Brain Power Series - The Role of Diet in Anxiety
We talked about the role diet has in depression. Now, it’s time to talk about anxiety.
Anxiety can manifest in many different ways. Whether it is generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, etc., it is important to learn how to manage your symptoms or at least learn how to cope with them. Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness in the US. (1) They affect around 40 million adults (>18 years old), and many people are often undiagnosed and untreated.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Stress, worry, and pain are a normal part of life. While many people out there can successfully navigate their emotions, there are others who find them unbearable and overwhelming. Some of the things people with anxiety experience are :
- Feeling on edge
- Constantly worrying about the past, present, or future and not being able to control it (occurring more days than not for at least 6 months)
- Feeling restless
- Heart pounding
- “Pit in the stomach”
- Not being able to sleep or having trouble staying asleep
- Unable to perform daily tasks (2)
Link Between Diet and Anxiety
Studies have shown that the food you eat can either:
- Exacerbate your anxiety
- Help you with your anxiety
In her book, “This Is Your Brain on Food,” Dr. Uma Naidoo, nutritional psychiatrist and the national best-selling author talks about the connection between anxiety and the gut microbiome.
FOOD YOU EAT → GUT MICROBIOME → BRAIN → ANXIETY
- The food you eat directly impacts your gut microbiome. Your gut microbiome plays a role in the function of amygdala, a region in the brain that is responsible for emotions, such as fear. This is why many researchers believe we should be focusing on healing our gut microbiome when treating anxiety.
- Studies have shown that there is a correlation between anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS can cause constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, etc, and according to Dr. Naidoo, as anxiety gets worse so does the IBS.
- Up to 40% of people struggling with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease also suffer from anxiety.
Foods that make Anxiety worse
- Fried food (french fries, fish and chips, onion rings, fried pickles, etc.)
- Processed food (ice cream, donuts, candy, chips, cereal, cake, sugary drinks, etc.)
- Women: no more than 1 drink/day
- Men: no more than 2 drinks/day
- 8 oz or 1 cup = 95 mg
- 1 shot of espresso = 65 mg
- 1 cup of black tea = 47 mg
- 1 cup green tea = 28 mg
- 12 oz can of Mountain Dew = 55 mg
- 1 oz dark chocolate = 24 mg (3,4)
Foods that a help with Anxiety
- High-fiber foods, such as bananas, pears, apples, beans, brown rice, berries, etc.
- Foods high in magnesium, such as leafy greens, nuts, legumes, seeds, etc.
- Fermented foods, such as kimchi, miso, tempeh, kombucha, etc.
- Vitamin D-rich foods, such as salmon, sardines, canned tuna, and egg yolks
- Spices, such as turmeric, saffron, ginger (3,5)
The Physiological Sigh
I have heard about the physiological sigh from Dr. Huberman from the Huberman Lab. According to Dr. Andrew Huberman, there is a specific pattern of breathing that can help people calm down and soothe their anxiety. (6)
PHYSIOLOGICAL SIGH = TWO QUICK INHALES → LONG EXHALE
* usually, the first inhale is longer than the second one; inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth
If you are feeling stressed, 1-3 physiological sighs are effective in bringing your levels of stress down.