The current pandemic is a challenging period for all of us! The difficulties that arise manifest themselves in different ways, and each contribute to our general level of stress and anxiety. This is especially true for families with children or teenagers with different neurological conditions such as ASD, ADHD, neurodevelopmental delay and others.
In general, anxiety is an emotion arising as a result of tension, worry or fear, and manifests through certain physiological and biochemical changes in our body.
The current situation also plays the role of catalyst to our internal blockages and unresolved emotional issues! If you do not know how to process your feelings and probably have accumulated emotional stress, you are likely to experience higher levels of anxiety and fear. Long-term anxiety has a devastating impact on our life and increases the risk of developing any chronic conditions, including mental illnesses.
It is, therefore, very important to learn how to handle your anxiety and how to prevent its accumulation.
Multiple research has established a solid connection between anxiety, depression and eating habits, the microbiome. In real life too we can clearly observe the link between stable mental health and eating real, whole food. However, it is vital to remember that any dietary approach should be personalised to the individuals, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
That being said, there are, of course, certain universal rules that apply to everyone. You are probably familiar with them, but it is good to remind ourselves once in a while. Avoid sugar and any processed food, avoid alcohol and caffeine, drink plenty of water, eat diverse food of good quality, eat nutrient-rich food, ensure your menu includes plenty of vegetables, fruit, protein and good fats, and eat as much organic, seasonal and local food as possible. Simply implementing these few rules will already help a great many people reduce their anxiety.
There are, however, hidden origins of anxiety and mood swings that you may not be aware of. In fact, many people experience a combination of several of these root causes, resulting in their anxiety. THE AIM OF THIS ARTICLE IS TO HELP YOU TO DETERMINE YOUR PERSONAL, OPTIMAL ANTI-ANXIETY FOOD SOLUTION.
Let us have a look at five, not very obvious, contributors to anxiety and discuss a possible solution for each one.
- Food sensitivities or intolerances could be a contributing factor to your anxiety, causing emotional disbalance. Such reactions to certain food that sometimes go completely unnoticed, trigger an inflammatory response and provoke a histamine reaction. Histamine plays the role of neuromodulator and regulates certain neurotransmitters like serotonin, acetylcholine, norepinephrine. Furthermore, gluten sensitivity can limit the level of serotonin in the body.
In this case, it is advisable to know your food sensitivities. If you notice signs like a rash on the body, cheeks or ears, headaches, excessive gas, bloating, cramps. nausea or stomach pain, you can either undergo a food intolerance test or try to identify which food could be provoking this reaction yourself. Notice that the reaction can come 2-3 days after consuming the food, even very healthy food like chia seeds, spinach or almonds. In case you are unable to simply identify the triggers of your symptoms, try eating different food in small quantities only, rotating the food all the time so that you minimise the presence of food to which you are sensitive in your body. It is advisable to do plan your menu in advance and record any symptoms you experience.
- Digestive issues and especially leaky gut have been linked to anxiety and other mental conditions. First of all, undigested gluten (glutomorphines) and undigested casein (casomorphine) cross the damaged intestinal wall and gain acces into the blood stream impacting our brain and emotional state. Furthermore, dysbiosis or presence of pathogenic bacteria, yeast and parasites cause the production a whole number of toxins that have a direct impact on our brain and behaviour. Additionally, healthy gut microflora produces 80% of our serotonin and 50% of the dopamine in our bodies, directly affecting our mood and anxiety. Furthermore, anxiety can be caused by hormonal imbalances, which can be linked to low levels of or sluggish bile flow and the body’s inability to flush out hormones efficiently. Therefore, digestive health impacts our levels of anxiety in multiple ways.
In this situation, you could try eliminating gluten and casein from your diet at least for 2 weeks and see if you feel any difference. If you notice a positive dynamic, it is advisable to address leaky gut issues. This can be done by following the GAPS diet where eating plenty of meat stock, protein and healthy fats allows for the reparation of the gut wall. In some cases, glutamine-based supplements can also be used for this reason.
To improve gut microflora, you can take multi-strain probiotics and start to including fermented food and drink like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso etc into your diet. Sluggish bile can be addressed by eating bitter herbs like dandelion greens, parsley, mint, cilantro and milk thistle. The more bitter, the better! Apple cider vinegar and lemon juice are known remedies for normalising gallbladder health and salads of cucumber, celery, radishes, artichokes would also help to maintain the healthy state of both the gallbladder and the liver.
- Sex hormones have a direct impact on anxiety levels as estrogen is involved in the stimulation of serotonin and has a positive effect on our mood. Whereas progesterone, on the other hand, can have a depressing effect and is associated with anxiety. For balanced health, we need to find a balance between these two hormones. Unfortunately, we now often see the dominance of estrogen due to low levels of detoxification of this hormone from the body, high levels of toxic xenoestrogens from the environment and low levels of progesterone caused by diets low in progesterone promoting food.
As for nutrients and minerals, estrogen is associated with the mineral copper. Some people accumulate a high level of copper as they may have high exposure to copper from the environment (copper pipes, pots and pans). Some food is rich in copper, for example, sunflower seeds, cheese, avocado, walnuts, cashews, almonds, mushrooms, kale, spinach, quinoa, buckwheat, spirulina and coconut. At the same time zinc is associated with progesterone. For balanced hormones and a balanced mood, zinc needs to be in balance with copper. So, zinc – containing food needs to be a part of the diet, for example, pumpkin seeds, eggs, red meat, sea food and asparagus. Therefore, if you bake a lot with almond based flour and eat avocado, which seems to be a very healthy eating approach, you can easily have high copper in your body, adding to your anxiety. Therefore, checking the level of minerals in your body and eating a diverse diet is very important.
- Our ability to handle sugar is another interesting factor that can impact our anxiety. When you eat sugary or easy carbohydrates, you are not only depleting your body of nutrients, but you are also experiencing a “sugar roller-coaster”, which is associated with anxiety and mood swings. This happens because changes in blood sugar impact the adrenal glands that produce the stress hormone cortisol.
To avoid such an effect on your anxiety and mood, it is important to avoid eating sugar, processed food and ‘white food’ (white flour, rice, bread, and so on), which are full of empty calories. Instead, focus on real, whole food with a low glycemic index like complex carbohydrates (brown rice, whole grain bread) and high in fibre and nutrient-rich food (vegetables, legumes). It is important to eat protein with every meal and have a good, balanced breakfast every morning.
- An imbalance in neurotransmitters has a direct effect on our brain chemistry. If you miss important nutrients, the building blocks of neurotransmitters, and amino acids, you will be unable to produce enough of these molecules, which actually carry and balance signals between neurons, and other cells. As a result, you can find yourself prone to feeling anxious and agitated. The main neurotransmitters that play a role in anxiety are GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), serotonin, catecholamines and endorphins.
GABA is a calming neurotransmitter, which when in low levels, is linked to anxiety. Serotonin is a ‘happy hormone’ and is associated with feeling good, calm and positive. Therefore, low levels of serotonin also contribute to anxiety. Catecholamines (adrenaline, noradrenaline, dopamine) are produced and used in our body in response to stress. If you experience high levels of stress, you may be depleted of these essential neurotransmitters and therefore, feel low motivated and even somewhat depressed. Endorphins help us to reduce physical and emotional pain, feel pleasure and enjoyment. Low levels of endorphins could contribute to sugar cravings, higher emotional pain and anxiety.
Note that food is an essential source of nutrients for our brain chemistry. Protein provides amino acids and vitamins and minerals play the role of cofactors, which are necessary for building neurotransmitters. However, if you deal with extra stress and your diet and lifestyle cannot, at this stage, help your management of additional anxiety, short term supplementation of specific amino acids could be considered. Talk to your nutritionist about such a possibility.
As you see, many different factors can ‘feed’ your anxiety. I really hope to encourage you to become an expert of your own body and brain by observing, monitoring and analyzing your own symptoms and introducing certain changes. You are ‘the master’ of finding your personal optimal anti-anxiety food solution! If you continue to educate yourself through different holistic experts, explore and experiment, you will be improving your health to no end.
Please remember that I am happy to answer any possible questions. Do not hesitate to contact me at www.liveright.eu