A tendency to anxiety, is not just in the mind. The foods we eat, when we eat them and the foods we avoid are all important factors in anxiety. Physiological factors such as neurotransmitters, nutrient deficiencies, digestive issues, gut bacteria, hormones and epigenetic can also influence whether we struggle with anxiety.
Each of us is biochemically individual, with specific exposure and factors that influence our health and well-being. However, there are a few steps each of us can take to help manage anxiety with nutrition.
Focus on having good amounts of protein with each meal and snack to keep blood sugar levels stable. This will prevent adrenaline release which can exacerbate anxiety. Likewise, avoiding or minimising coffee intake is useful as that too stimulates adrenaline release placing your body in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Unless you have a tiger to flee from to burn through that adrenaline the upshot will be increased anxiety. Good amounts of protein in the diet gives your body the building blocks for neurotransmitters which are often low in those with anxiety or low mood.
Increase your intake of dark green leafy vegetables, for additional folate and magnesium. Magnesium stimulates GABA our anti-anxiety neurotransmitter. Chronic stress, whether physical or mental, can deplete our magnesium levels. As can consuming coffee and alcohol. Magnesium helps support our bodies during times of stress by reducing the over-activity of our bodies stress hormones – adrenalin and cortisol. It also protects us from the negative affects of high cortisol over time.
Good ways to increase our magnesium levels include epsom salt baths, magnesium oil sprays, eating dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Green leafy vegetables are also a good source of folate. Common genetic variants of specific genes can lead to a reduction in S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAMe) and neurotransmitters when folate intake is low. A common consequence of this is anxiety and low mood.
Zinc contributes to the proper functioning of neurotransmitters involved in keeping us calm, relaxed and happy. These include serotonin, GABA, norepinephrine and dopamine. Zinc is also important for digestion, it helps with stomach acid secretions which break down our food. In particular, it helps with breaking down protein into amino acids which are used to make neurotransmitters. Zinc can be depleted by the use of certain medications, including birth control pills, ACE inhibitors, diuretics and antacids.
Bacteria in our gut can influence anxiety by affecting vagal tone. The vagus nerve links the gut to our brain. Poor vagal tone has been linked to anxiety and low mood. Probiotics have been linked to a reduction in stress hormones and less anxiety. You could try supporting your gut flora by drinking kefir or taking probiotic supplements.
There are a few supplements that you can take to help manage anxiety in the short-term. I often recommend using these to lower anxiety levels whilst we work on the underlying factors affecting anxiety. These include L-theanine, which increases GABA – the calming neurotransmitter. Or 5HTP which, along with specific co-factors can promote serotonin levels. 5HTP shouldn’t be used if you are taking anti-depressant medication. You can order an Organic Acid Test to identify if serotonin or dopamine levels are low. This test also identifies issues with gut bacteria that may be contributing to anxiety.
If you would like your own personalised nutrition programme to help manage anxiety. Get in touch using the contact form below.