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NCCIH Clinical Digest

for health professionals

Anxiety and Complementary Health Approaches

August 2018
anxiety

Researchers are studying a variety of complementary health approaches to see whether they might be helpful for occasional anxiety or anxiety disorders. There is some evidence that mindfulness and other forms of meditation, music, relaxation techniques, and melatonin may be efficacious for anxiety, especially anxiety associated with medical procedures or chronic medical problems. However, there is not enough evidence on other complementary health approaches for anxiety to draw definitive conclusions about their efficacy.

This issue of the digest provides a summary of current research on several complementary health approaches for anxiety, including mind and body practices and natural products.

Modality and Summary of Current Research

Although some studies of acupuncture for anxiety have had positive outcomes, in general, many of the studies on acupuncture for anxiety have been of poor methodological quality or not of statistical significance. In addition, because the research is extremely variable (e.g., number and variety of acupuncture points, frequency of sessions, and duration of treatment), it is difficult to draw firm conclusions about potential benefits.

In some studies massage therapy helped to reduce anxiety for people with cancer or other comorbid medical conditions; however, other studies did not find a statistically significant beneficial effect.  Little research has been done on massage for anxiety disorders, and results have been conflicting.

Meditation therapy is commonly used and has been shown to be of small to modest benefit for people with anxiety-related symptoms. There is some evidence that Transcendental Meditation may have a beneficial effect on anxiety. However, there is a lack of studies with adequate statistical power in patients with clinically diagnosed anxiety disorders, which makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions about its efficacy for anxiety disorders.

Relaxation techniques may reduce anxiety in individuals with chronic medical problems and those who are having medical procedures.  However, research demonstrates that conventional psychotherapy, for individuals with generalized anxiety disorder, may be more effective than relaxation techniques.

There is some research that suggests that a chamomile extract may be helpful for generalized anxiety disorder, but the studies are preliminary, and their findings are not conclusive.

Kava extract may produce moderately beneficial effects on anxiety symptoms; however, the use of kava supplements has been linked to a risk of severe liver damage.

There is some research that suggests melatonin may help reduce anxiety in patients who are about to have surgery and may be as effective as standard treatment with midazolam in reducing preoperative anxiety.

Although some studies of lavender preparations for anxiety have shown some therapeutic effects, in general, many of these studies have been of poor methodological quality.

NCCIH Clinical Digest is a service of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, NIH, DHHS. NCCIH Clinical Digest, a monthly e-newsletter, offers evidence-based information on complementary health approaches, including scientific literature searches, summaries of NCCIH-funded research, fact sheets for patients, and more.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is dedicated to exploring complementary health products and practices in the context of rigorous science, training complementary health researchers, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. For additional information, call NCCIH’s Clearinghouse toll-free at 1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCIH Web site at nccih.nih.gov. NCCIH is 1 of 27 institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health, the Federal focal point for medical research in the United States.

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