In a new study from the Weizmann Institute of Science, researchers found that a natural food supplement may help reduce anxiety.
The plant-derived substance, beta-sitosterol, was found to produce this effect both on its own and in combination with an antidepressant known under the brand name Prozac.
The findings may point the way toward the use of beta-sitosterol as a treatment for relieving anxiety in humans.
Anxiety is not always a bad thing. In fact, in evolutionary terms, feeling anxious about potential threats is critical for survival because it helps us mount an appropriate response.
That’s precisely why developing antianxiety drugs is so challenging.
The circuits for anxiety in the brain are closely related to those responsible for memory, awareness and other functions vital for handling danger, so scientists are on the lookout for compounds that can selectively suppress anxiety without causing unwanted side effects.
In the study, the team searched a genomic database for existing drugs or other compounds that might help fight anxiety.
They identified five candidates and tested their effects on behavior in mice. That was how the researchers zeroed in on beta-sitosterol, a plant substance sold as a dietary supplement intended mainly to reduce cholesterol levels.
In a series of experiments, the team found mice given beta-sitosterol showed much less anxiety than the controls.
Moreover, the mice receiving beta-sitosterol did not exhibit any of the side effects that might be expected from antianxiety medications.
Next, the researchers tested the effects of beta-sitosterol on mice when given in combination with fluoxetine, a depression drug under the brand name Prozac, among others.
The combination had a strong effect: Both beta-sitosterol and fluoxetine reduced the anxiety of mice at lower doses when given together.
The team says 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.
A great advantage of beta-sitosterol is that it is naturally present in a variety of edible plants, and it is thought to be safe, as it has been marketed for years as a nutraceutical.
It is found in particularly large concentrations in avocados, but also in pistachios, almonds and other nuts, in canola oil, in various grains and cereals and more.
If you care about anxiety, please read studies about why people with anxiety and other mood disorders struggle to manage their emotions and findings of this blood pressure drug may help reduce anxiety and pain.
For more information about anxiety prevention and treatment, please see recent studies about brain chemical imbalance may lead to social anxiety disorder and results showing that troubled relationships may double depression and anxiety risks.
The study is published in Cell Reports Medicine. One author of the study is Prof. Mike Fainzilber.
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