Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health disorders in the US with over 4 million anxiety sufferers and millions more worldwide. Sometimes the foods you eat may increase anxiety while there are other foods that calm anxiety naturally.
Anxiety is debilitating and can reduce one’s ability to live fully. It can make it harder to do a job, socialize and plainly just go about your day to day life when you are constantly worried and nervous, irritable, and jittery.
I strongly feel that the modern-day lifestyle, and the changes that have taken place in our food, and our altered and more toxified environments have a lot to do with the increase of mental health issues in the world today.
I know we may not know so much about how ancient people felt on a day to day level, or what the state of their mental health was. But their lives were slower and I think more anchored. They lived naturally. The world was not so artificial back then.
I will just go ahead and say growing up, I never heard of anxiety or even depression. Yes maybe it was hidden, and maybe it was not recognized, but I believe there were not so many known incidences of anxiety as there is today.
Exactly how does anxiety look like and feel like?
While I don’t have a diagnosed anxiety, I do experience a level of anxiety when I have to drive long distances on the freeway, or really very high elevations. Then I get really anxious and get a panicked feeling with a racing heart, sweating and chest tightness.
I know, it may not be the same experience as being at your own home and you are feeling anxious and you don’t know why, and experiencing it all the time.
Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Excess fear
- intrusive thoughts
- inability to concentrate
- fast heart rate, palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
Some people may experience symptoms every now and then, while some have symptoms frequently. If symptoms persist over six weeks or longer, then you may have a generalized anxiety disorder or GAD.
Treatment for anxiety requires a multifaceted approach including CBT, medications and lifestyle adjustment.
This approach takes into account lifestyle adjustments such as nutrition. So to help reduce incidents of anxiety one is advised to make sure they are:
- Drinking enough water,
- Avoiding sugar, and processed foods,
- Making sure to exercise
- Self-soothe with self-care
- Getting enough sleep
- Being social -or maintaining good relationships
It is important also to discuss with a mental health provider the best ways to manage your anxiety based on your own situation.
But like the rest of your physical and mental health, your diet and lifestyle can have a significant impact on your anxiety as well.
Sugary and processed foods definitely make anxiety and your mental health worse.
So if you wonder if you can treat anxiety naturally, yes, it is possible.
However, if you have to take medications, there is no shame in that either. You do you!.
You got to do what works for you. And you can take medications and still eat healthily. Your mental health will definitely benefit from a clean diet and lifestyle plus medications if medications are needed.
Besides it is not enough to simply take your pills for anxiety, and then reach for that icecream tub, or bag of chips. It feels good at the moment but has adverse health reputations such as blood sugar spikes, and crashes that make anxiety worse.
In the end or much sooner than later, those excess processed carbs will show up to haunt you in the way of exhaustion, or anxious thoughts. Generally, regularly eating such food will cause you problems mentally and physically.
Scientists are finding that what we eat affects our mental health and that the gut and the brain are in constant communication. Eating inflammatory foods causes inflammation in the gut which messes with this important communication.
It is therefore important to be proactive by living as naturally as possible.
While diet may not prevent you from having a panic attack or anxious thoughts completely, it goes a long way in improving your brain health both now and later in life. And good nutrition may keep you from succumbing to other brain health illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease in the future.
Eating healthy food can reduce the instances and the severity of anxiety attacks, even prevent them from occurring altogether especially if your anxiety is due to nutrient deficiencies.
And nutrient deficiencies are common now due to excessive availability of processed and fast foods. If it has no vibrant natural color to it, likely, it is not good for you.
In some cases, mental health issues including anxiety and depression are also caused by nutrient deficiencies. And nutrient deficiencies make anxiety, stress, and depression way worse.
There is lots of research that shows that deficiencies in some vitamins an nutrients can lead to anxiety and depression.
For example, a 2001 study found that B6 has a significant impact on the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA, neurotransmitters that modulate moods including depression and anxiety as well as pain perception.
Other nutrients to consider include vitamin D, a deficiency that is increasingly common nowadays, and one that appears to be implicated in mood disorders as in this study which found that those with a deficiency in vitamin D also tended to suffer from anxiety and depression.
Another vital nutrient to consider as a factor in mental health disorders such as anxiety is magnesium, one very vital mineral to the entire functioning of the human body and mind.
A 2108 study published in Nutrients, found that magnesium is involved in neurologic and neurotransmission pathways especially in the blockade of the excitatory pathway, modulates the hypothalamic adrenal-pituitary- axis, and also blocks the calcium influx of the NMDA glutamatergic pathway.
These functions prevent nervous and muscular excitation. And that means they prevent feelings of stress and anxiety.
Other studies have also shown that dietary increase in magnesium also led to reduced anxiety.
These are just a handful of examples that illustrate that your diet may have a lot to do with the health of your mind.
Read also about these foods that improve depression.
Related: Many people are deficient in magnesium, are you?
Eating healthy foods is one great approach to the treatment and management of anxiety and stress, as well as adjusting lifestyle to include other therapies such as mental health counseling, practicing Self-care for mental health, and including activities such as Journaling, and many more.
So without going all-in sciency, there is enough evidence to show that certain nutrients deficiencies have an impact on mental health, especially, anxiety, stress, and depression which are heavily impacted by diet.
Let’s dive in and talk about some great foods to calm and beat anxiety into submission naturally.
Avocados are not only delicious but are a great source of good healthy fats as well as B vitamins and vitamin E. Many B vitamins are crucial in the energy production process, and vitamin B 6 is required in the production of several neurotransmitters including the mood-boosting serotonin.
A deficiency in serotonin is thought to cause anxiety and depression. Furthermore, vitamin E and omega-three fats in avocados prevent inflammation and oxidative stress. Inflammation is the cause of many illnesses including those related to malfunctioning of the nervous system that contributes to anxiety, and other mental health issues.
The good news is you can do so much with avocadoes, from making guacamole to adding to salsa, smoothies or even making your very own healthy avocado icecream.
They also contain magnesium, and fiber all beneficial to your brain health. Vitamin B6 and magnesium are required for a properly functioning nervous system.
Blueberries are delicious and the best part is they are chock full of nutrients that are especially great for mental health. Blueberries contain vitamin C and other antioxidants.
These antioxidants protect the body and the brain from the onslaught of oxidative stress. A 2015 study found that supplementing with vitamin C over a 14 day period to 42 high school students led to anxiety reduction, and states that vitamin c and antioxidants can be used for anxiety reduction.
Including blueberries and other vitamin C and antioxidant-rich foods will not only combat anxiety but also is an effective adjunct to medical and psychological treatment of anxiety and likely also improve academic performance, the researcher stated.
Salmon or any other fatty fish that wild raised are great sources of omega 3 fatty acids. The EPA and DHA fats found in such food have been found to improve mental health and cognitive function.
These fats research find helps regulate neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine that are essential in maintaining a balanced mood and for preventing anxiety.
Foods like salmon also contain other helpful mental health nutrients such as vitamin D as well. Research is showing that deficiency in omega 3s fatty acids can lead to vitamin D deficiency so food rich in Omega threes like salmon also enhances vitamin D availability.
Eggs are the perfect food and a complete protein which means that they have all the 21 amino acids. Some of these proteins such as tryptophan are necessary for the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and one that is decreased in the case of anxiety and depression.
Eggs contain choline also, a nutrient needed for the production of acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is used to regulate muscle contractions. Some studies have found a relationship between choline levels and anxiety and stress.
Eggs also contain vitamin D, which also influences mood as we have already discussed above.
Increasing research is unraveling many health benefits of Turmeric, or rather the main ingredient in turmeric which is the curcumin that gives this potent root its yellow color.
Per a 2105 study in The Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, the active ingredients in Turmeric-curcumin were found to have an anti-anxiety effect on the subjects. Curcumin has an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect.
This study found that curcumin increased the synthesis of DHA from alpha-linolenic acid precursors to the levels of DHA in the brain. DHA, one of the omega 3 fatty acids is another powerhouse nutrient, a great antioxidant, and essential for brain health.
The researchers found that having an optimal level of DHA also helped with brain health and decreased anxiety, and studies have also found that treatment with curcumin decreased anxiety.
While the most common source of DHA is from fatty fish such as salmon, vegetarians who include curcumin/turmeric in the diet, can improve brain function and alleviate such conditions as anxiety.
First of all, on a cool day, holding a steaming cup of tea is simply soothing. Green tea contains L-theanine, a flavonoid antioxidant that has been found to be calming.
A recent study has shown that L theanine produced a calm and relaxed mood while the caffeine in tea led to better focus and improved attention, memory, suppressed distractions thus improved cognitive performance.
So while you may want to get that cup of coffee for more energy, green tea will give you that energy and focus and still keep you calm and chill so you feel at your best. If you would like to give green tea a chance to reduce anxiety or just lift your mood and focus, this green tea is the one I use and love.
Chamomille tea has historically been recommended as a relaxing beverage and also has antioxidant properties.
Chamomile extract, research is finding helps with anxiety. Randomized controlled studies found that people who suffered from GAD, found great relief from moderate to severe GAD when using chamomile. Furthermore, chamomille was safe for long term use researchers said.
It is worth noting that most studies looked at chamomille extract and not tea, and the extract is far more concentrated.
Further studies on chamomile tea may be needed.
Just grab you a handful of nuts for a healthy snack. And there are many types to choose from so you have choice or just make your own trail mix.
Almonds: Almonds are delicious as a snack or in some recipes such as spicy chicken with almonds over rice. Almonds contain many nutrients including magnesium, healthy omega 3 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamin E.
Magnesium is a vital nutrient that if not sufficient one can suffer many health problems including heart issues.
Magnesium deficiency can cause anxiety and some find that supplementing with magnesium reduces anxiety, muscle cramps, and improves sleep.
Zinc is needed in the production of neurotransmitters and also has a calming effect on the brain as it improves the production of GABA in the brain.GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that calms nerve activity. So a deficiency in either can cause excess nervous excitation and anxiety.
Furthermore, other research has shown that zinc and copper imbalance can lead to anxiety. These two trace minerals must exist in an inverse relationship. When copper dominates over zinc anxiety can result.
Excess copper can lead to the production of excess excitatory neurotransmitters such s epinephrine. Also too much copper can lead to inhibition of GABA the calming neurotransmitter.
Zinc is also very important in many other functions in the body and participates in over 100 enzymatic reactions throughout your body including the nervous system.
Other Sources also report a relationship between zinc deficiency and anxiety.
A mineral that is required for over 300 processes in the body is bound to cause some health issues if one is deficient.
The good thing is you can easily and naturally ensure sufficiency by eating not only almonds but also other nuts and seeds such as Cashews.
Cashews contain tryptophan an important nutrient as it is a precursor to serotonin.
Other nutritious nuts include Brazil nuts. These nuts are great sources of vitamin E which is a potent antioxidant and fights inflammation.inflammation has been linked to generalized anxiety or GAD.
The only thing is that one has to be careful and not have too much vitamin E as it can be toxic. Don’t have more than 400mcg of selenium or if eating the nuts, limit up 4 per day.
Many seeds are packed with nutrients including fiber, protein, and many minerals.
Flax seeds are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids that are now known to have a powerful effect on brain health.
Chia seeds: These tiny grains are an amazing powerhouse of nutrition whose secrets the ancient Aztecs knew about and respected as a great source of energy.
They contain calcium, protein, fiber, magnesium, manganese, zinc, vitamin B3, B1, and also contain omega-three fatty acids, the all-important good fat that is antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory and very necessary for brain health.
Pumpkin seed: Pumpkin seeds make a delicious snack and are packed with nutrients including potassium, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin E, Magnesium and Zinc all playing a part in keeping your mind calm.
The all amazing magnesium helps your nerves relax, and promotes better sleep, helps with energy metabolism so you feel great, and happy and calm. Pumpkin seeds also contain tryptophan an amino acid necessary in the production of serotonin.
Pumpkin seeds also contain iron and copper which also help with relaxation. Keep in mind that iron is needed to make red blood cells, deficiency leads to anemia, which may make you feel tired and short of breath-an anxiety-provoking feeling.
Research has shown that many people with anxiety and depression, which do tend to occur together also have a folate deficiency. Eating foods rich in folate such as asparagus will give you sufficient folate naturally.
If you also have MTHFR gene mutation, then your body doesn’t synthesize folate well, and you need to eat more foods rich in folate.
Eating asparagus regularly can relieve signs of anxiety and depression. Read more about folate and mental health in this article.
I know you have experienced those butterflies in your stomach a time or two-you know when something you are about to experience sort of puts you a bit on edge.
Sometimes, something we are thinking about gives us a sort of frightful feeling and we feel it in our gut, as “butterflies.” Why is that? Well, that is because our nervous system and our guts are connected and are in constant communication.
It is fascinating to know that the brain has about 100 billion neurons and 500 million are found in the gut, and the vagus nerve is one of the main highways of communication between the brain and the gut.
There is research to support that leaky gut and inflammation in the gut leads to impairment in the health and function of the brain.
Gut health is of the utmost importance when it comes to the health and function of your brain.
And the amazing thing is that some neurotransmitters such as serotonin are also produced in the gut by the good and hard-working gut bacteria. So yea, your gut is your second brain. But if the only thing you eat is sugar-laden foods, then you are feeding mostly the bad bacteria leading to inflammation.
The Gut-brain axis is a pathway that is bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain influencing brain and behavior. The gut microbiota is in constant communication with the brain, and it is composed of the endocrine pathway, the nervous system, and the endocrine pathway.
Research also found that probiotics decreased anxiety through the vagus nerve, and when the vagus nerve was cut off, then the probiotics had no effect.
Other research studies such as this found that fermented foods containing probiotics are a” low-risk intervention for social anxiety,” and that is great news for anxiety sufferers.
The amazing thing is that the gurt microbiota influences so much more than just brain activity, it even influences social behavior and even food choices, study says.
It beats medication any day when you think about the side effects of medication. ( now let’s keep in mind that anxiety may need a muti approach care and there is no shame in medication if that’s what is needed.) Other research also supports findings that fermented foods with probiotics do relieve anxiety.
These are just a few of the fermented foods you should start eating:
This tropical fruit is a superfood. And the best thing is you don’t need to do any prep work.
You peel eat and do. And so satiating too. Bananas are truly happy food. I will admit I buy them sometimes just for the look in my fruit basket. Okay but how about the nutrients? Super full of nutrients they are. Bananas contain: Potassium
B6, folate, and magnesium among many others. These nutrients affect the way your nerves communicate and relax.
Bananas also can lower your blood pressure which of course if higher can have a devastating effect on the whole body, the heart and the brain especially.
You have to be careful though as if you eat too many your blood pressure can drop and especially if you are on beta-blocker medication such as Atenolol. Also if you have kidney disease, be careful with bananas as too much potassium can be harmful, even fatal.
There is a good reason that the oil from an orange peel is bottled up as an essential oil. That sent lifts your mood and makes you feel happy instantly. It is a happy scent.
And the fruit itself is deliciously juicy and so full of healthy and anxiety-relieving goodness. Research has shown that the presence of citrus scent in an anxiety-provoking setting such as a dental office, helped the patients report a sense of calm.
Now I wish my dentist would use that scent in his office as going there does make me anxious.
Oatmeal as a whole grain contains complex carbs and fiber and is a great food to eat to prevent and reduce anxiety incidents. The fiber allows the natural sugars in the oats to be absorbed slowly in the Gi and into the bloodstream maintaining a steady source of energy which keeps your mood even and calm.
This sense of calm is enhanced by the fact that carbs in oatmeal are eventually used by the body to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is important in the mood. Also contains tryptophan
Green Leafy Vegetables.
Now if only we felt like reaching for a bowl of green salad when stressed and anxious than that bowl of icecream! we need to find a way to reach for those leafy greens more because our health including depends on it.
Leafy greens such as spinach and swiss chard, Kale, Collards and are rich sources of magnesium and vital vitamin
Eat intentionally and you will avert any stressful anxiety-provoking moments. Leafy greens contain folate, which is a great source of B vitamins including folate which is essential in the production of the feel-good neurotransmitters such as dopamine, and serotonin.
Healthy eating can help you improve your mood, calming the anxious racing mind and lifting your mood so you feel upbeat and at the same time calm.
Eat foods that improve your brain health. Eat foods that calm anxiety naturally.
Okay, now, which of these foods are you already eating? Which ones do you need to try?
So let’s get back to nature and health our bodies and minds.
Start swapping some of those unhealthy foods, and reach for wholesome foods. You may find you start to experience positive changes in your mood, in your sleep, and feeling more in control of your person.
Eat whole foods to feel whole.
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