If you are considering taking herbal supplements to treat social anxiety disorder (SAD), it is important to know that little scientific evidence exists to support the effectiveness of these alternative medicines for the treatment of anxiety. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the production of herbs and supplements. Most herbs and supplements are not thoroughly tested, and there is no guarantee regarding the ingredients or safety of the products.
You should discuss the use of herbal supplements with your doctor, particularly if you are taking other medications or receiving other forms of treatment. Alternative medicines should be considered complementary to treatments proven effective for SAD such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Below are a list of some of the more popular herbal supplements used in the treatment of anxiety.
Those from North America are probably most familiar with chamomile in the form of tea. Often we drink chamomile tea before bed for the calming and sedating effects that it is supposed to induce. Suprisingly, however, not enough scientific research has been conducted to support the anti-anxiety properties of this herbal supplement. However, if you find drinking a cup of chamomile tea tends to calm your nerves before a social engagement, that may be all the evidence you need.
There is some clinical evidence that kava kava is helpful for problems with anxiety. However, due to concerns over the potential for liver damage several countries have released safety warnings or banned this supplement. If you are using or plan to use kava kava, be sure to consult with your doctor. Kava kava is not recommended if you have liver disease, liver problems, or you are taking medications that affect the liver.
Passion flower is a climbing vine native to southeastern North America. The flowers, leaves, and stems of the plant are used to create the herbal supplement, which has shown some promise for use in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia and nervous disorders.
Rhodiola rosea differs from most herbal supplements in that the plant, also known as golden root or artic root, thrives in dry and cold climates such as Siberia. Rhodiola rosea is known as an adaptogen. An adaptogen is a term used by herbalists to refer to a substance believed to increase resistance to stress.
St. John's Wort is a popular herbal supplement that is used primarily in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Although its use in the treatment of anxiety appears to be on the increase, more evidence is needed to support the effectiveness of the herb for this purpose.
Valerian root has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for sleep problems, digestive problems, nervous disorders, and other ailments. Today it is primarily used as a sleep aid. Not yet enough scientific evidence supports the use of valerian root in the treatment of anxiety disorders. However, anecdotal reports indicate that it promotes feelings of calmness and reduces nervous tension and stress.
Also known as ashwagandha or Indian ginseng, winter cherry has historically been used to increase resistance to physical and emotional stress.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Herbs at a Glance. Accessed September 18, 2008.