How can we help anxiety through nutritional therapy?

What is anxiety?
Anxiety is defined as "a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome."

We all suffer from anxiety from time to time, remember your first date, driving test, or pre exam nerves. Those butterflies in your stomach, frequent visits to the bathroom, all of which we experience generally prior to the event, but hopefully once we are in the moment the nerves disappear. 

Anxiety develops into a problem when it becomes a perpetual state. It arises in many different forms, OCD, panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety and many more. Daily life becomes affected, our moods, hormones, digestion, sleep may all experience negative consequences. This in turn can make our anxiety worse, especially when we believe our negative self talk. Life becomes the big 'what if' scenario. The 'what if' is always based on the worst possible result when generally we are not in control of the outcome, whether it be the traffic on the M25 or the weather for a special occasion.

As we now know the gut and the brain talk to each other, they are a two way street. Our gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to our emotions and our brain is aware if our gut is less than happy. A recent study on mice has indicated that absence of gut bacteria can affect areas of the brain associated with anxiety.

Nutrition and lifestyle changes can play a big part in helping to reduce anxiety levels, and balancing cortisol levels. 

Look for triggers and learn to avoid stimulants, which we often turn to when we are under stress and duress. Whilst we all have comforters ranging from cigarettes to chocolate, they are usually only a temporary relaxant and in many cases increase our anxiety.

What should we avoid?

  • Reduce all caffeine
  • coffee on an empty stomach
  • diet soda’s
  • refined carbohydrates/processed foods
  • reduce gluten
  • trans fats
  • ketchup
  • alcohol - all stimulants
  • msg.

What can we do?

  • eat 3 meals a day
  • maintain balanced blood sugar
  • establish a sleep routine
  • exercise, preferably in the fresh air
  • increase turmeric with black pepper in cooking, or smoothies
  • practice mindfulness and meditation
  • listen to calming music
  • relax in epsom salt baths
  • eat magnesium rich foods and
  • foods high in tryptophan
  • drink water. 

How can we help ourselves?

Foods rich in magnesium, the amino acid tryptophan, antioxidants full of Vitamin C  & E and foods containing B vitamins for our nervous systems will help to calm and reduce anxiety levels. Oily fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids or if vegetarian walnuts, chia or flaxseeds are also excellent sources that are all beneficial for brain health. A study in 2011 on healthy young students showed a reduction in anxiety levels from Omega 3 supplementation.

Magnesium is a co-factor in over thousands of processes in the body, both cellular and at protein structure levels. It is fundamental for energy production and is a muscle relaxant, aids bone creation and cardiovascular health to name a few. Sadly many people are deficient and as a result suffer from a variety of minor irritants and more major conditions. For anxiety, one of its main benefits is as a relaxant and to aid sleep. (Recommended Daily amount of Magnesium is 375mg.)

So what should we eat?
Foods rich in magnesium are pumpkin seeds, swiss chard, sesame seeds, almonds, spinach, quinoa, black and navy beans, dark chocolate, avocado, yoghurt/kefir and bananas.

Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters aiding our well being and sleep respectively. By eating foods rich in tryptophan such as, cheese, eggs, poultry, meat, dark chocolate, buckwheat and most proteins we can help to increase the benefits from these neurotransmitters.

As well as diet, essential oils can be a calming influence, by either using as a diffuser, adding to your bath or just as a foot bath. Ensure all oils are aded to a carrier oil as they are extremely powerful. If in doubt speak to your herbalist/therapist.

Essential oils to calm and soothe include:

  • lavender
  • rose
  • ylang ylang
  • vetiver
  • frankincense
  • chamomile and
  • bergamot.

If you are not on any medications, then adaptogenic herbs may help. Adaptogens, help to restore homeostasis to the body with their restorative and regenerative properties. Ashwagandha, rhodiola, and ginkgo biloba have all been proven to produce positive benefits. 


Oxford Dictionary

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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