Background: Anxiety is a serious personal health condition and represents a substantial burden to overall quality of life. Additionally anxiety disorders represent a significant cost to the health care system as well as employers through benefits coverage and days missed due to incapacity. This study sought to explore the effectiveness of naturopathic care on anxiety symptoms using a randomized trial.
Methods: Employees with moderate to severe anxiety of longer than 6 weeks duration were randomized based on age and gender to receive naturopathic care (NC) (n = 41) or standardized psychotherapy intervention (PT) (n = 40) over a period of 12 weeks. Blinding of investigators and participants during randomization and allocation was maintained. Participants in the NC group received dietary counseling, deep breathing relaxation techniques, a standard multi-vitamin, and the herbal medicine, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) (300 mg b.i.d. standardized to 1.5% with anolides, prepared from root). The PT intervention received psychotherapy, and matched deep breathing relaxation techniques, and placebo. The primary outcome measure was the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) and secondary outcome measures included the Short Form 36 (SF-36), Fatigue Symptom Inventory (FSI), and Measure Yourself Medical Outcomes Profile (MY-MOP) to measure anxiety, mental health, and quality of life respectively. Participants were blinded to the placebo-controlled intervention.
Results: Seventy-five participants (93%) were followed for 8 or more weeks on the trial. Final BAI scores decreased by 56.5% (p<0.0001) in the NC group and 30.5% (p<0.0001) in the PT group. BAI group scores were significantly decreased in the NC group compared to PT group (p = 0.003). Significant differences between groups were also observed in mental health, concentration, fatigue, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life with the NC group exhibiting greater clinical benefit. No serious adverse reactions were observed in either group.
Relevance: Many patients seek alternatives and/or complementary care to conventional anxiety treatments. To date, no study has evaluated the potential of a naturopathic treatment protocol to effectively treat anxiety. Knowledge of the efficacy, safety or risk of natural health products, and naturopathic treatments is important for physicians and the public in order to make informed decisions.
Interpretation: Both NC and PT led to significant improvements in patients' anxiety. Group comparison demonstrated a significant decrease in anxiety levels in the NC group over the PT group. Significant improvements in secondary quality of life measures were also observed in the NC group as compared to PT. The whole system of naturopathic care for anxiety needs to be investigated further including a closer examination of the individual components within the context of their additive effect.
Trial registration: Controlled-Trials.com ISRCTN78958974.