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Anxiety and Nutrition

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1/3 of Americans will experience long-term anxiety sometime in their life. Symptoms include sleep problems, worrying about routine things, trouble concentrating, irritability, headaches, muscle tension, chest tightness, heart palpitations and elevated heart rate, or digestive issues. Medical treatments have focused on medication and therapy; but new research suggests that food and nutrients can also help.

Some foods to include in your diet:

  1. Almonds are a good source of magnesium, and low levels of magnesium are associated with a greater likelihood of anxiety and depression. Other good sources of magnesium are dark chocolate, cashews, peanuts, and leafy greens, such as spinach and beans.

  2. Eggs are a high-quality source of protein and contain an anti-inflammatory nutrient called choline. Choline is part of a key neurotransmitter that is involved in memory and mood; and low choline levels are associated with high anxiety levels. Two eggs contain 50% of choline and other anti-inflammatory nutrients that impact brain communication, like vitamin B12, selenium, and zinc.

  3. Fatty fish contain high amounts of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which are associated with a lower risk of anxiety and may lessen existing anxiety. These fatty acids ease neuroinflammation in the brain, as well as enhance neuron communication. DHA and EPA are only found in fish with a higher fat content, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and sea bass. Try to get 2-3 servings per week. Taking fish oil supplements is a possibility; but the research is inconclusive as to whether the supplements are as good as the fish itself.

  4. Probiotic-rich foods may help anxiety. Gut health influences the ability of inflammation to develop, which means it also influences the risk for mental health issues like anxiety. Strengthening the gut’s microbe barrier by eating certain “good” bacterial strains helps by preventing inflammatory compounds from entering the body, which may decrease anxiety. Try probiotic-rich foods such as kimchi or sauerkraut, and dairy products that contain lactobacillus rhamnosus, found in yogurt and kefir.

  5. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants. A lack of antioxidants from food may lead to inflammation that can potentially trigger new, or exacerbate existing, mental health issues. So eat antioxidant-rich foods, such as blueberries, which are packed with polyphenolic compounds that act as antioxidants to protect brain cells from free radicals. These compounds also promote proper brain function, particularly during stressful periods, and ease neuroinflammation.

  6. Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, have high levels of folate, magnesium, vitamin C and beta carotene, which ease existing inflammation and prevent oxidative stress.

  7. Lean animal protein contains the vitamins B6 and B12. Inadequate amounts of vitamins B6 and B12 can contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety. These vitamins are needed to make neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which control mood and cognition. Lean animal protein is also a good source of zinc and the antioxidant selenium, which also impact brain health. Try to incorporate lean animal protein 2-3 times per week.

  8. Dark chocolate is a rich source of flavonoids and may reduce neuroinflammation and cell death in the brain, and improve blood flow. Chocolate contains a high amount of tryptophan which the body uses to create mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, such as selenium. Also, as stated above, dark chocolate is a good source of magnesium.

You may also try the following herbs:

  1. Anti-inflammatory herbs such as Turmeric, Ashwagandha, Dandelion, Shatavari, Gotu Kola, Wild Yam root may help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which may help lower anxiety.

  2. Anxiolytics are herbs that help people suffering from anxiety or panic. They make you feel calm and may also help improve sleep. Anxiolytics include Lemon Balm, Milky Oats, Ashwagandha, Valerian root, and Passionflower.

  3. Nervines specifically target the nervous system and brain and may help with stress. Nervines include Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Gotu Kola, Milky Oats, Ashwagandha, Valerian root, and Skullcap.

  4. Sedatives create a sense of calm in the mind and body, and may help you fall asleep. Some sedative herbs are Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Milky Oats, Passionflower, Rhodiola root, Ashwagandha, and Valerian root.

Incorporating some of these foods and herbs into your diet may help with the symptoms of anxiety, but more research needs to be done. Since some herbs interfere with certain medications, be sure to speak with your doctor before using any herbal supplements.


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