While many doctors are quick to prescribe antidepressant medication to patients struggling with mental health issues like anxiety and depression, others, like Uma Naidoo, MD, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, are beginning to acknowledge the very real connection between diet and mental health.
This isn’t to say that medication isn’t an important or, in many cases, a necessary part of treating mental health issues. Anxiety and depression cannot be treated through dietary changes alone, and part of eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health issues comes from normalizing and accepting the use of medication as needed. With that said, it’s also important to acknowledge the many factors that subtly influence our mental health – just as there’s more than one cause, there’s more than one solution.
Dr. Naidoo states, “ In addition to healthy guidelines such as eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water to stay hydrated, and limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine, there are many other dietary considerations that can help relieve anxiety.” Cutting down on processed foods is very important, as is eating a healthy well balanced diet.
One also has to consider the “gut-brain axis; “a large percentage (about 95 %) of serotonin receptors are found in the lining of the gut.”
Foods that ease anxiety
Magnesium: “In mice, diets low in magnesium were found to increase anxiety-related behaviors. Foods naturally rich in magnesium may therefore help a person to feel calmer. Examples include leafy greens such as spinach and Swisschard…legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.” Most of you who follow my blog, know that legumes and whole grains are not on my list.
Zinc: Oysters,cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolk.
Omega-3 fatty acids: “A study completed on medical students in 2011 was one of the first to show that omega-3s may help reduce anxiety. Prior to the study, omega-3 fatty acids had been linked to improving depression only.” Wild Alaskan salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, are all great sources of omega-3s.”
Probiotics: “A recent study in the journal Psychiatry Research suggested a link between probiotic foods and a lowering of social anxiety. Eating probiotic rich foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir were linked to fewer symptoms.” Again, as you all know, I am against milk and milk products, so my kefir suggestion is water kefir. Don’t forget kombucha.
Asparagus: “Based on research, the Chinese government approved the use of an asparagus extract as a natural food and beverage ingredient due to its anti-anxiety properties.”
B vitamins: “Foods rich in B vitamins such as avocados and almonds…also known as “feel good” foods, spur the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. They are safe and easy first steps in managing anxiety.”
Antioxidant-rich foods: “Anxiety is thought to be correlated with lowered total antioxidant state. Enhancing your diet with foods rich in antioxidants may help ease symptoms of anxiety disorders.” Here are some great antioxidant foods: apples, prunes, sweet cherries, plums, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries, walnuts, pecans, artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli, turmeric,and ginger.
When you start including the above foods in your diet, and eliminate the junk food you consume, I’m certain that you’ll notice a tremendous positive change in your mental state.
That’s it for now; see you all the next time.