Israeli scientists find natural food supplement that could treat anxiety

If proven effective in humans, this could lead to anxiety treatment that heavily minimizes harmful side effects.

Stress, illustrative (photo credit: PIXNIO)
Stress, illustrative
(photo credit: PIXNIO)
A natural plant-derived food supplement could possibly be used to help reduce anxiety, according to a study from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.
The substance, beta-sitosterol, was shown to reduce anxiety in mice and to produce this effect both by itself and in synergic combination with the antidepressant Prozac.
Building off research from several years ago, the study examined international genomic databases to find existing drugs or compounds that mimicked a certain gene expression that would help induce “calmness.” This led to tests involving beta-sitosterol that showed a marked decrease in anxiety.
But what was most notable about these findings is that the mice who were given beta-sitosterol did not display any of the side effects associated with antianxiety medication.
Treating anxiety has always been a challenge because it is a critical survival tool inherited throughout the evolutionary process. The circuits for anxiety are closely tied with other essential circuits in the brain, relating to various vital functions such as memory and awareness, which is why they are often impacted by side effects from antianxiety drugs.
“One of the major problems with existing antianxiety medications is that they produce side effects, so if beta-sitosterol could help cut down the dosage of such medications, it might potentially also reduce the unwanted side effects,” said Dr. Nicolas Panayotis, one of the study’s lead researchers.
Beta-sitosterol is a naturally occurring substance and can be found in almonds, pistachios, various grains and especially avocados. However, these alone do not contain enough beta-sitosterol to produce a calming effect.
 “You’d need to eat avocado day and night to get the right dose, and you would be more likely to develop digestive problems than relieve your anxiety,” Panayotis said.
The findings, published in the academic journal Cell Reports Medicine, appear to be promising, but it is unclear how well this will apply to humans. Clinical trials are needed before beta-sitosterol can be properly recommended as a means of reducing anxiety, the report said.