According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older. That’s approximately 18.1% of the population! Anxiety disorders can be successfully treated but only about 37% of people suffering from anxiety seek treatment. Anxiety is thought to develop from a variety of factors including genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events. Every individual responds differently to treatment. Although pharmaceuticals are sometimes needed (and can be lifesaving) holistic therapies including nutritional interventions, herbal medicine and targeted supplementation can be very effective at improving anxiety.
Nutrition is an important component in helping to improve your mood. Decreasing your intake of “bad mood foods” is a good place to start. These foods are mostly processed, low protein, high carbohydrate foods rich in sugar. Commercial processing of food strips it of the vital nutrients necessary for whole body health and healthy brain-body communication. A diet high in processed carbs and devoid of other nutrients leads to spikes in blood sugar that result in mood highs and lows, and blood sugar imbalances. High carbohydrate foods even prevent amino acids from reaching our brain and nervous system, the building blocks of our body’s “feel good” molecules. Processed foods often have preservatives, colorants and other chemicals added to them. These additions are like anti-foods for our body. In an effort to clean-out these anti- nutrients, our liver and detoxification system is often taxed, and these additives can even be toxic to us.
Mood can be greatly improved, and anxiety curbed, with an increased intake of “good mood foods”. These include foods high in protein, healthy fats and vitamins and minerals. Proteins are composed of strings of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of our body’s “feel good” molecules. Protein rich meals help to balance blood sugar in the body and decrease mood swings. Vitamins and minerals provide the necessary building blocks, co-factors and catalysts for biochemical reactions throughout the body. These reactions keep us healthy and happy. Calcium, magnesium, vitamins D, A and the B vitamins are especially important for a sense of well- being and energy throughout the day. Foods high in these vitamins include dark leafy greens and other colorful vegetables, nuts, seeds, butter, meat from grass-fed animals, small fish and 100% whole grains.
Healthy fats increase the availability of amino acids to our brain and nervous system. Every cell in our body is composed of a membrane made of fats, and the cells of our brain and nervous system are especially fat-rich! Our brain cells need fat for communication with the rest of our body. It is important to distinguish good fats from bad-fats for health. Bad fats include trans-fats, hydrogenated, and oxidized oils, and oils that have been fried in multiple times. These are commonly found in fast food and processed foods. Grass- fed animal products contain a healthier fat-profile than grain-fed animal products do, which is what you usually find in the grocery store unless grass-fed is specified.
Herbal medicines can also be effective at decreasing anxiety and improving mood. Passionflower, and more specifically the speciespassiflora incarnata, appears to relieve anxiety and improve sleep by increasing the level of GABA in the brain. GABA is our primary inhibitory neurotransmitter and is responsible for reducing neuronal excitability in the nervous system.
lavender to have a significant beneficial influence on quality and duration of sleep and improved general mental and physical health without causing any unwanted sedative or other drug-like effects.
There are a variety of nutrients that promote a sense of calm and well-being. L-theanine, magnesium and inositol are some of the more well-known nutrients that have research to support their effectiveness in decreasing anxiety. L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. It has been shown to significantly reduce stress and anxiety levels and improve sleep quality when compared to placebo. It is proposed that l-theanine promotes relaxation by elevating the neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin and dopamine. L-theanine is generally well tolerated with minimal side effects.
Inositol is found naturally in cantaloupe, citrus fruit and fiber-rich foods. Although inositol is also known at vitamin B8, it isn’t actually a vitamin but instead a type of sugar. Inositol plays a role in the function of neurotransmitters in the brain and throughout the body. It’s beneficial effects on anxiety and OCD may be due to its influence on serotonin uptake inhibitors but more research is needed at this time. Like l-theanine, inositol is generally well tolerated and safe with no known adverse reactions with other medications or supplements.
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body and plays an important role in numerous bodily functions. Magnesium can help decrease anxiety by assisting in regulating neurotransmitters and the HPA axis. The HPA axis, or hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, is the backbone of our stress response system. Magnesium can help to decrease over-activity of the HPA axis, leading to increased feelings of calm and well-being. Unfortunately, magnesium is often deficient in modern diets. This is due not only to a decreased intake of magnesium rich foods, but the fact that modern soil is depleted of many minerals including magnesium. Magnesium is generally safe and well-tolerated and many may benefit from supplementation of this mineral.
- Hidese, Shinsuke et al. Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial.Nutrients. 2019 Oct; 11(10): 2362.
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- Chhetri, Dhani Raj. Myo-Inositol and Its Derivatives: Their Emerging Role in the Treatment of Human Diseases.Frontiers in Pharmacology.2019; 10: 1172.
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