Battling the “Blahs”: Supporting Mood, Energy, & Sleep with Natural Therapies

Within the context in our fast-paced society and the high levels of chronic stress it confers, fatigue, malaise, anxiety, depression, and poor sleep are commonplace. These proverbial birds of a feather flock together, making it difficult for us as clinicians to isolate – not to mention treat – only one.

Thankfully, our bodies of drugs neither expects us to fixate upon a single variable nor accommodate our sometimes-myopic tries to treat patients through a single active constituent, pathway, or mechanism of action. On the other hand, many of the natural therapies directed at energy production and nervous system support confer a wide range of biological activity.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D receptors have been identified in a minimum of 36 different tissues from the human body, including numerous regions of the mind.1,2 Many mechanisms for vitamin D's influence on mood have been proposed, including its role in the synthesis from the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine .3-6 The vitamin-hormone has additionally been proven to affect circadian rhythms,7 thereby influencing melatonin and cortisol levels,8-10 along with the thyroid and adrenals.11

It is perhaps unsurprising that supplementing with vitamin D3 has been proven to help specifically with depression and, more generally, with psychiatric health.12,13

Amino Acids


An appropriate balance of neuronal excitation and inhibition is necessary for sleep, mood, memory, and cognition. The see-saw relationship from the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate and also the calming protein gamma-aminobutyric acid thus plays an important role in brain health.14 Lower GABA concentrations happen to be related to poor sleep quality,15 depression, and anxiety,16-18 whereas GABA supplementation can induce relaxation, mitigate anxiety,19 and lower the worry response.20

Pharmaceutical insomnia medications and prescription anxiolytics induce sedation by way of GABA agonism.21-24 Yet GABA has additionally been shown to boost the alpha brain-wave patterns associated with relaxation states, such as those seen in mindfulness meditation.25,26


Derived from green tea extract, L-theanine has additionally demonstrated efficacy in balancing excessively excitatory states, supporting relaxation, increasing alpha-wave activity,27 and blocking the activation of glutamate receptors.27,28 The protein has additionally been shown to significantly increase the amounts of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA within the brain.29,30

In clinical trials, L-theanine has revealed calming effects in situations of acute stress, reducing the anxiety-related parameters of heartbeat and blood pressure31,32 and improving the immune response.33 Animal and cellular research has shown L-theanine props up nervous system by protecting against catecholamine toxicity and enhancing glutathione production and recycling34,35 – 2 mechanisms that may bring about the improved cognitive function seen with L-theanine supplementation in elderly persons.36 L-theanine has also been shown to objectively reduce salivary α-amylase levels during academic challenge.37


When it comes to mood support, adaptogenic herbs work largely vis-à-vis the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.38 Although we tend to think of this pathway as primarily mitigating adrenal production of cortisol, the adaptogens also affect cytokine signaling, catecholamine production, and the oxidative stress response – factors that also have significant effects on mood.39


The impact of Rhodiola rosea on depression likely comes from its effects on neurotransmitters – serotonin, in particular.40-43 Caution should therefore be used in those taking medications that affect serotonin and it is receptor activity.43

Numerous numerous studies have demonstrated rhodiola's positive effect on mental health,44 and it is effects in combating both stress-related fatigue and chronic fatigue are very well known.45,46 A dose of 200 mg of rhodiola taken twice daily was shown to significantly reduce self-reported anxiety, stress, anger, confusion, and depression compared to placebo after 2 weeks' supplementation in mildly anxious individuals.47 Similar findings were observed in a pilot study of those with generalized anxiety disorder, where 340 mg of rhodiola taken daily for 10 weeks yielded significant decreases in mean Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale scores.48

Rhodiola has additionally shown promise in the context of mild-to-moderate depression, outperforming placebo and offering a considerably gentler side-effect profile when compared to SSRI sertraline – that was, admittedly, slightly more effective than rhodiola within the trial.49

Holy Basil

Widely used and well tolerated per a survey of 24 independent studies including over 1000 participants,50 the Ayurvedic herb Ocimum sanctum serves like a best example of methods ancient remedies can sort out modern ailments.

Also referred to as tulsi, the herb largely supports energy and mood through balancing the feedback systems from the HPA axis.51 Holy basil has also been proven to normalize the levels of neurotransmitters and their degrading enzymes,52 as well as to prevent corticosterone elevations in situations of stress.53

In animal models, holy basil has been shown to ease the symptoms of both depression and anxiety54,55 with effects similar to pharmaceutical antidepressants.56 In humans studies, holy basil reduced symptoms related to generalized panic attacks.57 Inside a 6-week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, holy basil not only significantly improved general stress scores, but also contributed to sexual problems, sleep trouble, forgetfulness, and energy.58 It is likely for these reasons that holy basil is sometimes called “liquid yoga.”59


A discussion of adaptogenic herbs would perhaps be incomplete without reference to Withania somnifera , that has been shown to support both brain and body in times of stress. In a RDBPC trial of adults experiencing chronic stress, the use of ashwagandha significantly reduced perceived stress levels, decreased craving for food, and improved subjective happiness scores, whilst reducing objective markers like cortisol levels and weight.60

Ashwagandha has been shown in animal models not only to buffer the negative effects rest deprivation on cognitive function,61 but also to mitigate the associated inflammation, anxiety, and cellular injury and death.62 As energizing as the plant can be, however, the Latin name somnifera reflects ashwagandha's ability to enhance sleep quality,63 largely because of its effects around the neurotransmitter GABA.64

Giving Thanks

Numerous research has demonstrated the results of keeping gratitude journals. Journaling Three times weekly about positive experiences from the past day allows the brain to relive those positive experience and access gratitude.65-67

In research conducted recently, participants were inspired to have a gratitude journal and to once per week express their appreciation of another person to that particular person directly through a face-to-face conversation, note of thanks, e-mail, or social networking post. These participants reported more balanced mood and much less depressive symptoms compared to those who kept a gratitude log alone. These findings suggest that creating connection from a host to gratitude may combat depression better than reflecting upon it silently.68


The systems of the body don' operate in vacuum pressure in addition to the other functions happening inside the organism. Like the body, naturopathic methods to healing also defy linear efforts to isolate, reduce, or deconstruct healing, instead nourishing physiology via a numerous pathways along with a variety of constituents. Past the healthcare industry's myopic preoccupation with serotonin receptor activity – or its focus on any single neurochemical pathway or endocrine “axis,” for that matter – is definitely an method of healing that is as multi-faceted, elegant, complex, and spirited as our patients.