Supplements as alternatives to benzodiazepines

Here’s an update on this topic:

In her 2007 book, Supplement Your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition, Dr. Hyla Cass has an interesting section (pp. 139-140) dealing with supplement alternatives to benzodiazepines and other drugs such as Ambien. (These drugs are generally prescribed as anti-anxiety agents and as sleep aids.)

Dr. Cass is a practicing physician and an expert on integrative (“holistic”) health, and one of her main concerns is to present ways to counter prescription medication side effects, or to identify supplement alternatives to prescription drugs.

Of benzodiazepines (the best-known tradenames in this category are Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Librium, Halcion), Dr. Cass writes that a principal problem is that these drugs develop dependence, and so can require steadily increasing dosages as time goes on. (Ideally, she says, they are intended as short-term therapies, but in fact many patients end up being prescribed them for a much longer time.) Withdrawal from these drugs can be quite hazardous, and should be done only under medical surpervision. Moreover, the effect of this class of medications is often a dulling of response, so their use can be associated with accidents.

Since benzodiazepines deplete needed nutrients, Dr. Cass advises supplementing as follows if you take them:

1000-1200mg Calcium/day, plus 400-600mg/Magnesium
400-800mg Folic acid/day
1000 IU Vitamin D/day
30-100mcg Vitamin K/day

She also states that in her own practice she has often successfully substituted supplements for these prescription drugs. Among the calming supplements that she has used:

5-HTP: 100-200mg at bedtime
Melatonin: 0.5-3.0mg at bedtime
L-theanine: 200mg, one to three times daily, as needed

In Dr. Cass’s view, supplements such as these, sometimes used in combinations, can provide a good alternative to the addictive benzodiazepines and their side effects (which, she says, are also characteristic of the newer drug Ambien).

—–

See the following NYBC entries for additional information on the supplements mentioned above:

Melatonin 1mg and Melatonin 3mg

Theanine Serene (includes L-theanine)

NYBC also stocks 5-HTP and the closely related Tryptophan.

Also note that the Jarrow supplement Bone Up very closely matches the set of supplements recommended by Dr. Cass to offset the nutrients depleted by taking benzodiazepines (Calcium, Magnesium, Folic acid, Vitamin D, Vitamin K).

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Supplements for anxiety

A while back, we posted a review of holistic M.D. Hyla Cass’ recommendations for avoiding the dependence-inducing benzodiazepines for anxiety. Her prescription was to use supplements instead, and she had some specific recommendations:

In her 2007 book, Supplement Your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition, Dr. Hyla Cass has an interesting section (pp. 139-140) dealing with supplement alternatives to benzodiazepines and other drugs such as Ambien. (These drugs are generally prescribed as anti-anxiety agents and as sleep aids.)

Of benzodiazepines (the best-known tradenames in this category are Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Librium, Halcion), Dr. Cass writes that a principal problem is that these drugs develop dependence, and so can require steadily increasing dosages as time goes on. (Ideally, she says, they are intended as short-term therapies, but in fact many patients end up being prescribed them for a much longer time.) Withdrawal from these drugs can be quite hazardous, and should be done only under medical surpervision. Moreover, the effect of this class of medications is often a dulling of response, so their use can be associated with accidents.
[…]
She states that in her own practice she has often successfully substituted supplements for these prescription drugs. Among the calming supplements that she has used:

5-HTP: 100-200mg at bedtime
Melatonin: 0.5-3.0mg at bedtime
L-theanine: 200mg, one to three times daily, as needed

In Dr. Cass’s view, supplements such as these, sometimes used in combinations, can provide a good alternative to the addictive benzodiazepines and their side effects.

—–

See the following NYBC entries for additional information on the supplements mentioned above:

Melatonin 1mg and Melatonin 3mg

Theanine Serene (includes L-theanine)

NYBC also stocks 5-HTP and the closely related Tryptophan.

If you do decide to take one of the prescription benzodiazepines, Dr. Cass further notes, it is advisable to supplement to offset the key nutrients that these drugs tend to deplete in the body. We note that the Jarrow supplement Bone Up very closely matches the set of depleted supplements listed by Dr. Cass (Calcium, Magnesium, Folic acid, Vitamin D, Vitamin K).

One last note: rather small doses of melatonin may do the trick in terms of helping you to sleep. A 1mg dose may be all that’s necessary.

Sleep drugs wildly popular, and expensive, but not terribly effective–what about melatonin as an alternative?

We were amused to see the recent New York Times article about how many billions of dollars Americans spend on popular sleep drugs like Ambien, yet how little effect these medications actually seem to have:

Sleep Drugs Found Only Mildly Effective, but Wildly Popular  NYT Oct. 23, 2007

Meanwhile, there have been a number of studies over the years pointing to the dietary supplement melatonin as a useful sleep aid, providing comparable effects to the prescription meds.

 

For example:

 

 Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1996 Jul;126(2):179-81.

 

Low dose melatonin improves sleep in healthy middle-aged subjects.

Attenburrow ME, Cowen PJ, Sharpley AL.

University Department of Psychiatry, Littlemore Hospital, Oxford, UK.

We studied the effects of single evening doses of melatonin (0.3 mg and 1.0 mg orally) on polysomnographically measured sleep in 15 healthy middle-aged volunteers, using a placebo-controlled, double-blind, cross-over design. Compared to placebo, the 1.0 mg dose of melatonin significantly increased Actual Sleep Time, Sleep Efficiency, non-REM Sleep and REM Sleep Latency. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that low dose melatonin has hypnotic effects in humans. It is possible that administered melatonin may have a role to play in the treatment of sleep disorders. 

There are also current studies funded by NIH on melatonin for sleep disturbances in the elderly, and in people with Alzheimer’s.

 

But getting back to the New York Times piece: while the article reported prices of prescription sleep aids in the $2-4 range per dose, the typical melatonin dose can cost just a few cents. See, for example, the Douglas Labs Melatonin stocked by NYBC.