Herbal remedies for mental disorders including anxiety have been developed using traditional medicines. Some have shown more beneficial results than others. The modes of action of these supplements have remained elusive, but neurobiological research has begun to show that herbal treatments interact with the GABA system in a mechanism of action similar to benzodiazepine drugs. Always consult a mental health care professional before medicating with alternative therapies.
St. John's wort
Hypericum perforatum, more commonly known as St. John's wort, is one of the best researched psychotherapeutic herbal medicines. The beneficial effects of this herb in the treatment of mild to moderate depression are well known. A study in the March 2010 issue of the “Archives of Pharmacology Research” tested whether St. John's wort alleviates age-related anxiety by increasing the levels of known anti-anxiety enzymes produced by the hippocampus. The researcher found that chronic administration of Hypericum perforatum at 350mg per kg body weight for 21 days significantly improved the processing of information in aged rats. The authors also noted that the herb increased the levels of enzymes in the hippocampus and did not cause significant locomotor impairments.
Valeriana officinalis, also know as valerian root, is an accepted herbal supplement that is primarily used to treat insomnia and anxiety. The July 2010 issue of “Phytomedicine” included a series of experiments seeking to corroborate these earlier findings with behavioural measures and compare them to benzodiazepam, an accepted pharmaceutical used in the treatment of anxiety. The studies’ results showed that there was a significant reduction in anxious behaviour when the valerian extract group was compared to the ethanol control group. The authors concluded that Valeriana officinalis is a potential alternative to traditional medications.
Astragalus membranaceus is a Korean herb commonly called huang qi that has been traditionally prescribed for stress-related illnesses. The August 2009 issue of the “Korean Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology” included a study to examine the anti-stress effects of A. membranaceus on stress-induced anxiety, learning and memory in rats. Starting on the eighth day, the authors tested the rats for anxiety and found that the rats treated with haung qi had significantly reduced stress-induced affects on learning memory and anxiety. The authors concluded that A. membranaceus is able to restore behavioural and impairments induced by stress.
The October 2010 issue of the “Journal of Ethnophamacology” compared the effects of the antipsychotic, chlorpromazine, with Rauwolfia vomitoria, also known as serpent wood, using a stress-induced mouse model. Mice were divided into groups and treated with various amounts of chlorpromazine and serpent wood. They found that chlorpromazine decreased exploration behaviour and impaired motor coordination in a dose-dependent manner. R. vomitoria also decreased locomotor behaviour at 4.0mg/kg but did not alter exploration and motor co-ordination. The study concluded that extract from Rauwolfia vomitoria produced better behavioural effects with better motor co-ordination when compared to chlorpromazine.
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- Archives of Pharmacology Research; Activation of CREB by St. John's wort may diminish deleterious effects of ageing on spatial memory; E. Trofimiuk et al; March 2010
- Korean Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology; The effects of astragalus membranaceus on repeated restraint stress-induced biochemical and behavioural responses; H. Park et al; August 2009
- Journal of Ethnopharmacology; Comparative effects of rauwolfia vomitoria and chlorpromazine on locomotor behaviour and anxiety in mice; S. Bisong et al; October 2010