Anxiety affects all age groups and is becoming increasingly prevalent in children. Nutrition is incredibly powerful in helping alleviate anxiety because it addresses underlying biochemical causes and also affects how the body responds to things we find stressful.
First of all, higher than normal levels of lactic acid in the blood can result in symptoms of anxiety and trigger panic attacks ( actors that cause this are included below) but you can help lower lactic acid levels within minutes by breathing this way:
Breathe deeply through the nose into the diaphragm for six seconds and exhale slowly through the mouth six to ten times. This prevents the build up of lactic acid from shallow breathing that makes us feel anxious and can also prevents panic attacks.
Make sure you keep blood glucose levels stable with adequate protein and fibre at each meal and don’t skip meals. This is especially important for children - a breakfast of white toast and jam, a croissant or a sugary cereal for example, will result in a surge of energy followed by a drop with symptoms including anxiety, lack of concentration, poor memory, irritability, tearfulness and fatigue.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a healthy digestive tract. More serotonin is produced in the digestive tract than in the brain (70%) and the right gut bacteria are needed to make gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) another calming neurotransmitter. Digestive disorders can contribute to anxiety so should be addressed. A good probiotic (especially one with lactibacillus rhamnosus) should be taken especially after any antibiotics. Fibre and fermented foods like kefir and sauerkraut help feed beneficial bacteria.
Magnesium (especially magnesium taurate) makes us feel calm because it is needed to make neurotransmitters, control blood glucose levels and relax muscles. It also helps us sleep better. Magnesium deficiency is common because it is found mainly in seeds, nuts and green leafy vegetables and the soils these plants are grown often have low levels of magnesium so a supplement would be beneficial.
Be careful about relying on stimulants (coffee, caffeine sports drinks) and sugary snacks (also artificial sugars) for energy because the resulting blood glucose drop a couple of hours later can trigger anxiety. It would be better to take a good quality B vitamin at lunchtime that helps the body produce energy and supports the adrenal glands and response to stress.
Omega 3 oils have an anti-inflammatory effect throughout the body including the brain and can improve anxiety. Include a tablespoon of ground seeds (flaxseed/pumpkin/sunflower) in your diet each day, have oily fish (mackerel/wild salmon/sardines) or take 1000- 2000mg (adult) of a good quality supplement. Children’s supplements are available in a fruit flavoured powder form that can be added to foods. Vitamin D is also very important and with lack of sunlight deficiency (that contributes to depression too) is common.
Other contributing factors include insufficient sleep, food intolerances, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, heavy metals, hormone imbalances and candida so diagnostic testing can be very beneficial when helping prevent anxiety.
We cannot always control demanding aspects of our day to day lives but we can definitely influence how they affect us and those we care about with the right nutritional support.
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About Amanda Allan
Amanda Allan is an experienced ION qualified nutritionist with a degree in clinical psychology based in Cobham, Surrey who also offers online/telephone consultations.