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Naturopathic Treatment Significantly Improves Anxiety

Ashwagandha for anxiety

A Canadian study finds that naturopathic treatment including the herbal remedy ashwagandha, deep breathing exercises, dietary counseling, and a standard multi-vitamin supplement significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety. This was the first study to evaluate the potential of naturopathic treatment to treat anxiety.

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, 40 million adults in the United States are affected by an anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental illness in the states. People who have an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to visit a doctor and six times more likely to required hospitalization for psychiatric disorders than people who do not have an anxiety disorder. Types of anxiety disorders include social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and panic disorders.

All 75 participants in the study had moderate to severe anxiety that had lasted longer than six weeks when they entered the study. The participants were randomly assigned to either a naturopathic group or a psychotherapy group to receive treatment for 12 weeks. Individuals in the naturopathic treatment group met with a naturopath once a week for 30 minutes, and during their sessions they performed deep breathing exercises and were counseled on nutritional eating and the importance of regular exercise. Patients in this group were also provided with ashwagandha supplements, 300 mg standardized to 1.5% withanolides, to take twice daily, along with a multi-vitamin/mineral to take once daily.

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Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an important herb widely used in the Ayurvedic and other non-Western medical systems. Previous studies have shown it to be effective in treating anxiety, inflammation, insomnia, and nervous exhaustion. Its major active constituents are called withanolides, of which scientists have thus far isolated 35.

Patients in the psychotherapy group received patient counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy for 30 minutes once a week. At the beginning of the study they were educated on the importance of a healthy diet and taught a deep breathing exercise, but they did not receive continued dietary or lifestyle counseling throughout the study. Patients in this group were given placebos representing both the ashwagandha and vitamin/mineral supplements. Participants in the psychotherapy group did not know they were taking placebo.

The main outcome measure was the Beck Anxiety Inventory, which is a 21-item questionnaire designed to measure subjective symptoms of anxiety. At the end of the study, Beck Anxiety Inventory scores of patients in the naturopathic treatment group had decreased by 56.5 percent compared with 30.5 percent in the psychotherapy group. Participants in the naturopathic group also had significant improvements in mental health, concentration, fatigue level, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life compared with the psychotherapy group.

Given the prevalence of anxiety disorders and their impact on the health care system, it is important to find effective treatment options. With this study, a naturopathic approach has been found to be a viable therapeutic option for people who suffer with anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Disorders Association of America
Cooley K et al. PLoS 4(8): e6628. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006628