• Wellness

Eating to Ease Your Worries: How Nutrition Can Help Anxiety

         Whether you suffer from severe anxiety, are struggling with panic attacks, or just occasionally feel overwhelmed by work or relationships or what’s going on in the world–we’ve all been there. In fact, 260 million people worldwide suffer from anxiety disorders [1,2].  
        The good news is that emerging research is finding solutions that go beyond the prescription bottle. Here we’ll discuss how gut health, omega-3 fatty acids and stabilizing your blood sugar can help reduce anxiety. Then we’ll tie it all together with some simple and delicious recipes!

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Gut Health

There’s a reason why nervousness and feelings of anxiety are often described as butterflies in your stomach. The connection between overall well being and our gut health is becoming more established.

We now know that 90% of our serotonin (the neurotransmitter involved in mood) is made in our gut. New research is also looking into how certain strains of bacteria in the gut secrete and modulate specific neurotransmitters involved in anxiety. For example, GABA, the calming and inhibitory neurotransmitter thought to be deficient in anxiety disorders, is produced by certain Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. A recent study examined the anxiolytic effects of Bifidobacterium in mice and found that treatment with Bifidobacterium not only decreased anxiety-like behavior but also showed that Bifidobacterium can be blocked by a benzodiazepine receptor antagonist. This suggests that the bacteria species may treat anxiety through the same mechanisms as the major pharmaceutical treatment of choice (aka Xanax) [3]

The inflammatory response is now recognized for its involvement in anxiety disorders. Pro-inflammatory cytokines play a role in anxiety and depression by stimulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to the cascade resulting in the release of cortisol, the stress hormone[4].  Studies have shown positive results of pre and probiotics suppressing those inflammatory cytokines, thus preventing the stress response [5]. Other studies have found a strong association between probiotic supplementation and reduction in anxiety symptoms, especially when combined with diet modifications[6].

Nourish Rx:

Keep your gut happy by eating foods rich in pre and probiotics, such as:

  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Yogurt
  • Miso
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Brine-cured olives
  • Raw cheese
  • Raw garlic
  • Leeks
  • Onions
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Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain health. They are anti-inflammatory, play a role in modulating neurotransmitters, neuroplasticity, neuroimmunity, and vascularity.

There are three main types of Omega-3’s: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are the preferred sources of fatty acids and are found mainly in seafood and fish[8]. Lower intake of omega-3 fatty acids from a low frequency of seafood consumption was associated with higher symptoms of anxiety during pregnancy [9]. By comparison, another study found that omega-3 supplementation produced a 14% decrease in pro-inflammatory IL-6 production and a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms compared to the placebo group [10].

Nourish Rx:

Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like:

•  Wild Salmon
•  Mackerel
•  Herring
•  Sardines
•  Avocado
•  Walnuts
•  Chia seeds
•  Hemp seeds
•  Pasture-raised Eggs
•  Flax seeds


Blood Sugar Stabilization

When you eat sugar, whether it’s in the form of a usual suspect (like a candy bar) or hidden inside one of your favorite  carbohydrates (like a slice of bread or a bowl of pasta), your pancreas secretes insulin so your body can move the sugar out of the bloodstream and into your cells, where it is stored for energy. Once the glucose is stored, your blood sugar drops, which can result in jitteriness, exhaustion, irritability,  headaches, and anxiety-like symptoms. This leaves you craving more carbohydrates and–before you know it–you’re grabbing that donut or soda for a bit of (very) temporary relief. This ride on the sugar-insulin rollercoaster is, plainly put, a bad habit.

While it is natural to have somewhat fluctuating levels in your blood sugar, you can eliminate the extreme highs and lows  through a diet of healthy fats, low glycemic fruits and vegetables, and good quality protein.


Nourish Rx:
Avoid steep spikes and then subsequent crashes in blood sugar by eating:

•  healthy fats: avocado, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil/ milk
•  good quality protein: wild caught fish, grass fed beef, organic and pasture raised poultry and eggs
•  low glycemic vegetables and fruit: leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, mushroom, berries
•  avoiding simple carbohydrates: white bread and pasta, white potatoes, refined sugar and sugar substitutes.

Putting it all Together:

Eating Whole and Clean

(aka say “no” to processed crap!)

If a food item has a long list of ingredients, most of which you don’t know or can’t pronounce, leave it on the shelf.

Studies are showing that there is a relationship between better diet and lower odds of depression and anxiety. Specifically, one study examined the effects of the “western” diet, consisting of mainly processed foods, pizza, hamburgers, sugar, and flavored milk compared to a more “traditional” diet of vegetables, fruits, lean meats and fish, and whole grains. The “western” diet was associated with an increased incidence of anxiety whereas the“traditional” diet had lower odds for both depressive and anxiety disorders [7].

Nourish Rx:

Eat more from the earth and less from the laboratory. If a food item has a long list of ingredients, most of which you don’t know or can’t pronounce, leave it on the shelf.
Check out our Anti-Anxiety Food Farmacy Guide and recipes that use all of this information to help you create delicious and easy meals that will help ease anxiety.

  1. Facts & Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
  2. Any Anxiety Disorder Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2017, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml
  3. Jang, H., Jang, S., Han, M., & Kim, D. (2017). Anxiolytic-like effect of Bifidobacterium adolescentis IM38 in mice with or without immobilisation stress. Beneficial Microbes,1-10. doi:10.3920/bm2016.022
  4. Schnorr, S. L., & Bachner, H. A. (2016). Integrative Therapies in Anxiety Treatment with Special Emphasis on the Gut Microbiome. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine,89, 397-422.
  5. Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, Bhatia M, Wilen E, Wakefield S. Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clinics and Practice. 2017;7(4):987. doi:10.4081/cp.2017.987
  6. Colica, C., Avolio, E., Bollero, P., Miranda, R. C., Ferraro, S., Salimei, P. S., . . . Renzo, L. D. (2017). Evidences of a New Psychobiotic Formulation on Body Composition and Anxiety. Mediators of Inflammation,2017, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2017/5650627
  7. Jacka, F. N., Pasco, J. A., Mykletun, A., Williams, L. J., Hodge, A. M., O’Reilly, S., . . . Berk, M. (2010). Association of Western and Traditional Diets With Depression and Anxiety in Women. The American Journal of Psychiatry,167(3), 305-311. doi:https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.09060881
  8. Buydens-Branchey, L., Branchey, M., & Hibbeln, J. R. (2008). Associations between increases in plasma n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids following supplementation and decreases in anger and anxiety in substance abusers. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry,32(2), 568-575. doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2007.10.020
  9. Vaz, J. D., Kac, G., Emmett, P., Davis, J. M., Golding, J., & Hibbeln, J. R. (2013). Dietary Patterns, n-3 Fatty Acids Intake from Seafood and High Levels of Anxiety Symptoms during Pregnancy: Findings from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. PLoS ONE,8(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067671
  10. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Belury, M. A., Andridge, R., Malarkey, W. B., & Glaser, R. (2011). Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity,25(8), 1725-1734. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2011.07.229