We know a nice glass of wine helps us relax after a long day and that hemp oil can help alleviate anxiety. It’s common knowledge that blueberries are an amazing antioxidant and that lemon balm oil can help treat cold sores. Everyone who reads blogs has no doubt seen something about the wonders of coconut oil. All of these plant-derived things are made up of natural chemical compounds, which give the plants their healing properties because they react with our body’s systems to heal. We call these phytochemicals, and many well known medicines are derived from them, including aspirin made from salicylates found in willow bark, a chemical in cranberries that fights UTIs, and even quinine — which treats malaria — found in cinchona bark.
Natural Chemicals for Anxiety
A new comprehensive study takes a look at several phytochemicals, or bio-active chemicals, found in plants. For the study, scientists compiled information gathered from many experiments done with animal test subjects. Researchers tested these chemicals by recording their interactions with different bodily systems and receptors in our bodies such as our CB2 endocannabinoid system receptors, as well as receptors in our brains like the CB1 receptors in our hypothalamus, and various neurotransmitters that help control fear and anxiety.
When a chemical helps relieve anxiety, scientists call it anxiolytic. Most people recognize some of the man-made medicines used to treat anxiety, including Paxil, Prozac, and others. Just like with plants, most people don’t know the chemicals behind these brand names or how they relieve anxiety. Many of these man-made chemicals have severe side effects that make them not useful for certain patients. Natural phytochemicals can help supplement or even replace some lab-created anxiety medication. Just remember to always speak with a psychiatric or medical professional before starting any new treatments for anxiety (or any other health issue)!
Let’s take a look at the natural anxiolytic phytochemicals that researchers discovered while performing tests on mice. A new way to relieve anxiety might just be on the list.
Found primarily in plants, alkaloids make up a diverse group of chemicals. The most well known alkaloid drugs are morphine, ephedrine, and nicotine. However, alkaloids have also been found in more than 4,000 plant species, including all of the plants in the poppy family, plus buttercups, nightshades, and amaryllis. The medicinal qualities of alkaloids are all over the place. Morphine is an excellent narcotic for pain relief, but it is highly addictive. Ephedrine is an over-the-counter medicine for common cold symptoms, and nicotine is the primary addictive ingredient in tobacco. Native Americans used tobacco to heal for centuries. Lots of alkaloids have local anesthetic properties, but because alkaloids can be highly addictive and toxic, they’re not selected for use over synthetic options.
Strawberries, kale, grapes, oranges, grapefruit, parsley, brussels sprouts — you name it, it is probably rich in flavonoids, because they do what they sound like and give flavors and aromas to plants that produce them. Flavonoids are a very plentiful phytonutrient, and they have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Consuming flavonoids can help you live longer, maintain a healthy weight, prevent cardiovascular disease, aid in managing diabetes, and help prevent cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. The antioxidant qualities in flavonoids help and can even reverse the cognitive decline from aging, help the body control free radicals, and prevent memory decline, irritability, and mood swings from depression and degenerative neurological diseases like dementia.
Phenolic acids are found in the seeds and on the skins of fruits and vegetables, and they’re beneficial to your health because of their antioxidant properties that help prevent cell damage from free radicals. Wait, what are those? Free radicals are produced when our bodies can’t properly process oxygen, and they essentially bounce around the body, damaging all kinds of cells, but specifically nerve cells. Too many free radicals in the body cause something called “oxidative stress,” which is a general run down feeling because many body systems aren’t working properly and nerves are damaged. As an antioxidant, phenolic acids can reverse this damage. The neuroprotective qualities in phenolic acids are what aids in decreasing the risk of depression and anxiety in the brain.
Here are some herbs that contain useful phenolic acids, as well as the ailments they can treat:
- Sarsaparilla root – antioxidant properties, helps destroy free radicals
- Tobacco, tea, and grapes – tannins which also are antioxidant
- Buckwheat and barley – stabilizes blood sugar, good for Diabetes
- Green tea, blueberries – gallic acid, which is anti-inflammatory and cancer fighting
Primarily found in flaxseeds, lignans are converted by a bacteria found in the human intestines into a form that is more easily digested so that these phytochemicals can cross the blood-brain barrier and help reduce anxiety. Flaxseed oil is also a good herbal supplement for anxiety and depression because it contains Omega-3 fatty acids, and lignans and Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory not only in the body, but also in the brain. Lignans, whether from flaxseeds, rye, barley, berries, or beans, are another good phytochemical to treat anxiety and depression. But why?
Lignans are anti-inflammatory, and these mental illnesses are related to inflammation. There is a wide collection of research on how inflammation contributes to anxiety and depression, and one of the main ways it does so is by making brain and nerve cells inflamed. This means that important neurotransmitters can’t go where they need to, and signals between the brain cells are sluggish or not working at all. This creates the run-down feeling people get with these mental illnesses.
The main terpenes that combat depression are beta caryophyllene and limonene. Beta caryophyllene is found in cannabis, hops, and black pepper. Limonene is also found in citrus. Linalool and myrcene are the terpenes that focus on fighting anxiety in the brain. These two terpenes are also found in lavender and mangos. In plants, terpenes are the oils that make cannabis smelly and are produced by the same glands that produce CBD and THC.
The fastest way to get the effects of terpenes is smoking or vaporizing. The effects after these methods of consumption are almost instant with few side effects. Because there are so many different strains of cannabis with different amounts of the four different terpenes, dispensaries have developed a wheel to help patients pick out the right flower for what they want.
If cannabis isn’t legal in the state you’re in, you can still get terpenes by using cannabidiol hemp oil. Cannabidiol Hemp Oil, or CBD, is like a cannabis plant that contains primarily CBD and very little THC. In fact, in most states, CBD is required to have less than 1% THC. CBD is derived from the hemp plant, which contains over 200 different terpenes, including linalool, myrcene, beta caryophyllene, and limonene.