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Healing Naturally from Anxiety with Nutrition
written by Keri Berardinelli, Holistic Nutritionist, Licensed Aesthetician and Detox Therapist
June 9, 2020
Anxiety is a feeling that we are all familiar with. Perhaps we get anxious before speaking publicly, experiencing sensations such as dry mouth, sweaty palms, pounding heart, weakness in the legs, light-headedness, stomach upset, with a slew of other various symptoms; yet, these symptoms will typically quickly disappear after the distress of the situation disappears. The body will, automatically, adapt from a stress response to a state of homeostasis, but what if the stress response was on a constant high alert everyday and at every moment, to the point that sitting at a stop light would bring about feelings and sensations of ‘flight or fight’ and panic? This is the level of anxiety that has been coined the term, “anxiety disorder”. Anxiety disorder is a level of anxiety that brings you to the brink of death, and as dramatic as this sounds, it is the intensity and frequency of the symptoms and sensations that are just too random to be ignored, so often people believe that they're having heart attacks, or about to pass out, etc. and they make a trip to the emergency room only to be told that nothing is wrong. This is the level of anxiety that I’m conveying with you. It is anxiety that, on a physiological level, has been created by an over-stimulated nervous system that has reached its full stress- threshold. Once your nervous system has gotten to this point of hyper-stimulation, you begin reacting to everyday living. The good news is, you’re not going crazy and once reaching this level of anxiety, your body is able to naturally heal if given the right tools. Targeted nutrition is one of these essential tools for healing.
The Role of Macronutrients
People who suffer from chronic anxiety need sufficient protein in their diet. Proteins break down into amino acids and these molecules become the building blocks of important hormones and neurotransmitters within the body that support neurological health. There are certain amino acids that act as neurotransmitters. These are amino acids that play an active role in nerve signaling, transmission and communication. Aspartic acid, glutamic acid, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), glycine, taurine and histamine are all amino acids that act as neurotransmitters within the body and can have a stimulating, or inhibiting, effect on the body.
The anti-anxiety diet favors fat, a necessary macronutrient for neurological health. Fats act as insulators for a frayed nervous system. Fats also play a key role in the manufacturing of anti-inflammatory hormones such as prostaglandins that tend to calm an inflamed nervous system. Consuming the “right” type of fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and certain saturated fats, such as the fat found in coconut oil, lauric acid, and capric acid, assist in the formation of healthy cell membranes. Healthy cell membranes are an integral factor in how the body utilizes nutrition and maintains proper balance and communication between cells. It is a crucial factor in maintaining a state of wellness within the mind and body. The fats that comprise coconuts are also highly anti-microbial - one factor to be considered for gut healing and re-balancing.
Excitatory foods do just that, they “excite” the neurons. These foods are typically not real foods at all and tend to be created by a lot of man-made processing. For example, manufacturers add “monosodium glutamate” and “protein hydrosylates” to enhance the flavors of food; however, these additives will also act as a stimulant on the nervous system, so even small amounts of these food chemicals can produce symptoms related to the nervous system, such as, anxiety, numbness and tingling, heart palpitations, etc.
Eating foods that are unprocessed, whole and organic will limit over excitement to the nervous system and will keep you balanced.
Inhibitory foods are whole foods, rich in protein, healthy fats, minerals and vitamins. Consuming foods that are, specifically, high in B vitamins, will support the body’s production of inhibitory amino acids, such as glycine, taurine and tryptophan. Here, I will list a few key foods that support proper neurotransmitter production, brain function and, overall, a healthy nervous system. Some key targeted nutrients are: B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, magnesium, potassium and even salt, as long as its naturally-occurring, mineral-rich salt or salt that is naturally in whole foods. Antioxidants are also very supportive.
Eggs are a complete protein source, contain all essential 8 amino acids. Eggs are also high in choline (part of the Vitamin B family), which is a precursor for the amino acid, glycine, which has an inhibitory effect on the nervous system. Eggs are also a good source of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D.
Sardines are my “go-to” fish for several reasons. They are a small breed of fish, so have a much lower mercury level. They are also economical and enhance many dishes with good protein and healthy fats. Sardines are a great source for omega-3 fatty acids, like EPA and DHA which has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and supportive to the brain and nervous system. If you don’t care for sardines, try mackerel as its much milder in taste.
Avocados are another food that are an excellent source of healthy fats, and also contain B vitamins, especially folate (B6). They’re also a good source of potassium and fiber.
Potatoes are another good source of choline and additionally, a good source of niacin (B3), and vitamin C. Potatoes are also very energetically grounding and satisfying. They provide comfort and feelings of satiety and satisfaction. I have found that potatoes, boiled and drizzled with EVOO with a sprinkle of salt, would many times reduce my anxiety.
Beets Roots and Greens –
Beet greens are a great source of calcium, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. Additionally, beet roots are an excellent source of folic acid, manganese and potassium, not to mention fiber. Beet roots are also energetically grounding and tend to create calmness in the body.
Blueberries, and all berries, are excellent for antioxidant protection. "Anthocyanidins" are the compounds that give blueberries their pigment and high ORAC rating. With any chronic stress situation, there will be additional oxidative damage to the body, so eating a variety of whole foods that are colorful is a natural way to protect the body from the cellular damage associated to stress.
The Role of Micronutrients and Supplementation
There are times when supplementation becomes necessary, especially when experiencing acute symptoms and/or when a person is already deficient.
Micronutrients such as choline, folate, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium, potassium and magnesium are important micronutrients for neurological health. There are a variety of factors that contribute to a depletion of key nutrients, such as, chronic stress and the over-consumption of caffeine and/or alcohol. Medications will also deplete the body of nutrients, so its important to discuss this possibility with your nutritionist and/or doctor to assist in making the best decisions for supplementation.
Furthermore, digestive enzymes and probiotics are worth mentioning for supplementation in support of the digestive tract and the gut’s microbiome. Gut health plays a key role in all diseases and imbalances, so should not be ignored while in the healing process. Its important to remember that stress can cause the "dysbiosis" and/or the growth of unhealthy organisms that would disrupt a healthy intestinal terrain.
In conclusion, targeted nutrition lays the foundation of your healing journey, as how you feed your body is how you present yourself to the world. Without a solid nutrition plan, aimed towards the support of the brain, hormones and nervous system, one cannot have a successful recovery.
1. Haas, M. Elson. Staying Healthy with Nutrition. New York, Crown Publishing Group, 2006
2. Murray, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, Atria Books, 2005