Updated: Feb 21, 2022
More and more in recent years, the association between depression, anxiety, and the gut are becoming more understood and acknowledged. There is a true connection between food and our brains and what we eat can likely have an affect on how we feel. Though some foods can actually make stress and anxiety worse, eating certain nutrients can actually improve calming feelings.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
One nutrient that is especially helpful for bringing down levels of stress is omega-3 fatty acids. These acids are found in chia seeds, walnuts, flax seeds, and in fatty fish, such as salmon. Beneficial fats are necessary for our brains to properly function.
Bacteria in the gut is linked to the production of serotonin, dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid, and neurotransmitters, all of which affect our mood. Bacteria in the gut has been directly linked to both the brain as well as the immune system. Some research has even found that probiotics may actually work to treat or prevent feelings of anxiety. You can consume probitotics form either supplements or from foods that are fermented. This includes foods such as kefir, pickles, yogurt, and sauerkraut.
Our bodies are made up of mostly water. Water is necessary for survival. Studies have shown that even mild dehydration can contribute to mood problems. The sensation of being thirsty doesn’t actually even show up until we are about one or two percent dehydrated.
Antioxidants protect the brain against free radicals, which can lead to inflammation and impair the production of neurotransmitters. Research by the State University of New York found that anxious symptoms are linked with lower states of antioxidants, which can help treat mood issues. Foods that contain antioxidants include carrots, spinach, kale, broccoli, strawberries, avocado, almonds, halibut, eggs, grass-fed burgers, cashews, and citrus fruits.
Antidepressants have been shown to increase levels of magnesium in the brain, which is evidence of a positive link. Magnesium can even help to create a barrier to prevent stress hormones from entering into the brain. Sources of magnesium include nuts, seeds, legumes, avocado, eggs, spinach, and Swiss chard.
Tryptophan, known for its presence in turkey, which makes us fall asleep after Thanksgiving dinner, is an amino acid that helps the body to produce serotonin, a chemical responsible for mood and sleep regulation. Small studies so far have found that there appears to be a connection between tryptophan and a reduction in anxiety. Aside from turkey, the nutrient can be found in protein-rich foods including other meats, beans, eggs, seeds, and nuts. (Protein is also important for dopamine, which can also benefit mood.)
According to a study conducted by Harvard Medical School in April 2013, eating foods that are rich in Vitamin B help to reduce levels of anxiety. This is because they have positive effects on the nervous system; Vitamin B deficiencies have been correlated with anxiety-related disorders. Foods that contain higher levels of B vitamins include almonds, beef, and avocado.
Dissimilar to coffee, which can increase anxiety, herbal teas such as chamomile can reduce symptoms of anxiety. In a study from the University of Pennsylvania, participants who took chamomile for eight weeks had less symptoms of anxiety. However, if any of these herbal teas interact with your antidepressants or other medications, it’s important to consult with your doctor.
Foods that Cause a Negative Reaction
Caffeine, Refined Sugar and Processed Foods, and alcohol are all categories of food that can actually increase level of anxiety. It can reduce blood flow and mess with sleep, two very essential human needs.