But what many psychologists are coming to realize is the symptoms that longhaulers are describing is often clinically known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).[i]
And it’s not only longhaulers suffering the effects of this virus. It’s also millions of health care workers dealing with depression, anxiety, and PTSD.[ii]
While news of vaccines and new treatments are hopeful signs pointing to the end of this pandemic. Many will be dealing with the aftermath of this virus for years to come.
The development of psychological support services is encouraging and will likely help many.
But if drugs and talk therapy is not your thing, and you’re looking for a natural PTSD alternative, you’re on the right page.
In this article you’ll learn to recognize the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. And what neuroscience tells us about what PTSD does in your brain.
Then you’ll learn about some proven natural nootropic supplements that have been shown effective in helping people recover from PTSD.
Table of Contents
What is PTSD?
The full syndrome of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was first defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III), third edition of the American Psychiatric Association in 1980.[iii]
The APA defined “a traumatic event was conceptualized as a catastrophic stressor that was outside the range of usual human experience”. They had in mind events such as war, torture, rape, the Holocaust, atomic bombings, natural and man-made disasters.
While most people exposed to traumatic events do not develop PTSD, others go on to develop full-blown syndrome.
The stressor ‘criterion’ specifies that a person has been exposed to a catastrophic event.
It could be a near-death experience of being put on a ventilator to help you breath. Or repeated exposure to the horrific consequences COVID-19 as a front-line health care worker, ambulance attendant, police officer, fire fighter, or body handler.
You can get and continue to experience the symptoms of PTSD for decades or even a lifetime. Symptoms usually begin within 3 months of the traumatic incident. But sometimes can occur much later.
For symptoms to be considered PTSD, they must last more than a month. And be severe enough to interfere in functioning relationships or work.[iv]
- Flashbacks – reliving the event over and over
- Frightening thoughts
- Avoiding places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
- Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
- Feeling detached or unable to connect with loved ones
Arousal or reactivity symptoms
- Hypersensitivity, easily startled
- Hypervigilance, feeling tense or on edge
- Difficulty sleeping, insomnia
- Irritability or angry outbursts
Cognition and mood symptoms
- Brain fog, trouble concentrating, loss of memory
- Depression, hopelessness
- Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
- Feelings of guilt or blame
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
Children with PTSD
- Wetting the bed after learning to use the toilet
- Forgetting how or unable to talk
- Acting out the scary even during playtime
- Being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult
But there is increasing evidence that PTSD isn’t just psychological. Several researchers have found a strong link between PTSD and inflammation and other immune responses.
A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found elevated levels of c-reactive protein in survivors of the World Trade Center attack.[v]
The association between this biomarker and PTSD is so strong that some have proposed diagnosing PTSD with a CRP blood test.
PTSD is a stress disorder. Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that chronic stress triggers long-term changes in brain structure and function.[vi]
Chronic stress changes neural networks. Cortisol creates a domino effect that hard-wires pathways between the hippocampus and amygdala. (The amygdala (lizard brain) is the area responsible for your fight-or-flight response).
This hard wiring caused by stress is not the way your brain was designed. But chronic, ongoing stress tricks your brain into rebuilding circuits and hunkering down for the long haul.
This re-wiring appears to be permanent. Unless you intervene with something like anyone of the nootropic supplements we’ll investigate in a minute.
Chronic stress seems to ‘flip a switch’ in stem cells in the brain. And turns them into a type of cell that prevents connections to the prefrontal cortex. Preventing improved learning and memory.
And laying down the scaffolding linked to anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Under conditions of chronic stress and excess cortisol, your brain’s neurons are coated (or sheathed) with myelin. Under healthy conditions this “sheathing” is a protective measure.
But this excessive sheathing is likely an evolutionary measure made to reinforce the connection between the hippocampus and amygdala.
Improving your fight-or-flight response during extended periods of threat or attack.
The chronic stress caused by pandemics and other natural disasters which result in PTSD hijacks your fight-or-flight response system.
It backfires in daily life after a traumatic event like a hospital stay, in which you are no longer in physical danger.
If you recognize any of the symptoms of PTSD even months after your COVID-19 experience – there is hope. You can recover from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Or worse yet, something like ‘Prolonged Exposure’ therapy. Where you’re told to keep on reliving the event until you’re desensitized to it.
That sounds to me like cruel and unusual punishment. But if you’re brave, you may want to try it.
Instead, I recommend trying some natural nootropic supplements.
The following nootropics have been found in clinical studies, and in real life, to help alleviate the symptoms of PTSD.
Each nootropic below has a live link that will take you to the full review for that dietary supplement. Including recommended dosage and side effects.
This ancient Ayurvedic herb, Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years for its remarkable stress-relieving properties. It helps reduce anxiety and depression because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol, lowers blood sugar levels and improves cholesterol profiles.[vii]
Ashwagandha helps regenerate axons and dendrites and helps reconstruct synapses.[viii] The junctions where neurons communicate with other neurons. Boosting memory and restoring neural networks affected by severe stress like PTSD.
But Ashwagandha does so much more to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. Go to the link above and read the full review for all the remarkable benefits this herb offers.
Just one example is a study done comparing Ashwagandha with the popular benzodiazepine antidepressant lorazepam (Ativan). And the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine (Tofranil).
The researchers concluded that as a mood stabilizer, Ashwagandha worked on depression and anxiety as well as either of the two anti-depressants.[ix]
Recommended dosage of Ashwagandha extract for PTSD is 250 – 500 mg per day.
Bacopa Monnieri is a perennial aquatic herb originally from the wetlands of southeast Asia. Otherwise known as ‘water hyssop’, it’s often referred to as “Brahmi”. Named after the supreme god Brahma.
Bacopa’s two active components are bacosides A and B. They improve the signaling of electrical impulses between neurons in your brain. Bacosides also help rebuild damaged neurons. The same neurons damaged by chronic stress caused by PTSD.[x]
Bacopa also reduces stress and anxiety. Research at Banaras Hindu University in India showed Bacopa as effective for anxiety as the benzodiazepine drug lorazepam.
Recommended dosage for Bacopa Monnieri (45% bacosides) for PTSD is 450 mg per day.
Kava (Piper methysticum) is an herb that’s native the South Pacific islands. It’s traditionally been used in the islands as a hypnotic, psychotropic, and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety).
California’s Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation took a look at 24 studies of Kava and other herbal medicines for anxiety. And found substantial evidence that Kava relieved not only anxiety, but also restlessness and insomnia.[xiii]
They even looked at animal studies that showed Kava has anxiolytic effects “but not sedative or mental impairing” effects “which are typical side effects caused by benzodiazepines”.
Recommended dosage of Kava for PTSD is 250 – 500 mg per day.
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is the leaf of a tropical deciduous tree within the coffee family (Rubiaceae) native to Southeast Asia.
A 2017 Grundman survey of 10,000 Kratom users aged 31 – 50 years, the majority having used Kratom from 6 months to 5 years, reported the following benefits: increased energy, decreased pain, increased focus, less anxiety, reduced or stopped use of opioid painkillers, and reduced PTSD symptoms.[xvi]
Recommended dosage of Kratom for PTSD is 1 – 15 grams per day. Dosage varies depending on the strain. For more on various strains and where to buy it see my full review on Kratom.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is native to the Mediterranean region. And has a long history as a treatment for anxiety and depression.
Rosmarinic acid in Lemon Balm works as an antidepressant. And boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which promotes the growth, maturation, and maintenance of brain cells.
Supplementing with Lemon Balm can provide an anti-anxiety effect within minutes of taking it. Some users say it works as well as popping a Xanax®.
Recommended dosage of Lemon Balm extract for PTSD is 300 – 600 mg per day.
Lithium is a soft, silvery-white alkali metal and trace element considered essential for human health. The therapeutic use of lithium goes back to ancient Greek and Roman times. People enjoyed soaking in alkali springs to help with physical and mental illness.
Today lithium has an undeserved reputation as the ‘drug’ used to treat bipolar disorder and mania. But the clinical research on the neuroprotective benefits of lithium is so overwhelming, some scientists are beginning to ask, “why isn’t everyone using lithium”?
Here we’re talking about micro-dosing lithium in the form of Lithium Orotate for treating the symptoms of PTSD.
Lithium has been shown to prevent apoptosis, reduce glutamate toxicity mediated by NMDA-receptors, promotes BDNF needed for synaptic plasticity for learning and memory, and stimulates neuronal stem cells.
Supplementing with Lithium Orotate has been shown to stabilize mood and prevent depression and even suicide. Lithium Orotate will help put a stop to outbursts of rage and reduce anxiety.
If you are dealing with PTSD in the aftermath of a COVID-19, using Lithium Orotate could mean feeling excited about life again for the first time in a long time.
Anxiety and social anxiety are no longer a problem. Life is simply more fun and enjoyable.
If you’re dealing with insomnia, racing thoughts, or lack of motivation, I highly recommend trying Lithium Orotate and see how it works for you. Motivation could increase. And you’ll have more coping ability.
Recommended dosage for Lithium Orotate for PTSD is 5 mg as needed.
L-Theanine increases GABA, serotonin, and dopamine levels in your brain.[xix] As well as increasing Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). Producing an energizing and calming effect. And improving cognition and memory.
You can get L-Theanine in capsule or tablet form, Recommended dosage of L-Theanine for PTSD is 200 – 400 mg once or twice per day.
My preferred way of getting L-Theanine is drinking 3 or 4 cups of green tea throughout my day. But extracting the optimal amount of L-Theanine from green tea is both an art and science.
Please see my full L-Theanine review for more on this remarkable nootropic including how to steep the perfect cup of green tea.
The power supply in each of your brain cells. So, you need NADH to transfer the energy from the food you eat into a type of energy your body can use.
Some clinics in the USA and other countries are using NADH therapy as a treatment for addiction, anxiety, depression, chronic stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Recommended dosage of NADH for PTSD is 10 mg per day.
The ancient remedy Rhodiola Rosea has remarkable stress-relieving and anti-anxiety properties. And stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the most potent drugs used to treat depression and anxiety.
Rhodiola Rosea helps reduce the inflammatory C-reactive protein which some professionals are considering using as a diagnostic tool for PTSD. And salidroside, one of many components of this incredible herb, protects neurons from oxidative stress-induced cell death.
Reports from the nootropics community, and data from clinical trials show that Rhodiola Rosea encourages a balanced mood.[xxiii]
One study published in Phytomedicine evaluated the efficacy of using Rhodiola Rosea compared to the antidepressant sertraline (Zoloft©).
The research team concluded that even though Rhodiola offered slightly less antidepressant benefits, it possessed “a more favorable risk to benefit ratio for those with mild to moderate depression”.[xxv]
Recommended dosage of Rhodiola Rosea extract for PTSD is 200 mg per day.
SAM-e is the naturally occurring amino acid methionine bound to an ATP molecule. And is found in nearly every cell in your body. It helps produce and breakdown the neurotransmitters acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin in your brain.
Studies show that SAM-e is very effective in treating depression without the side effects of prescription antidepressants.
And while pharmaceutical antidepressants can take from 6 to 8 weeks to begin working, SAM-e can work much faster.
Scientists at the US Department of Health and Human Services conducted an analysis of 102 individual studies in 25 databases on SAM-e and depression.
In their report, the researchers concluded “Treatment with SAM-e was equivalent to standard therapy for depression”.[xxvi]
For optimal effects with SAM-e, stable, enteric-coated tablets are recommended. And taken on an empty stomach, either one hour before or two hours after meals.
Recommended dosage of SAM-e for PTSD is 400 mg per day.
St. John’s wort is a potent antidepressant. It has been used to treat a variety of internal and external illnesses dating back to the ancient Greeks.
St. John’s wort inhibits the uptake of serotonin, dopamine, GABA, glutamate, and norepinephrine. Inhibiting the neuronal uptake of these neurotransmitters can have a profound effect on depression and anxiety.
St. John’s wort extract decreases oxidative stress, prevents neurotoxicity, and brain inflammation. It helps maintain mitochondria electric potential in brain cells.
And St. John’s wort moderates the genes controlling the function of your HPA-axis which is directly related to symptoms of anxiety and stress.
In 1977, the British Medical Journal published a meta-analysis of 23 previously published studies on St. John’s wort drawn from foreign medical journals.
The analysis showed that overall, St. John’s wort was significantly superior to placebo. And as effective as pharmaceutical antidepressants.[xxvii]
The same journal published another study in 2005 showing that St. John’s wort was equally effective in treating depression and better tolerated than the widely prescribed antidepressant paroxetine (Paxil®).[xxviii]
St. John’s wort has been extensively studied for treating a wide range of health disorders including PTSD. To see more of these studies, click the live link above to go to the full review of this amazing nootropic herb.
But dosage of St. John’s wort and choice of supplement can be complicated. So please refer to the full review here.
NOTE: you should NOT use St. John’s wort if you are taking any kind of antidepressant medication. For a full list of precautions, see my full St. John’s wort review.
You took refuge at home cut off from friends and family for over a year. Shortages of toilet paper and disinfectants for months on end.
A loved one suffering alone in a hospitable room while you cried helplessly at home.
Or you’re a healthcare professional exhausted beyond comprehension from saving life after life after life. Some left you grief-stricken because there was nothing you could do to save them.
And the nightmare continues. Masks, social distancing, and maybe you’re still waiting for a vaccine.
But there is a better way to deal with these stressors.
PTSD is not an impossible nut to crack no matter what they say. Instead of re-living the horror of the trauma you were dealt with using ‘Prolonged Exposure’ therapy. Or dealing with the side effects or outright failure of antidepressants.
Try natural nootropic supplements instead. And put your life back together. You can recover.
You will likely have to do some experimenting on your own. Use the information in this article and follow the links through to my full review of each nootropic mentioned here. Thousands in our community have been where you are now. We’re here to help. All you need to do is ask in the Comment section below this article.
I recommend starting with a combination of 3 or 4 of the natural nootropic supplements I detailed above.
If you’re new to this please don’t take them all at once. Start with one supplement and use if for a couple of days. If you don’t experience any adverse effects, add the next supplement on the list. And so on.
If one nootropic doesn’t seem to be providing any benefit then try another from the list above. Follow the dosage recommendations for each supplement.
Keep at it until you feel relief from the PTSD symptoms you’ve been dealing with. And get your life back with these safe, natural treatments for PTSD.
[i] Kaseda E.R., Levine A.J. “Post-traumatic stress disorder: A differential diagnostic consideration for COVID-19 survivors” The Clinical Psychologist Volume 34, 2020 - Issue 7-8: Clinical Neuropsychology in the Time of COVID-19 (source)
[ii] Li, Y., Scherer, N., Felix, L., & Kuper, H. “Prevalence of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder in health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” PloS one, 16(3), e0246454. (source)
[v] Rosen R.L. et. Al. “ Elevated C-reactive protein and posttraumatic stress pathology among survivors of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks” Journal of Psychiatric Research June 2017 Volume 89, Pages 14–21 (source)
[vii] Bhattacharya S.K., Bhattacharya A., Sairam K., Ghosal S. “Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study.” Phytomedicine 2000 Dec;7(6):463-9. (source)
[ix] Bhattacharya S.K., Bhattacharya A., Sairam K., “Ghosal S. Anxiolytic-antidepressant activity of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides: an experimental study.” Phytomedicine 2000 Dec;7(6):463-9. (source)
[x] Calabrese N.D., Gregory W.L., Leo M., Kraemer D., Bone K., Oken B. “Effects of a Standardized Bacopa monnieri Extract on Cognitive Performance, Anxiety, and Depression in the Elderly: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial” Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine 2008 Jul; 14(6): 707–713. (source)
[xii] Jussofie A., Schmiz A., Hiemke C. “Kavapyrone enriched extract from Piper methysticum as modulator of the GABA binding site in different regions of rat brain.” Psychopharmacology (Berlin). 1994 Dec;116(4):469-74. (source)
[xiv] Takayama H1, Ishikawa H, Kurihara M, Kitajima M, Aimi N, Ponglux D, Koyama F, Matsumoto K., Moriyama T., Yamamoto L.T., Watanabe K., Murayama T., Horie S. “Studies on the synthesis and opioid agonistic activities of mitragynine-related indole alkaloids: discovery of opioid agonists structurally different from other opioid ligands.” Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 2002 Apr 25;45(9):1949-56. (source)
[xv] Rosenbaum C.D., Carreiro S.P., Babu K.M. “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow…and Back Again? A Review of Herbal Marijuana Alternatives (K2, Spice), Synthetic Cathinones (Bath Salts), Kratom, Salvia divinorum, Methoxetamine, and Piperazines” Journal of Medical Toxicology 2012 Mar; 8(1): 15–32. (source)
[xvii] Yoo D.Y., Choi J.H., Kim W., Yoo K.Y., Lee C.H., Yoon Y.S., Won M.H., Hwang I.K. “Effects of Melissa officinalis L. (lemon balm) extract on neurogenesis associated with serum corticosterone and GABA in the mouse dentate gyrus.” Neurochemistry Research. 2011 Feb;36(2):250-7. (source)
[xix] Nathan P.J., Lu K., Gray M., Oliver C. “The neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent.” Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy. 2006;6(2):21-30. (source)
[xx] Zhang H., Ryu D., Wu Y., Gariani K., Wang X., Luan P., D’amico D., Ropelle E.R., Lutolf M.P., Aebersold R., Schoonjans K., Menzies K.J., Auwerx J. “NAD repletion improves mitochondrial and stem cell function and enhances lifespan in mice”. Science, 2016 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2693 (source)
[xxi] Alegre J., Rosés J.M., Javierre C., Ruiz-Baqués A., Segundo M.J., de Sevilla T.F. “[Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome].” In Spanish Revista Clinica Espanola. 2010 Jun;210(6):284-8. (source)
[xxii] Santaella M.L., Font I., Disdier O.M. “Comparison of oral nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) versus conventional therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome.” Puerto Rico Health Sciences Journal. 2004 Jun;23(2):89-93. (source)
[xxiii] Darbinyan V., Aslanyan G., Amroyan E., Gabrielyan E., Malmström C., Panossian A. “Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.” Nordic Journal of Psychiatry. 2007;61(5):343-8. (source)
[xxiv] Qin Y.J., Zeng Y.S., Zhou C.C., Li Y., Zhong Z.Q. “[Effects of Rhodiola rosea on level of 5-hydroxytryptamine, cell proliferation and differentiation, and number of neuron in cerebral hippocampus of rats with depression induced by chronic mild stress].” in Chinese Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2008 Dec;33(23):2842-6. (source)
[xxv] Mao J.J., Xie S.X., Zee J., Soeller I., Li QS., Rockwell K., Amsterdam J.D. “Rhodiola rosea versus sertraline for major depressive disorder: A randomized placebo-controlled trial.” Phytomedicine. 2015 Mar 15;22(3):394-9. (source)
[xxvii] Linde K., Ramirez G., Mulrow C.D., Pauls A., Weidenhammer W., Melchart D. “St John’s wort for depression–an overview and meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials.” British Medical Journal 1996 Aug 3;313(7052):253-8. (source)
[xxviii] Szegedi A, Kohnen R, Dienel A, Kieser M, “Acute Treatment of Moderate to Severe Depression with Hypericum Extract WS(R) 5570 (St. John’s Wort): Randomized, Controlled, Double-Blind, Non-Inferiority Trial versus Peroxetine”, British Medical Journal 2005, BMJ Online First Retrieved July 29, 2016 (source)
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