Anxiety: Have You Tried a Dietary Approach?
Anxiety: Have You Tried A Dietary Approach?
Imagine that you are quietly making dinner for your family during any regular summer weeknight. At some point during the meal prep, you begin to notice that you are feeling agitated, your heart is beating faster, and there is a slight pressure in your chest for no reason. You feel like not as much air is entering your lungs with each breath as does typically. The cheerful sunlight streaming in through the window is now loud, harsh, and annoying. Your senses begin to heighten, and you seem to have superpower hearing, neighbors out front talking, the other neighbor edging his lawn, the delivery truck is pulling up, and the kids are starting to argue. Suddenly, preparing dinner feels overwhelming. You might start to feel a muscle spasm in your neck or back, a tingling sensation in your arms, or your stomach begins to feel nauseous or cramping. You do not feel well and may start to wonder if you have a heart attack.
Chances are if you have experienced something similar – You’ve had a panic attack. Panic attacks can occur seemingly out of the blue any time of the day or night. Sometimes they are caused by an unpleasant thought or past trauma and can be triggered by a sight, sound, smell, or even a sensation in your body that unknowingly reminds you of a previous unpleasant event. Often there may seem to be no apparent link.
The thoughts and feelings caused by the pandemic are triggering a lot of anxiety with many of our patients. Fortunately, there is much you can do to help ameliorate the symptoms and address the cause, from seeing a qualified therapist to acupuncture, diet, and meditation.
Below, we will briefly introduce some of the profound ways that changing your diet can help you feel better.
A panic attack can typically last for about 10 minutes but it can take a few minutes to hours to calm down. As such, a panic attack can disrupt your whole day or your full night’s sleep. Anxiety can seriously disrupt your quality of life. Anxiety left untreated can begin a vicious cycle. It is well known now that chronic stress from anxiety can lead to other health problems.
Your body becomes sick because anxiety triggers the body’s natural “fight or flight” response, which kicks in when we perceive a threat that can be real or imagined. Just a passing thought or sensation is sometimes enough to trigger your body to flood itself with hormones that will enhance your speed, heart rate, reflexes, and circulation to get you away from danger.
If it begins to happen often enough, an anxiety disorder can develop. These can include generalized anxiety or more specific anxieties, such as Post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive, or social anxieties, to name a few. In our pre-pandemic world, nearly 18% of Americans sought help or were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. There is currently much speculation that this number will rise due to pandemic related anxiety-provoking conditions.
If you think you may be experiencing anxiety or have been diagnosed with anxiety, you are not alone. Besides seeing a therapist and acupuncturist, you can tweak your diet and gain some considerable benefits.
What could you do with your diet to help reduce anxiety?
1. Optimize your gut flora. Your gut and brain are linked together and influence one another. That’s where the expressions “worried sick” and “butterflies in the stomach” come from. A study conducted where anxiety-like behavior was assessed with mice. The mice experiencing lower gastrointestinal inflammation that had received a probiotic had displayed a reduction in anxiety symptoms. Further investigation revealed that the anxiolytic effect of the probiotic involved the vagal nerve pathways and gut-brain communication.
2. Adaptogens like Ashwagandha appear to maintain lower levels of cortisol (a hormone produced by your adrenal glands in response to a stressor). Other GABA modulating herbs may be introduced to your diet for short-term use, such as lemon balm, chamomile, kava kava when insomnia or other issues are present. There is sufficient emerging research to support their inclusion into the diet for those suffering from anxiety with little adverse effects or addiction.
3. B Vitamins – Having a vitamin B deficiency can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety. Supplement with the right B vitamins, such as Vitamin B5, to support your adrenal glands and aid in reducing stress and anxiety levels. Folic acid and vitamin B12 are known to be essential in balancing out depressive moods as well as a deficiency in B vitamins. Research findings support that the B vitamin inositol reduces the severity and frequency of anxiety and panic attacks by interfering with a molecule called m-CPP.
4. Amino Acids: The Conditional Amino Acid Taurine increases Glycine and GABA to calm the brain, easing anxiety. Taurine additionally helps protect the brain by reducing the harmful effects of excess glutamate. The anti-anxiety effect of the amino acid L-theanine is achieved through enhanced alpha brain wave activity and increased the amino acid GABA. Increased amounts of GABA cause increases in brain levels of dopamine and serotonin, which thus result in general feelings of calm. 5-HTP, an amino acid that your body produces to make serotonin (among other things), is also of interest as 5-HTP supplementation has been shown to reduce the severity of generalized anxiety.
5. Running or walking can equally help improve symptoms of anxiety by releasing hormones such as serotonin and norepinephrine. Though not a diet tweak it is a lifestyle tweak that can alter your body chemistry in the right direction to significantly affect some patients. This is known as the “runners high.” Exercise can work as an antidepressant and interesting to note can also help promote the growth of brain neurons.
6. Eat a well-balanced diet. We’ve said it in almost every blog mentioning food, You are what you eat, or, you get out of it what you put into it and when it comes to anxiety and diet, there is nothing new. If you put in a bunch of chemicals that excite your nervous system (think caffeine and sugar) and deplete vitamins, your brain and nerves need to function correctly; You don’t eat enough healthy fats; you probably aren’t going to feel very well, which may produce anxiety symptoms. We can help you take a look at your diet in a holistic fashion that includes healthy food you like to eat and can easily incorporate and support you in decisions to remove some that may be contributing to your health concerns.
7. Blood sugar maintenance. People may also experience nervousness and agitation if their blood sugar is low. Why would this happen? The cells in our body primarily produce energy through metabolizing (i.e. chemically breaking down) glucose, an easily digestible simple sugar. However, if your blood sugar is low, as in cases of reduced food intake, there is not enough substrate to provide energy for your body. During this time, our body releases a hormone called adrenaline. One of the side effects of increased adrenaline is nervousness and agitation. So while an increase in adrenaline does serve as an adaptive mechanism to normalize blood sugar levels within a healthy range, the consequences of excess adrenaline may produce similar symptoms of a state of anxiety. Eating fruits, like oranges, grapes, and cherries, between meals is a great way to maintain blood sugar. A glass of orange juice is also a great source of natural sugars. It is also essential to make sure you are eating enough protein throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels consistent by supporting a healthy metabolism. The recommended daily allowance for protein intake is 0.8grams/kilograms of body weight; however, depending on one’s dietary needs, this may need to be increased accordingly.
8. Take a deep breath. If you find yourself starting to feel anxious, try focusing on your breathing. Watch our video to learn how or check out our simple instructions. It will take at least 3 minutes of focused breathing for a change to occur, and it will not be noticed until after the exercise is performed.
9. Get a good night’s sleep and Reduce time on electronic devices. Electronic devices used before bedtime can induce stress in and of itself (email, news, violent shows), but the blue light emitted from them has also been shown to reduce melatonin production. Melatonin is needed to help regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Without a good night’s sleep, our body will have elevated stress and experience more anxiety. If a good night’s sleep is difficult for you, check out our additional sleep tips.
It is essential to discover what vitamins and minerals you need to help alleviate stress on your body and mind so that you can live a life of optimal health. An experienced functional medicine expert can help you with individualized dietary and supplement guidelines based on your blood test results. If you would like to know more about how to personalize your diet, give our expert team a call at 773.878.7330. Same-day in office or TeleHealth appointments are available to get the help you need today.
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Meet Shannon Ford, a functional medicine expert passionate about helping people achieve optimal health and wellness. With over ten years of experience in the field, Shannon has dedicated her career to understanding the underlying causes of chronic diseases and finding personalized solutions for her patients. Her approach focuses on treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms, using a combination of nutrition, lifestyle changes, and cutting-edge medical technologies. Through her work, Shannon has helped countless individuals regain their health and vitality, and she is committed to continuing her mission to empower people to live their best lives.