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The Links Between Food Poisoning, Upset Stomachs and Anxiety Attacks

Since I changed my diet I usually do not have problems with anxiety issues anymore. However, on a few occasions in the past year I have had anxiety attacks occur suddenly and for no immediately apparent reason. About an hour or two after the start of each attack, I've noticed that I usually get a bad case of diarrhea. On the last two occasions, other family members have eating the same meal also had upset stomachs and diarrhea, so I think my attacks were actually brought on by food poisoning.

I'm pretty sure the food poisoning was the triggering event, as multiple family members got sick at the same time as I did and it happened to all of us right after a meal. Interestingly, I'm the only one who gets anxiety attacks as a symptom just after food poisoning and prior to the onset of the upset stomach. But I've noticed that the anxiety attacks always precede an upset stomach and disappear as soon as I have the stomach upset under control.

Many medical doctors think people with anxiety problems develop upset stomachs from the stress. Perhaps in some cases this may be true, but for me the sudden onset of an anxiety attack usually means I've probably just had a bad case of food poisoning.

Update: 4/24/06 - I just had nutrition testing and found out I was low in several nutrients, including magnesium, again. So I changed my diet based on my test results to correct the identified deficiencies, especially adding more magnesium rich foods.

A few weeks later I had an upset stomach again after a restaurant meal, only this time I did not have an anxiety attack. So for me I think the low magnesium levels created the potential environment for the attacks and the stomach upsets were the triggering events.


I first realized the anxiety-upset stomach-food poisoning link on one occasion when my family went out to eat at a Thai restaurant. There are four members in my family, and each of us got a raw vegetable salad with dressing with our lunch special. One of my sons does not like salad so he gave me his salad. During lunch while eating the salad I started to develop an anxiety attack for no apparent reason. I was feeling fine going into the restaurant, but started getting very anxious and worrying about things that had not bothered me before arriving at the restaurant. Nothing upsetting had happened during lunch, so there was no logical reason I should have been getting anxious.

After lunch all of us who had the salads got upset stomachs and diarrhea. I had two salads and was the sickest of all. My son who didn't have the salad was fine, so clearly with 3 out of 3 salad eaters getting sick right after lunch there was something off in the salad or dressing. Interestingly, as soon as I got home and took some home remedies for my stomach problems my anxiety attack ended, too.

A similar occurrence happened again several months later. I developed an anxiety attack after breakfast one day. Then right after breakfast another family member and I who had eaten the same foods both got sick. Again, my anxiety cleared up as soon as my stomach issues cleared up, so for me there seem to be a pretty clear cause and effect relationship between the events:

Food poisoning => Anxiety Attack => Upset stomach

Doctors often think people with anxiety issues make themselves sick to their stomachs with worry and that all of their problems start in their heads. I'm pretty sure that with me, and perhaps at least some other people who are anxiety prone, that all of my issues actually start in my stomach and then effect my mental state.

I have a theory of what might cause this. I suspect that when I get a case of food poisoning, my body uses nutrients like zinc and magnesium to detoxify the foreign invaders. This creates an immediate shortage of these minerals, making them less of available for their other functions. Plus, the diarrhea itself also causes a loss of minerals. In the case of a important mineral like magnesium, this may mean there is less of the mineral available for functions such as turning off adrenaline and relaxing muscles, functions that are needed to keep people calm. That is just a theory, and I'm not exactly sure why for me food poisoning causes anxiety attacks. At this point now though I have logged enough occurrences to be convinced of a cause and effect relationship.

Doctor Thinks Stomach Problems are Caused by Anxiety (Instead of the Other Way Around)

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

I found the book excerpts below in an old 1908 medical book on nervous disorders by a doctor who seemed to not be too in touch with the physical causes of gastrointestinal upsets.

In the following passage the author/doctor takes over treatment of a woman who is described as anxious, hysterical looking, has digestive troubles, stomach pains, persistent headaches and hasn't had her period in seven months. His "expert diagnosis" was that she was unhappy because of her recent divorce! That is another blame the patient diagnosis if I ever heard one. The doctor goes on to write,

"The physician who cared for her last concluded, as I did, that she had nervous dyspepsia accompanied by hystero-melancholic condition and did not hesitate to assign the preponderating etiological role to her conjugal unhappiness." 1

Well, maybe perhaps logically he should have hesitated to blame all of he problems on her divorce until he had ruled out organic causes of of her stomach distress such as a possible yeast infection, parasites, food poisoning, worms, milk allergy, wheat allergy, etc. Maybe her stomach problems caused her to be anxiety prone which in turn led to problems in her marriage.

Under his treatment, it is no wonder his patient seems to take a turn for the worse. The doctor goes on to write about her coated tongue, stomach pains, belching, diarrhea, bloated stomach and gas - all signs of a serious physical disorder.

So here is this poor, nervous woman who obviously is not digesting her food properly and this doctor is wondering why his psychotherapy isn't working! If she was like me it just means she had food poisoning or some related illness in the GI tract and that is why she took a turn for the worse. I simply do not understand the complete lack of recognition by most medical doctors of a person's physical health having an impact on his or her mental health.

This book is from 1908, but I included portions on my site because based on my experience and all of the emails I have gotten over the years from my web site readers, unfortunately I don't think treatment for anxiety disorders has advanced to a much more holistic perspective today. If this patient were being treated under current medical standards, she probably would just be given psychotherapy plus some mind numbing drug, instead of being treated for her inability to digest and absorb food properly, which just might be where the cause of most of her problems actually originated.

Excepts from, The Psychic Treatment of Nervous Disorders , Paul Dubois, Smith Ely Jelliffe, William A. (William Alanson) White; Funk & Wagnalls, New York 1908.






Related sections of interest:

Allergic to mold? Diet changes might help.

Beneficial Bacteria

Diet Tips for Irritable Bowel

Read my Section on Sinus Infections

Itchy Skin / Sensitive Skin

MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivities)

Natural Therapies for Morgellons - The cause of this disorder is controversial and not clearly understood. My family had some similar symptoms so I wrote up what we found helpful.


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