Speaking with my female clients, one symptom that commonly comes up is anxiety. Some have learned to live with their anxiety, noting what makes it worse and how to handle it. Some become even more anxious when their doctors tell them they may need anti-anxiety medications. And, the older a woman gets, the more likely she is to experience anxiety. Is this a normal part of aging or is your diet increasing your anxiety?
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the US. And, anxiety often coexists with depression, which can make anxiety worse.
What Causes Anxiety
When I hear that women approaching menopause tend to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression more often than younger women, it makes me wonder what exactly causes anxiety.
Is it a chemical imbalance in the brain? Or is it related to something else, like hormones or diet?
It’s thought that blood sugar imbalances are one root cause of anxiety, along with low levels of magnesium and poor levels of serotonin.
Low histamine levels, too, have been shown to cause anxiety, along with high levels of copper. And, too much lactic acid in the body increases the incidence of panic attacks.
Food allergies and intolerances and nutrient deficiencies can also play a role in increased risk of anxiety.
What’s Increasing Your Anxiety?
Here’s the kicker with nutrition-related imbalances: Most blood tests done by your doctor don’t show these health concerns, nor do we get educated on what’s not ‘normal’ when it comes to our symptoms.
Instead, we’re told that increased anxiety is either ‘all in your head’ or a normal part of aging. We get drugs that mask the symptoms but don’t address the underlying problem.
As with many mental health issues, diet is often overlooked. So, learning what’s increasing your anxiety can help you learn to alleviate it and maybe even reverse it.
How Your Diet is Increasing Your Anxiety
It may not seem like your diet is increasing your anxiety but there is a good chance this is one of the main reasons. And, the good news is that diet is pretty simple to adjust to help reduce anxiety.
Nutrient deficiencies are probably the main reason your diet is increasing your anxiety.
Most people eat a Standard American Diet that is high in refined sugar and carbs, low in healthy fats, and often high in foods that cause inflammation. The biggest health issue with this diet is that this diet negatively affects the quality of your gut microbiome.
Your gut microbiome needs to be balanced between good and bad bacteria. However, refined foods and bad fats impact this balance in favor of the bad bacteria. Not only does this cause inflammation and digestive issues, it also reduces the production of your feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin.
Blood sugar swings that increase anxiety are related to the SAD diet.
Foods to Help Reduce Anxiety
Inflammation has probably the most significant impact on the brain and nervous system. Inflammation is caused by chronic stress, pro-inflammatory foods, nutrient deficiencies and food allergens. An imbalanced gut microbiome leads to inflammation, as does chronically elevated blood sugar levels.
Choosing the right foods can reduce inflammation. This also means ditching the bad foods, too.
Foods rich in magnesium help reduce anxiety because magnesium relaxes muscles and your mind. Bananas, seeds, nuts, coconut water, dark chocolate and dark green leafy vegetables are rich in magnesium.
Zinc counteracts high copper levels, so choose cashews, oysters, grass-fed beef and egg yolks often.
Foods rich in vitamin C also help reduce copper levels, which in turn brings histamine levels to a normal range.
If your SAD diet is increasing your anxiety, it’s also time to ditch the refined carbs and refined sugar from almost all packaged and processed foods. So, toss out cereals, granola bars, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat milk. Caffeine can also increase anxiety because it spikes cortisol levels, while gluten and dairy promote inflammation throughout your body.
Increase your intake of healthy probiotic foods, like full-fat plain Greek yogurt, kombucha tea, sauerkraut, miso soup, pickles and sourdough bread. And, because your healthy bacteria need fuel to grow and thrive, increase natural sources of fiber, like ground flaxseeds, apples, jicama, and wheat bran.
Try to maintain a whole foods diet that is rich in lean protein, healthy fats, fresh fruits and vegetables and adequate fiber.
Raw Honey for Anxiety
An often overlooked superfood is raw honey. Yes, it’s high in carbs and sugar, but the raw variety contains antidepressant properties. Raw honey also contains anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties.
Because it helps to boost serotonin production and balance blood sugar quickly, raw honey helps reduce anxiety. Just a teaspoon can help relieve anxiety and even sleep issues! Combine it with a bit of turmeric and cinnamon for a great bedtime treat.
Balance Your Blood Sugar and Manage Stress
While your diet may be increasing your anxiety, high levels of stress or poorly managed stress can impact anxiety levels. Take time each day to practice self-care and stress management. Look for easy activities that take 10-30 minutes and practice these daily.
Cut out refined foods as a huge step towards balancing the blood sugar issues that are increasing your anxiety. Increase your intake of healthy fats, as well, because not only do these stabilize blood sugar, they provide the resources needed for healthy hormone production (i.e. cortisol) and brain health.
Your diet may be increasing your anxiety but you can take back control by switching out offending foods with healthier options. In fact, in just one week of eating whole foods free from chemicals, added sugars, or refined grains, you will notice an improvement in your happiness and mental health. Give it try!