Vitamins, minerals and nutrients are frequently being researched and tested in the hope of discovering ways to improve our health. One of those avenues of research is how herbs and supplements can support our mental health. Just as athletes take supplements to enhance their physical performance, supplements can also be taken to improve the clarity of someone’s mind, concentration, alertness, anxiety levels, memory and even mood.
There are hundreds of varieties of supplements, and herbal combinations, which work towards improving mental clarity. So it’s important to know what you are looking to improve and understand before you start taking anything. Please note that not all herbs and nutrients work the same for every person. So what may work for someone, may not necessarily have the same effects on someone else?
We’ve chosen a selection of herbs, some well known, some not so much, to give a broad overview of just what herbs are available and their main links to mental health.
1 – Gotu Kola: for depression, stress and sleeping problems.
The little-known vitamin has in fact been around for hundreds of years, traditionally used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines as a natural remedy for depression, stress and fatigue. It is believed to be a natural neurotransmitter, which means it helps the production of brain messenger chemicals to support healthy brain functions.
It’s also 100% caffeine-free, so this is great as a natural pick-me-up to rejuvenate the mind and for those who actively avoid caffeine.
2 – Valerian: for anxiety and panic.
Valerian has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for nervous tension and to suppress the feelings of rising panic and irritability. It has gentle sedative effects that leave the person feeling refreshed and relaxed, rather than grouchy and drowsy.
Valerian can also help those with out of sync sleeping patterns; its relaxing properties can assist you in getting a more regular, natural sleep routine.
3 – Gingko Biloba: for general mental wellbeing.
Known to be one of the oldest species of tree on the planet, Gingko Biloba is used to improve memory and sharpen thinking. The herb has been utilised in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years, however, is has become popular amongst post-menopausal women in the Western World in recent years.
It is believed to work by thinning the blood and therefore improving oxygen flow to the brain, so it is advisable not to take this herb alongside any other medication which works by thinning the blood, such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
It’s reported to be beneficial towards general mental wellbeing and gives people a greater sense of satisfaction and fulfilment in their lives.
4 – Vitamin D: for depression and seasonal affective disorder.
You may have heard of seasonal affective disorder, (SAD) or ‘winter depression’, nicknamed as such due to the symptoms being more severe during the winter months. The main reoccurring symptoms include a depressed mood, wanting to sleep for an extended period, trouble sleeping at all, increased desire to be alone and trouble concentrating. The exact cause isn’t known, but it is known to return year after year for some people.
The leading theory is that there is an intricate link between the levels of serotonin, (our ‘happy hormone’), and the amount of time we expose ourselves to natural sunlight. Meaning, shorter days and longer nights have a direct effect on our mood. Without our bodies being in direct sunlight, the less serotonin our bodies create.
In the brain, we can find vitamin D receptors linked to areas which are known for the development of depression. For this reason, vitamin D has been associated directly with mental health problems.
5 – St Johns Wort: for moderate depression, mild anxiety and sleep problems.
St Johns Wort is a herbal medicine that is used to treat some mild mental health issues. It contains the active ingredients hypericin and hyperforin. Hypericin is the ingredient which actively targets depression, whereas hyperforin has antibiotic properties. Likened to standard antidepressants, but with fewer side effects, it is available as tablets, capsules, tea and as a tincture, which you add to water.
There is still continued research around this herb, but despite this, there is currently little information about its effects on people under the age of 18 and during pregnancy. So please get advice if you fall into either of these categories. There are also a few side effects that may occur when taking St Johns Wort, including headaches, sensitivity to light, confusion and dizziness.
There has been associated research with all of these herbs towards how they aid mental health concerns. However, they are not to be taken in place of other medical treatments. If you are concerned about any aspect of mental health, please see your doctor.