Herbs in depression and anxiety

The title is a bit perverse – the article will deal with only one herbal mixture and only those cases of mood disorders that are related to the so-called “irritable bowel syndrome”. Under this mysterious name is usually “I don’t know why you have diarrhea”. In another article, I pointed out the very strong link between this whole “syndrome” and chronic parasitic infections:


Perhaps this very mechanism accounts for the effectiveness of herbal therapies. But one step at a time.

The connection between gut flora and mood has been pointed out many times, it is even said that the gut is the second brain. In fact, there are many mechanisms that can, through the state of the digestive system, affect mood. Excessive production of nitric oxides will dilate the blood vessels in the digestive system, simply “stealing” blood from the rest of the body. The body may be poisoned, for example, by excess ammonia or lactic acid, especially its D form. Adequate amounts of certain fatty acids that are normally produced from fiber by intestinal bacteria may not be produced. Chronic inflammation may also develop, or the balance of the immune system may shift altogether. Such trivialities as allergic reactions to parasitic infections are not even worth mentioning. These are the mechanisms that I now recall, a doctor or scientist specializing in this field could certainly give many more.

How about the other way around? A shift in the balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems will disturb the bowels, both their peristalsis and their secretion of digestive enzymes.

All of this needs to be known when trying to answer the question – why did the herbs work? This is, despite appearances, a very important question. I don’t like herbal therapies. They usually do not treat the cause of the disease, but only attack the effect. After stopping them, the problems return. The same is true of the vast majority of pills that doctors are so happy to prescribe for problems with neurosis or depression. Knowing why the herbs helped, one may be tempted to create a therapy that will bring lasting improvement.

If they created unfavorable conditions for the “bad” bacteria (however you define this “bad”), then for a lasting effect you should change your diet and take probiotics for a while. If they reduced the population of parasites – use heavier antiparasitic drugs and strengthen the immunity. If they simply calmed down, work on the psyche, teach meditation. If they quieted inflammation, find its source. Unfortunately, we don’t know which mechanism was responsible for the patients’ improved health. But at least we have a therapy that is very inexpensive, fairly effective, and virtually free of side effects.

Or maybe the patients just felt better because their gut problems disappeared?

Let’s take a look at the study in question:


It used a mixture of frankincense, ginger and yarrow. Classical methods of measurement were used, for anxiety and depression they used the HADS, a scale on which a score of 0-7 indicates a healthy person, 8-10 being on the verge of illness, and 11-21 sick.

For anxiety, there was a decrease from 19 to 16 at one month, and an improvement over the next 2 months to 15. This was not a full cure, but the improvement was very marked, 4 points is a lot. In comparison, duloxetine (an SSRI drug) resulted in a drop of only 2 points:


For depression, the effect was a drop from 17 to 14 after one month and further to 12 after another two. Five points is a very good result indeed.

Much better results were obtained for digestive problems alone – after 3 months, pain strength dropped from 54 to 29, frequency from 6.2 to 2.75, bloating from 61 to 24.

A very important thing to be aware of when reviewing this type of study – the result obtained is an average. This means that in two people the level of depression may not have changed at all, in one person it may have even increased, but in three others it may have decreased by eleven points. That’s where all the misunderstandings and arguments come from – “this drug doesn’t work at all, I took it and it didn’t help”, “why not, it’s wonderful, it cured me right away”. There is no one drug that works for everyone, especially not for conditions like irritable bowel, depression or anxiety, which are actually symptoms and can stem from hundreds of different causes.

The mixture discussed here will certainly be a miracle cure for many people, putting an end to their problems, but also, unfortunately, for a large group will not help at all.

Frankincense, ginger, yarrow. We look into the study … well, yes. The wonderful researchers presented everything except for the dosages used. However, we can assume that they were similar to those in the other studies they cited.

Frankincense – since they cited studies on mostly other species, it can be assumed that the variety doesn’t matter much here. It is known that the absorption of the active ingredients is much higher if you take the supplement together with a high-fat meal – up to five times higher! Typically, studies used doses of 300 mg of the extract, 3 times a day (total 900 mg). Few formulations on the market will have the exact composition listed, you have to remember that “boswellic acid” is actually a group of many different chemical compounds, of which only a few are of therapeutic importance.

Ginger – suggested dosages are a teaspoon of fresh crushed root, one gram of extract, or a preparation as recommended by the manufacturer.

Yarrow – suggested doses are tea prepared from 2 to 4 grams per day of dried flowers and stems (not stated which plant parts were used in the study). As an interesting side note, a dose of 4 grams over the course of a year significantly improved multiple sclerosis patients – they lost an entire point on the EDSS scale:


All of these herbs should be taken three times a day in smaller portions, if possible.