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Anxiety Diet

The often overlooked nutritional treatment for improved mental health

cup of cpffee next to a keyboard
  For caffeine sensitive people like me, even one cup of coffee in the morning is one cup too many.

Nutrition May Trump Other Forms of Self Help

I personally stopped having feelings of anxiety almost completely when I changed my diet. Changing my diet not only helped my chronic pain problems, but it changed my personality as well. I went from being something of a worrier type to being a fairly laid back type of person. For years I used to buy a wide variety of self help print and aido books on how to be more relaxed. The books and tapes did seem to help a bit, but I still often had feelings of vague nervousness, often with no apparent cause. What I didn't know for many years is that I was nervous because I had nutritional deficiencies that caused my body to make too much adrenaline, causing me to have the "fight or flight" response turned on at inappropriate times.

"We must realize, however, that all living cells are continuously subject to imperfect nutrition and that overt mental disease is known to result from malnutrition, as, for example, in pellagra. In the light of these considerations, we would be foolhardy indeed to take for granted that the nutrition of the brain cells is automatically satisfactory in those who are afflicted or threatened with mild or severe mental disease."

Dr. Roger J, Williams, writing in Nutrition Against Disease.

I actually never sought out an "anxiety diet". What happened was that I tried different diets to help my fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic pain problems, and along the way my mental health improved as my my physical problems subsided. I think a big part of this was getting more magnesium into my diet, but I suspect that improving my diet in general, raising my cholesterol levels and getting more of the many magnesium cofactors all helped a bit. In the book, Nutrition Against Disease, author Dr. Roger J, Williams points out that like all other living cells, brain cells often receive less than perfect nutrition. He goes on to observe that brain cells get nutrition from blood, which in turn gets its nutrients from the food we eat each day.

drawing of a human head showing brain  activity

A lack of magnesium can cause electrical
changes in your brain.

Many conventional medical experts treat people based on the assumption that if they just eat a regular diet, they are unlikely to be short on any vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, this line of thinking doesn't match with what happens in the real world. A recent Gallop poll found that 80% of American do not get the RDA for magnesium from their diets. If you put this together with research at the USDA's Grand Forks Human Nutrition Center that show that a lack of magnesium can actually cause changes in the electrical activity of the brain, then a logical conclusion is that a large percent of the people in the U.S. may have suboptimal brain function due to a lack of magnesium alone, not even considering the many other nutrients the brain needs for optimal functioning.

Diet Changes I Found Helpful

The diet tips that helped my anxiety are listed below. Most of the diet changes I made that helped my anxiety are described in my section on fibromyalgia diet, so I won't detail them again here except for a few of the major highlights.

Here is the short version of my foods to reduce anxiety.

1.   Cut back on coffee and tea.
2.   Limit dairy products.
3.   Eat more alkaline forming fruits and vegetables.
4.   Eat foods high in essential fatty acids.
5.   Foods that help hypertension may help anxiety.

1. Cutting back on coffee - In the morning I usually have a cup of organic coffee. I make it 75% decaf and 25% caffeinated. It is much better for my sleep and anxiety levels if I don't have any at all, but a little coffee seems to give my brain a nice little morning jolt. The downside is that coffee and other substances with caffeine can deplete the body of magnesium. I know even one full cup of regular coffee can cause me to get more edgy, have my muscles tense up and not sleep as well at night.

Many medical web sites state that you shouldn't have coffee late in the day in order to avoid insomnia, but for people like me who seem to be slow metabolizers of caffeine, even a single, full cup of regular coffee in the morning can interfere with my sleep at night.

2. I've noticed that excessive amounts of low fat dairy products can bring on bouts of anxiety for no apparent reason for me if I have a lot each day. I'm not entirely sure why, but I have a couple of theories. I think it is partly because calcium can be an antagonist for magnesium, so the high levels in the dairy products may be throwing off my magnesium levels, which keeps my adrenaline flowing too much. I also tend to get irritable bowel syndrome if I have significant amounts of dairy, especially cold milk. The IBS throws off my digestion and prevents my body from properly absorbing all of the nutrients it needs to function properly, causing biochemical anomalies that negatively impact my nervous system.

  Milk has high amounts of calcium, a magnesium antagonist. Magnesium is needed to relax muscles and turn off adrenaline.

Many doctors think people suffering from stress develop irritable bowel syndrome, but in my case, and perhaps others, it was the other way around. When I have problems with my digestion, I don't seem to be able to absorb nutrients properly, including magnesium, and I start feeling stressed out. I personally think doctors attribute way too many health disorders to "stress" when often a person's diet is what is causing them to be stressed.

One type of dairy products I do find helpful is daily, small amounts of yogurt with beneficial bacteria.

Cutting back on foods with salicylates, especially most spices. It is a well known trick in many popular diet books that eating foods that contain spices like cayenne pepper, garlic, or turmeric can increase a person's metabolism. While spices do seem to work to lose weight, I think they also may make some people more edgy. Interestingly, yogi masters, who strive for calmness and peace of mind, teach their students to avoid spicy foods as they feel these types of foods are too stimulating for the body and mind. While I'm personally not an advocate of a vegetarian diet or a traditional yoga diet, I think there are some nuggets of wisdom in yogi diet teachings. I know that whenever I eat foods with a lot of certain spices, I do seem to have more issues with anxiety. Spicy foods that are high in salicylates can block vitamin K, which is needed to clot the blood. In Ayurvedic (traditional Indian medicine) many spices fall into the "warming foods" category because they thin the blood, increase your circulation, speed up your metabolism and make you literally feel warmer.

One of my relatives noticed he was getting anxious after using a blemish cream on his face that was high in salicylic acid. I suggested he try eating more greens, which have high amounts of vitamin K. He did have a salad and a green drink based on my suggestion, and started to feel less anxious after that. Green vegetables are low in calories, and high in many nutrients, including magnesium and vitamin K, so unless you have to be on a low vitamin K diet for medical reasons, they might be a good food to try to lift your spirits.

4. Not eating too many acid forming foods. I've noticed that when I eat a lot of acid forming foods, like pickles or yogurt, I'll get more jittery and nervous. A recent study from researchers in Germany found that an acid load in the body can cause a magnesium deficiency. I suspect this is because magnesium is an alkaline mineral, and one of the minerals the body utilizes to try to neutralize the body fluids when they have too much of an acid balance. So when the body is in an acidic state, a magnesium deficiency may result. Magnesium is the mineral that relaxes muscles and turns off adrenaline, so when it is in short supply, muscles stay tight, adrenaline levels are high and an acid stomach may cause a feeling of nausea and acid indigestion.

The best way I've found to reduce acid levels is to make a broth or drink from magnesium rich, alkaline foods. Smoothies made with bananas, apple juice and coconut milk usually work pretty good. Broth or juice made from vegetables, especially lots of green vegetables, also seems to be very effective. Some of my family members like to drink Izze natural soda, which is made with fruit juice and alkaline mineral water. While almost all fruits and vegetables are alkaline forming, the ones that especially help me are baked potatoes, coconut water and broccoli.

a close up of shelled walnuts

Our kids won't eat fish, so we keep the
house stocked with plain and candied walnuts to provide them with essential fatty acids.

4. One of my relatives who also suffered from anxiety issues said he felt better after eating walnuts (for omega-3 fatty acids) and taking a multivitamin, plus additional magnesium. A number of studies have linked anxiety, depression and a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids. Other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include flax seeds, salmon, shrimp and winter squash. An extensive list can be found here.

5. I have noticed that on many occassions my anxiety levels coincide with my blood pressure going up. My doctor told me that he has patients come in who have no idea their blood pressure is dangerously high, but when my blood pressure rises about twenty points, I feel anxious, get headaches, feel tired and get chest pains. For the chest pains, yoga poses that loosen the chest muscles usually help. For the high blood pressure, foods that I have found especially helpful include bananas, peppermint tea, potatoes, broccoli and coconut water. When my blood pressure gets back to nromal, my stress and anxiety symptoms usually subside as well.



Part Two:


Related sections of interest:

Your Diet Might be Related to Anxiety and Depression

Insomnia - Natural Treatments

Overlooked Health Risks of Low Cholesterol

Eye and Facial Tics in Children

Dietary Help for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Can Diet Help Tourettes Syndrome?


Selected Links:

Magnesium, Stress and Neuropsychiatric Disorders

Feeding Minds - the Impact of Food on Mental Health - A report co-authored by the Mental Health Association (UK). An exciting happening for me, because it means alternative health teachings about diet and nutrition are becoming mainstream.

British researchers believe that rising cases of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, and ADD may be liked to a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables and a high consumption of processed foods which may be heavy in pesticides, harmful trans fats and additives.

A majority of the medical experts who created the "bible" for diagnosing mental illness have undisclosed financial links to drugmakers, says new study.


References -

1. Williams, Roger John. Nutrition against Disease: Environmental Protection. [S.l.]: Bantam, 1980. Print.


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