perceived stress and anxiety. 
  • increases alpha brain waves, which are associated with a state of relaxation. 
  • can mildly increase monoamine levels in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, glycine, and GABA. 
  •  had beneficial effects on depressive symptoms, anxiety, sleep disturbance and cognition after 8 weeks of supplementation.

As it is not sedative, L-theanine can be taken during the day or at bedtime. 

Omega 3  

Stress has been shown to increase the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are usually prevalent in stress and mood-related disorders. The brain is sensitive to inflammation and inflammation can contribute to activation of the HPA axis as well as dysregulation of neurotransmitter production and is therefore associated with increased stress and anxiety. The anti-inflammatory effects of omega 3 are useful as therapeutic agents in disorders with inflammatory component as they are known regulators of proinflammatory cytokine production.16–19 

Omega 3 fatty acid research: 

  • People who took high doses of omega-3s (up to 2,000 mg a day) seemed to have the most reduction in anxiety symptoms.20 
  • Students who received omega 3 fatty acids showed a 14% decrease in stimulated IL-6 (a proinflammatory cytokine) production and a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms compared to controls. Omega 3 supplementation can reduce inflammation and anxiety even among healthy young adults.21


Taurine is a sulphur-containing amino acid, abundant in many tissues including the heart, nerve cells and skeletal muscle. It possesses neuroprotective properties by reducing the harmful effects of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. It can aid sleep and relaxation via regulating the release of GABA and melatonin within the thalamus; these neurotransmitters are vital in the induction of sleep, regulating mood and reducing anxiety. 22–24 

Research shows that taurine:25 

  • dampens the cortisol response to stress. 
  • prevents anxiety/fear-like behaviours. 
  • abolishes stress-induced protein carbonylation in the brain.


Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogen with antioxidant, anti-fatigue, neuroprotective, mood supportive, cardioprotective, anti-inflammatory and performance enhancing effects (caution with SSRIs, antidiabetic, immunosuppressant, antihypertensive drugs, and contraceptive pill). It is often used for fatigue and stress, anxiety, low mood, cognitive function, and exercise performance. Rhodiola appears to be able to significantly reduce the fatigue and ‘burnout’ that come from stress and anxiety andnumerous trials suggest meaningful effects, particularly in people with stress and anxiety issues. This may extend to exercise, since there’s some evidence that acute supplementation before exercise can reduce fatigue, but more research is needed before we can be confident in that.26,27  

Research demonstrates that Rhodiola: 

  • significantly improved generalised anxiety disorder symptoms with a reduction in Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HARS) scores similar to that found in clinical trials.28 
  • had remediating effects on cardiovascular and reproductive health by addressing non-specific stress damage and reversing or healing the disrupted physiologies and dysfunctions.27   

With the additional stress of the festive season approaching, it is the perfect time to consider giving additional support to the adrenal glands and to supporting a healthy stress response.

Key takeaways  

  • Stress is a nonspecific response to any stressor, which can be a variety of different stimuli, both internal and external. However, whatever the stimuli, the body responds in the same way. Stress is essential for survival, however, when we become in a state of constant stress this can lead to disruption of normal stress hormone signalling and therefore homeostasis and is associated with chronic disease. Natural products which support a healthy stress response can be very supportive for optimising health. 
  • Magnesium is a mineral that is used by the adrenal glands (responsible for our stress response) and is depleted during times of stress and is also a cofactor for the production of many neurotransmitters. Therefore, it is useful for those who experience stress and anxiety.  Magnesium in the form of bisglycinate is bound to the amino acid glycine and may be additionally useful for supporting sleep and relaxation. 
  • Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb and can help to modulate the stress response. Research has demonstrated that Ashwagandha supplementation significantly reduced anxiety and stress level compared to the placebo.
  • L-theanine is an amino acid commonly found in tea leaves and is particularly high in green tea. It has been shown to aid relaxation and have neuroprotective effects on the brain when exposed to stress. Although it aids relaxation it does not have a sedative effect and can be used at any time of day.  
  • Stress has been shown to increase the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines which are usually prevalent in stress and mood-related disorders. The anti-inflammatory effects of omega 3 fatty acids have demonstrated its effectiveness against depressive and anxiety related disorder.  
  • Taurine is a sulphur-containing amino acid, abundant in many tissues including the heart, nerve cells and skeletal muscle. It can aid sleep and relaxation via regulating the release of GABA (our calming neurotransmitter) and melatonin (sleep regulating neurotransmitter); these neurotransmitters are vital in the induction of sleep, regulating mood and reducing anxiety. 
  • Rhodiola is an adaptogen with antioxidant, anti-fatigue, neuroprotective, mood supportive, cardioprotective, anti-inflammatory and performance enhancing effects. It is often used for fatigue and stress, anxiety, low mood, cognitive function, and exercise performance. 


1. Mental Health Statistics | 2023 Data | Champion Health. Accessed November 7, 2023. 

2. Bland J et al. Textbook of Functional Medicine.; 2008. 

3. Murray JPizzornoM. Textbook of Natural Medicine. 4th Ed.; 2013. 

4. Kirkland AE, Sarlo GL, Holton KF. The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders. Nutrients. 2018;10(6). doi:10.3390/NU10060730 

5. Pickering G, Noah L, Pereira B, et al. Assessing brain function in stressed healthy individuals following the use of a combination of green tea, Rhodiola, magnesium, and B vitamins: an fMRI study. Front Nutr. 2023;10. doi:10.3389/FNUT.2023.1211321/FULL 

6. Zhang Y, Xun P, Wang R, Mao L, He K. Can Magnesium Enhance Exercise Performance? Nutrients. 2017;9(9):946. doi:10.3390/nu9090946 

7. Derom ML, Sayón-Orea C, Martínez-Ortega JM, Martínez-González MA. Magnesium and depression: a systematic review. Nutr Neurosci. 2013;16(5):191-206. doi:10.1179/1476830512Y.0000000044 

8. Razak MA, Begum PS, Viswanath B, Rajagopal S. Multifarious Beneficial Effect of Nonessential Amino Acid, Glycine: A Review. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017;2017. doi:10.1155/2017/1716701 

9. Akhgarjand C, Asoudeh F, Bagheri A, et al. Does Ashwagandha supplementation have a beneficial effect on the management of anxiety and stress? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Phytotherapy Research. 2022;36(11):4115-4124. doi:10.1002/PTR.7598 

10. Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Malvi H, Kodgule R, Wane D. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine. 2019;98(37). doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000017186 

11. Lopresti AL, Smith SJ, Drummond PD. Modulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis by plants and phytonutrients: a systematic review of human trials. Nutr Neurosci. 2022;25(8):1704-1730. doi:10.1080/1028415X.2021.1892253 

12. Singh N, Bhalla M, de Jager P, Gilca M. An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicines. 2011;8(5 Suppl):208. doi:10.4314/AJTCAM.V8I5S.9 

13. Evans M, McDonald AC, Xiong L, Crowley DC, Guthrie N. A Randomized, Triple-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study to Investigate the Efficacy of a Single Dose of AlphaWave®l-Theanine on Stress in a Healthy Adult Population. Neurol Ther. 2021;10(2):1061. doi:10.1007/S40120-021-00284-X 

14. Li MY, Liu HY, Wu DT, et al. L-Theanine: A Unique Functional Amino Acid in Tea (Camellia sinensis L.) With Multiple Health Benefits and Food Applications. Front Nutr. 2022;9. doi:10.3389/FNUT.2022.853846/FULL 

15. Kimura K, Ozeki M, Juneja LR, Ohira H. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol. 2007;74(1):39-45. doi:10.1016/J.BIOPSYCHO.2006.06.006 

16. Freund Levi Y, Vedin I, Cederholm T, et al. Transfer of omega-3 fatty acids across the blood-brain barrier after dietary supplementation with a docosahexaenoic acid-rich omega-3 fatty acid preparation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease: the OmegAD study. J Intern Med. 2014;275(4):428-436. doi:10.1111/joim.12166 

17. Parker G, Gibson NA, Brotchie H, Heruc G, Rees AM, Hadzi-Pavlovic D. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mood Disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2006;163(6):969-978. doi:10.1176/ajp.2006.163.6.969 

18. Swanson D, Block R, Mousa SA. Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life. Adv Nutr. 2012;3(1):1-7. doi:10.3945/an.111.000893 

19. Komori T. The effects of phosphatidylserine and omega-3 fatty acid-containing supplement on late life depression. Ment Illn. 2015;7(1). doi:10.4081/mi.2015.5647 

20. Omega-3s for anxiety? – Harvard Health. Accessed November 16, 2023. 

21. Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Belury MA, Andridge R, Malarkey WB, Glaser R. Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2011;25(8):1725-1734. doi:10.1016/J.BBI.2011.07.229 

22. Jia F, Yue M, Chandra D, et al. Taurine is a potent activator of extrasynaptic GABA(A) receptors in the thalamus. J Neurosci. 2008;28(1):106-115. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3996-07.2008 

23. Ribeiro RA, Bonfleur ML, Batista TM, Borck PC, Carneiro EM. Regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism by the pancreatic and extra-pancreatic actions of taurine. Amino Acids. 2018;50(11):1511-1524. doi:10.1007/S00726-018-2650-3 

24. Taurine – Nootropics Expert. Accessed March 31, 2022. 

25. Mezzomo NJ, Fontana BD, Müller TE, et al. Taurine modulates the stress response in zebrafish. Horm Behav. 2019;109:44-52. doi:10.1016/J.YHBEH.2019.02.006 

26. Cropley M, Banks AP, Boyle J. The Effects of Rhodiola rosea L. Extract on Anxiety, Stress, Cognition and Other Mood Symptoms. Phytother Res. 2015;29(12):1934-1939. doi:10.1002/PTR.5486 

27. Anghelescu IG, Edwards D, Seifritz E, Kasper S. Stress management and the role of Rhodiola rosea: a review. Int J Psychiatry Clin Pract. 2018;22(4):242-252. doi:10.1080/13651501.2017.1417442 

28. Bystritsky A, Kerwin L, Feusner JD. A pilot study of Rhodiola rosea (Rhodax) for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). J Altern Complement Med. 2008;14(2):175-180. doi:10.1089/ACM.2007.7117 

If you have questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters, please do contact our team of Nutritional Therapists.

01684 310099

Last updated on 3rd January 2024 by cytoffice


8 thoughts on “Natural supplements for stress and anxiety

  1. Hello,

    What another brilliant article!

    Many thanks for all the extra information given.

    Best Wishes

  2. I was in a toxic stressful depressing relationship,and I believe it caused me to shutdown on activities and comfort eat,my arms and legs and my buttocks are skinny yet my stomach was out of control,,after i left,i began weight training and taking your Glutathione,i have a high protein low carb diet,is there any of your products you can recommend to aid muscle gain and belly fat loss fairly rapidly

    1. Hi There – it would be great for us to get a holisitic view of your health profile / diet / lifestyle so we can put together a tailored protocol for you. Please complete our online health questionnaire and one of our team of nutritional therapists will come back to you shortly. Tailored Health Questionnaire | Cytoplan

  3. Hi. Wish I knew this information nearly 5yrs ago,re anxiety disorder that I had.
    Was soo bad I didn’t want to live in state of endless fear,shaking,
    That is why I want to order supplements from cytoplan and ideally a consultation. Not completely out the woods yet.

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