The Best Plant-Based Foods for Anxiety
There are a handful of neurotransmitters that are responsible for creating our mood. The main three neurotransmitters that are responsible for anxiety (there are other neurotransmitters that are responsible mostly for depression that this article does not address) is a deficiency in serotonin, noradrenalin, and Gabba. All of these neurotransmitters are responsible for anxiety however the type of anxiety is usually manifested in a different way depending on which neurotransmitter is responsible. It is of course totally possible to be deficient in all areas. In my case, I had a deficiency in both serotonin and GABBA. Both of these deficiencies were caused directly by my birth control (you can read my story here: https://hazelandcacao.com/my-experience-with-the-implanon/) and my symptoms were amplified by situational stress and poor sleep and lifestyle habits. The current conventional treatment for anxiety is to treat with an SSRI antidepressant and in some cases with anti-anxiety drugs short term. Although I totally understand the benefits of short term treatment with antidepressants they are only a bandaid solution that works by addressing symptoms and not the underlying cause and carrying horrible and sometimes life-threatening side effects ( read my article what I wish I knew about antidepressants here: https://hazelandcacao.com/10-things-i-wish-i-knew-about-antidepressants/ ). Antidepressants drugs are effective at increasing neurotransmitter levels but they do so by offering a steady stream of neurotransmitter. This may lift the mood and numb symptoms, however, in a natural state of being, neurotransmitters are constantly in a state of flux and easily fluctuate depending on the time of day, different foods, stress, and different circumstances. This is why many times people that take antidepressants can feel drugged or paralyzed as medications do not allow for the natural and normal rise and fall of neurotransmitters throughout the day. Neurotransmitters are so easily influenced by our daily life that I wonder why it was ever thought necessary to increase neurotransmitters through medication. I remember a documentary I watched many years ago that said, “eating one handful of cashews a day has the same effect as an antidepressant drug” and in many cases, this is proven to be true. In fact, one type of antidepressant medication called “l-methylfolate” is just a strong form of vitamin b9 or folate marketed as an antidepressant or as a way to help other antidepressants increase effectiveness. This is because studies have shown just how powerful nutrition can be in fighting mood disorders. Using a healthy balanced diet as treatment may not give fast-acting results but in combination with other lifestyle practices and mental support for anxiety, it can offer lifelong success.
For the remainder of this article, I will talk about the three main neurotransmitters associated with anxiety and the nutrients and foods needed to build up healthy neurotransmitter levels. This article emphasizes the importance of plant-based foods for healthy neurotransmitters. Although it is possible to get these nutrients from animal foods (in fact animal foods can have higher amounts of these nutrients eg tryptophan other amino acids and vitamin b12) maximum results have been shown through the consumption of plant-based sources. This is because in order to get the nutrients into the brain there need to be adequate levels of quality carbohydrate as well as low protein. Protein-bound nutrients like the b12 found in animal sources are actually very difficult to absorb. Studies have also shown that people with diets high in animal cholesterol had a poorer prognosis and were slower to recover. You will notice that many of the food recommendations overlap and as always the foods mentioned should be eaten in their whole form without any major processing or addition of unnatural chemicals.
A deficiency in serotonin leads to feelings of anxiety, shakiness, trembling and being on edge. It can cause an inability to stay calm, difficulty sleeping and intermittent feelings of panic and impending doom. It’s also responsible for intrusive thought patterns and rumination ( repetitive negative thoughts) as well as low mood and depression. Low serotonin has been linked to generalized anxiety and panic disorder, depression, seasonal depression, PMS and PMDD in women as well as OCD and different phobias. Seratonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan. In order to synthesize your own serotonin, you need an adequate dietary intake of tryptophan as well as enough carbohydrates in the diet to help move tryptophan into the brain. Magnesium and vitamin B6 are also important for the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin. Omega 3 is also needed for general brain health.
Pumpkin seeds (lightly roasted for best results)
Flax seeds (ground and eaten straight away or frozen so they do not oxidize)
A deficiency in noradrenalin leads to problems in concentration and focus, fatigue, day time sleepiness, irritability, brain fog, loss of memory, struggling with classwork that requires thinking or pattern recognition. Deficiencies in noradrenalin can lead to issues like ADHD and some types of depression and anxiety. In order to make your own noradrenalin, you need an adequate dietary intake of a tyrosine as well as foods low in protein and higher in natural carbohydrate. You also need vitamin b9 or folate as well as vitamin b12 for the proper synthesis of noradrenaline. Omega 3 is also important.
Pumpkin seeds (lightly toasted for best results)
Flax seeds (ground and eaten straight away or frozen so that they do not oxidize)
B12 fortified foods or supplements
A deficiency in GABA leads to physical anxiety symptoms like panic attacks, chronic stress, insomnia, headaches, an inability to calm down or relax even after hours, muscle fatigue and twitching and seizures. Gaba is less researched than many of the better-known neurotransmitters but it is highly linked to healthy progesterone levels in women. Low progesterone can lead to low uptake of GABA in the nerve cells as well as PMS and PMDD. It is also being studied for its role in epilepsy, bipolar and schizophrenia. In order to make your own Gaba, you need an adequate dietary intake of magnesium, vitamin b6, iron, L theanine, L arginine. Eating foods that naturally contain GABA can also help.
Lentils and beans
Diet is an essential tool in beating anxiety but it is not the entire picture. The causes of anxiety are different for everyone so it is important to discover the root cause of anxiety and address the cause as best as possible. For me, my dietery changes were 50% of the solution. For others that already eat healthy (I definitely did not at the stage), diet may play an even smaller role. Beating anxiety takes a multidirectional approach and diet should never be seen as the only answer. I recently read a quote from Jim Cary that said: “I believe depression is legitimate, but I also believe that if you don’t exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep, consume positive material, surround yourself with support, then you aren’t giving yourself a fighting chance.” I agree with this for anxiety as well and would add a few more things to the list myself.
The information in this article was derived mostly from my years of research into beating my own anxiety combined with some amazing research from Dr. Neil Nedley who created the Depression and Anxiety Recovery Program. This is a community educational program available worldwide that has an extremely high success rate. I was attracted to this program because it was the only program I have seen that covered all the tools that I personally used to overcome my own anxiety. I have also read scientific literature about this program that strongly confirms its effectiveness. I have personally attended and paid for training under Dr. Neil Nedley’s program and am licensed to facilitate these programs in my local area. I do this as a volunteer. I am writing this to give credit to Dr Nedley for the amazing research he has done into depression and anxiety. https://nedleydepressionrecovery.com