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Nutrition and Anxiety

Nutrition and Anxiety

By Andrea Bartels CNP NNCP RNT
Registered Nutritional Therapist

06 Sep 2022

Nutrition and Anxiety

September is a transitional time for many of us, not only for children, but for adults, too.    New schedules and new daily routines add the stress of adjustment back into the mix, which can aggravate anxiety in susceptible individuals.  But while many stressors seem beyond our control, not everything is. Take nutrition, for instance: are you aware of the following nutritional pitfalls and related imbalances that may be exacerbating your anxiety? 

Too Much Caffeine

Do you or your child consume chocolate, coffee, tea, colas or ‘energy drinks’? The caffeine content in these increases the risk of anxiety due to the stimulating effect it has on the nervous and cardiovascular systems. Green tea does have advantages over other caffeinated consumables, though, and a matcha preparation typically contains good levels of an antioxidant called EGCG.  Having said that, I’ve noticed in practice that some clients dislike the ‘grassy’ flavour of matcha and other green teas.  If you don’t enjoy it, would you drink it?

If you just don’t enjoy the taste of green tea, you find it interferes with your ability to fall asleep or that it aggravates your anxiety, try an l-theanine supplement. The l-theanine component of green tea supports calmness by enhancing alpha brain wave activity and synthesis of GABA, a calming neurotransmitter.  Unlike pharmaceuticals prescribed for anxiety treatment, l-theanine does not produce drowsiness, reduce reaction time or interfere with concentration; in fact, it has been shown to improve concentration.  Pure Lab Vitamins L-Theanine is available as a slow-release format to promote calmness through the day or night, as well as a sugar-free chewable that children or adults can take before going to school or work. It may also be used in conjunction with a magnesium supplement at bedtime in those with racing thoughts.

 

Insufficient Dietary Magnesium

Magnesium plays a role in the transmission of nerve signals and muscle relaxation, so it is especially important, but not limited to, anxiety cases that involve panic attacks. This is because panic attacks often manifest as chest pain and/or difficulty breathing.  Magnesium relaxes both skeletal and bronchial muscles, which is one reason why Dr. Leo Galland MD—co-author of The Allergy Solution--recommends it to his allergy and asthma patients to use as a supplement daily. The best news is that individuals with anxiety can usually take supplementary magnesium safely in addition to their prescription anxiety medications*.

With rising population and pollution levels, an increase in asthma and anxiety—not to mention various respiratory infections---there should be no hesitation about considering magnesium supplementation for health management.  I recommend Pure Lab Magnesium Glycinate to my clients because it’s so well absorbed and tolerated; it’s effective and does not promote diarrhea.  Remember: there is no one dose that is best for everyone; just because you are getting the RDI (recommended Daily Intake) does not mean your symptoms will be resolved with that dose.

But isn’t food enough? You ask.  While there is a sprinkling of magnesium in a variety of foods, no sources outside of nuts, seeds and organ meats is substantial on its own to meet even minimum daily requirements.  After all, when was the last time you ate liver, heart, kidney or other animal parts classified by butchers as ‘offal’?

Nuts and seeds, while higher in magnesium than any other plant food per serving, may not be permitted in your home or at school due to anaphylactic allergy; even other nuts may be contaminated with peanuts.  To add to that objection, there’s the pre-conceived perception that nuts are ‘fattening’ --despite the benefits of the essential fatty acids they contain.  Being realistic: what are your chances you’ll get enough magnesium from just diet?

Excess Sugar

Blood sugar spikes when a concentrated amount of carbohydrates are consumed.  Since it is the most rapidly absorbed form of energy and the fuel most easily used by the brain, sugars have a stimulating effect that can heighten anxiety. Reducing your access and consumption of candy,maple syrup, fruit, desserts, muffins, soft drinks, juice boxes, white flour products, etc. will have a positive effect on nerves, if done with discipline. Be sure to replace these nutrient-deficient items with quality replacements such as hummus or tzatziki dip with cut up vegetables; otherwise, a calorie deficit can exacerbate anxiety and other mood issues.

 

High Histamine

Got allergies? Histamine is an inflammatory product of an allergic reaction.  While healthy histamine levels are conducive, even important to good health---fighting infections, aiding digestion and more—you’ve probably noticed some inflammatory symptoms. This is important here because an inflamed brain can manifest as cognitive, mood or behavioural symptoms like anxiety, depression and panic attacks.

Vitamin B-6 and zinc are two of the critical nutrients that support the production of DAO, an enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine after it is released. So if you find your anxiety is higher during certain times of the year when you have higher exposure to pollen, dust, mould or certain foods, for instance, it may be linked to excessive histamine. Sure, an-over-the-counter anti-histamine may help relieve symptoms, but it comes with side effects (for ex. The non-drowsy formula causes anxiety in some individuals!), and it will do nothing to nourish your body. Getting adequate B vitamins and zinc while avoiding histamine-containing foods are sensible parts of an anxiety management plan as prescribed and monitored by your nutritionist, Naturopath or medical doctor.

Faulty Methylation

According to a literature search by Leslie Korn, author of Nutritional Essentials for Mental Health, various psychiatric disorders including depression, schizophrenia and generalized anxiety disorder are associated with dysregulation of a vital metabolic process called methylation. When methylation is dysregulated, we may be at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, auto-immunity and many cancer types as well.  Fortunately, the B complex family of 13 nutrients—in particular, vitamins B-6, B-12 and folate-- are those most important to correcting and maintaining methylation.  But can food sources satisfy our methylation requirements?

 

Food May Not Be Enough

Folate is highest in dark green leafy vegetables, while wheat germ is one of the highest sources of vitamin B-6. Even if you are not Celiac (gluten-allergic), you eat animal products (the only food sources of B-12) and you add spinach to your smoothie daily, you may not be fully utilizing your food-sourced vitamins very effectively.  That’s because some of us don’t convert dietary B vitamins into their active forms to fulfill the jobs we expect them to.  Taking supplementary B vitamins in their active forms, such as folate as 5-methyl-tetrahydrofolate, B12 as methylcobalamin and B6 as pyridoxal-5-phosphate will supply ready-to-go nutrients that support methylation, serotonin synthesis and the nervous system in general.  Pure Lab BioActive B Complex comes as a slow-release capsule that provides the full range of available activated B vitamins to take the guesswork out of figuring out whether you are getting and activating the nutrients from your diet.

 

Now that you have your checklist of nutrients and biochemical processes that could be aggravating anxiety, consider what you could be doing differently to improve your mental well-being. Nutrition is just part of the management program, but it’s one that remarkably easy to modify with quality nutritional supplementation.

 

*Note: please consult with your prescribing physician or pharmacist to check possible contraindications.

 

 

References

Bose, Priyom. “The Role Of DNA Methylation in Human Disease”. Technology Networks Genomics Research. Published November 30th, 2021. Accessed September 2nd, 2022.

Galland, Leo and Jonathan Galland. The Allergy Solution. Hay House Inc, 2016.

García A, Romero C, Arroyave C, Giraldo F, Sánchez L, Sánchez J. Acute effects of energy drinks in medical students. Eur J Nutr. 2017;56(6):2081-2091.

Lake, James. “L-theanine Reduces Symptoms of Anxiety”. Psychology Today, March 15, 2017. Accessed Sept., 2nd, 2022.

Kok DE, Dhonukshe-Rutten RA, Lute C, et al. The effects of long-term daily folic acid and vitamin B12 supplementation on genome-wide DNA methylation in elderly subjectsClin Epigenetics. 2015;7:121. Published 2015 Nov 14.

Korn, Leslie.  Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health. W.W. Norton and Company, 2016.

Kovacova-Hanuskova E, Buday T, Gavliakova S, Plevkova J. Histamine, histamine intoxication and intolerance. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2015;43(5):498-506.

Knüppel A, Shipley MJ, Llewellyn CH, Brunner EJ. Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Sci Rep. 2017 Jul 27;7(1):6287. 

Lackner S, Malcher V, Enko D, Mangge H, Holasek SJ, Schnedl WJ. Histamine-reduced diet and increase of serum diamine oxidase correlating to diet compliance in histamine intolerance. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2019;73(1):102-104.

Sack, David. “4 Ways Sugar Could be Harming Your Mental Health.” Psychology Today. Published September 2nd, 2013. Accessed September 2nd, 2022.


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