Registered dietitian and functional medicine practitioner Ali Miller says that eating certain foods can counteract the harmful effects of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders.
Food can affect mental health
Miller notes that humans’ primal fight-or-flight instinct isn’t suited for modern stressors like deadlines or financial problems. For this reason, these stressors can trigger primal responses that exaggerate one’s perception of stress.
It also doesn’t help that stress can often cause people to indulge in sugar-rich foods and junk foods. According to Miller, these foods can cause blood sugar spikes and, in turn, mess up a person’s mood, affect his appetite and trigger hormonal imbalances.
Eva Selhub, an internal medicine specialist based in Massachusetts, notes that about 95 percent of serotonin, the neurotransmitter thought to regulate anxiety and anxiety-related disorders, is produced in the gastrointestinal tract.
As bizarre as it may sound, this brain-gut connection suggests that food can affect mood, feelings and other aspects of mental health. Miller also says that foods rich in mood-stabilizing nutrients, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds are best consumed for optimal mental health.
5 Best nutrients for anxiety
Eating foods rich in brain-boosting nutrients is key to minimizing symptoms of anxiety and keeping anxiety-related disorders at bay.
Here are some of the top nutrients that Miller recommends for better stress resilience and anxiety management. Try to eat them daily as part of a balanced diet to reap their benefits.
Studies show that magnesium is capable of suppressing the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Its natural relaxant effects are also beneficial for treating physiological symptoms of anxiety, such as shortness of breath, restlessness, tremors and fatigue.
Magnesium has also been found to prevent stress hormones from crossing the blood-brain barrier, protecting the brain from a possible influx of stress hormones. Common dietary sources of magnesium include spinach, cacao, almonds, peanuts and pumpkin seeds, among others.
More about Magnesium Medicine
Choline is a key player in the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which aids in regulating the brain’s stress response. Recent studies suggest that it is instrumental in stalling mental decline.
Choline can be found in beef and chicken liver, eggs and milk. It can also be found in broccoli and peanut butter.
Several B vitamins are hailed for their protective effects against anxiety. Vitamins B5, B9 and B12, in particular, are some of the most potent B vitamins for regulating stress, mitigating the effects of anxiety and reducing symptoms of depression.
B vitamins can be found in a number of foods, including eggs, legumes, seeds, nuts and fruits. (Related: An essential guide to understanding B-vitamins.)
L-theanine is a unique amino acid found in tea and mushrooms. Recent studies suggest that it offers a range of mental health benefits, including better mental performance, reduced stress and enhanced mood.
L-theanine has also been found to influence the production of chemical messengers in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for mood, sleep and emotion. In addition, L-theanine can modulate levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Live microorganisms called probiotics are known for their beneficial effects on gut health. But recent studies suggest that supplementing with probiotics can also decrease anxiety.
As mentioned earlier, the gut also produces the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Therefore, eating foods that support gut health, such as those rich in probiotics, helps ensure that the gut continues to produce adequate amounts of serotonin.
Eating the right foods and maintaining adequate levels of brain-boosting nutrients can not only help keep anxiety and anxiety-related disorders at bay, but also minimize the harmful effects of stress on the brain and on mental health.
Read more articles about brain-boosting foods and nutrients at Brain.news.