Topic

6.2 Nutritional Approach for Supporting Anxiety

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids, as we have seen, are vital for the overall health of the brain. Our most common recommendation at Sano School of Culinary Medicine is to advise anybody that has issues or worries about the health of their brain and nervous system to increase their intake of omega 3 through diet.

There is a valid argument for the addition of extra omega 3 in the diet. From a physiological level, it is such a vital nutrient for the overall health and general functioning of the nervous system, and any improved intake will equate to a general improvement to the health of these tissues. This can only be beneficial. In light of the level of anecdotal reports regarding omega 3 and anxiety, coupled with the lack of potential harm and early research into its anxiolytic (inhibits anxiety) activity makes us confident in recommending increasing omega 3 intakes through diet.

Magnesium

Magnesium is one of the most deficient minerals in the modern diet and it is one of the single most important nutrients in our body. Magnesium is involved in over 1000 biochemical reactions. It is vital for every body system. It has quite the track record in the management of anxiety. The first way that magnesium can be of benefit is by making us feel physically relaxed. When we get anxious, our muscles naturally begin to tense and tighten. Calcium and magnesium are the two minerals that regulate muscle contractions. When calcium floods into muscle cells, it causes the muscles to contract. When magnesium floods into muscle cells, it causes muscle fibres to relax. Consuming extra magnesium during times of tension can actually help to ease the physical tension by encouraging muscular relaxation.

Magnesium also calms nervous tension and relaxes the mind. The mechanisms behind this are not clear, and little exists in terms of clinical trials. We do know that magnesium plays a role in regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, so there may well be links there in terms of reducing the severity of events described above. 

Glutamine/GABA

One of the biggest keys to managing anxiety is to manage the neurotransmitter GABA. This is a very powerful inhibitory neurotransmitter. This means that it calms nervous responses rather than overly stimulates. One thing that GABA is known to do is reduce something called beta waves in the brain. These are a type of brain wave that is associated with analytical thinking, focus and logic. In people with anxiety, beta waves are said to be ‘splayed’. This means that they are heightened or exaggerated. So anything that we can do to bring this down and under control will make a massive difference to levels of anxiety. GABA isn’t found in foods, but the nutrients involved in producing it are! One of the main nutrients is the amino acid glutamine. Almonds, bananas, broccoli, brown rice, lentils, oats, spinach and walnuts are all good sources of glutamine.

Blood Sugar Management

We have spoken about blood sugar balance earlier, and will no doubt repeat ourselves again. as we really want to drive home the importance of this relatively simple thing and reiterate how much of a profound impact it can have on our physiology. Sadly, today we are eating way too much in the way of sugar and refined carbohydrates. These aren’t just the obvious things like chocolate and fizzy drinks. It includes things like white bread, white rice, white pasta etc. which are processed and refined. The problem with these foods is that they require very little in digestive power.

As discussed, blood sugar levels becoming too high too quickly is extremely dangerous, so our body has a very effective way of coping with it – the hormone insulin. Insulin tells our cells to take up excess sugar as rapidly as possible. When this happens, our blood sugar plummets down again. This is where the problem starts for those experiencing anxiety. When blood sugar dips quickly, we release the hormone adrenaline to stimulate the release of stored glucose. The problem here is that adrenaline is to anxiety what petrol is to a bonfire. It can cause a rapid heartbeat, a quickening of breath and a racing mind. Just what you need if you are prone to anxiety! So, as outlined earlier, the keys to keeping blood sugar nice and stable are reducing overall carbohydrate intake and choosing carbohydrates that are unrefined and whole (i.e. brown rice instead of white).

Another part of the picture is food combining. Always make sure you have a good quality protein with your unrefined carbohydrates so you create a meal that takes longer to digest and delivers its energy slower. Aside from avoiding the peaks and troughs that could lead to adrenaline surges, eating in such a way will also keep your overall mood more stable. This in itself can take the edge off of anxiety. We are less likely to feel anxious if we are generally feeling more stable and even in our energy levels and overall mood.

Nutritional Tips

  • Eat plenty of oily fish like salmon, mackerel and herrings to get plenty of preformed omega 3.
  • Fill up on green leafy vegetables as these are some of the best sources of magnesium.
  • Snack on nuts and seeds to provide magnesium and protein to balance blood sugar.
  • Always eat good quality proteins with good quality carbohydrates to create a meal that will digest slowly, release its energy slowly, and will drip feed your blood sugar keeping it nice and even.