Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults, which is about 18% of the US adult population, with research suggesting that nearly 30% of American adults will qualify for an anxiety disorder diagnosis at some point in their lives.
I often see people who are struggling with anxiety, and are taking medications to manage it. When they come to me, they either don’t like how they feel on the pharmaceuticals or they want to address the underlying cause and eventually get off the medications.
Functional medicine acknowledges that the body is interconnected, and we have to address the underlying dysfunctions that give rise to conditions like anxiety.
Here’s an eclectic list of 13 foods that are used to address the common underlying dysfunctions that contribute to anxiety disorders:
Research has correlated an imbalance of zinc to copper with anxiety. This trace mineral ratio is responsible for proper neurotransmitter function and adaptation to stress. Increased copper and decreased zinc may lead to symptoms of anxiety.
I run trace mineral labs for my patients to see if this is a factor in their case. If it is, oysters are packed with zinc! This superfood of the sea is a great way to balance the proper trace mineral ratio and your stress levels. It’s also important to note that foods like grains and legumes contain phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that can bind to zinc and block its absorption.
2. Chamomile Tea
Sip on this natural anti-anxiety medicine for its natural calming effect. This soothing, mild tea was shown to significantly decrease anxiety symptoms in just a few weeks!
3. Rooibos Tea
Rooibos, or African red bush tea, is a delicious way to bring a natural calm to your day. Researchers are looking into its effect on cortisol. It seems to work by having a balancing effect on the body’s main stress hormone.
4. Full-Fat Kefir
In functional medicine, the gut is considered the “second brain” because it’s home to 95% of your “feel good” hormone seratonin. With more than 100 million neurons, your gut’s health is essential to manage anxiety.
Bacterial imbalances in your gut can alter brain chemistry, and kefir, an ancient fermented dairy drink, might just be the most powerful probiotic ever! It also has fat soluble vitamins A, D and K2, all important for brain health.
You know that tired feeling people feel after Thanksgiving dinner? It’s actually from the tryptophan in the turkey. Tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps you to feel calm. Tryptophan in the form of meat, has been shown to reduce anxiety disorders!
Curcuminoids, the antioxidants in turmeric, have a neuroprotective quality and help enhance your mood. It was shown in a randomized controlled trialto be an effective option for major depressive disorder, which is closely linked to anxiety disorders.
7. Organ Meats
If you eat meat, organ meats are some of the best sources of nutrients needed to beat anxiety, like zinc and vitamin D. They also contain copious amounts of choline, needed for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Liver is also abundant in B vitamins, which are needed for methylation, a metabolic process in the body that is responsible for proper synthesis of neurotransmitters that regulate mood. Homocysteine levels and MTHFR mutations are two tests that I run to ensure optimal neurotransmitter metabolism and methylation.
This superfruit is great for brain health and anxiety. They contain potassium which helps naturally lower blood pressure. Avocados also contain beneficial B vitamins and monounsaturated fats that are needed for neurotransmitter and brain health.
9. Dark Chocolate
Science has vindicated chocolate lovers everywhere. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology revealed that people who drank a dark chocolate drink, equal to about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate per day, felt calmer than those who did not.
This sulfur-rich vegetable also contains the specifically beneficial B vitamin, folic acid. Low levels of folic acid are linked to neurotransmitter impairment, which can lead to anxiety. A 5.3-ounce serving provides 60% of the recommended daily allowance for folic acid! It also contains moderate amounts of potassium, which can lower blood pressure.
11. Adaptogenic Herbs
One common hormonal signaling pathway dysfunction I find in patients struggling with anxiety disorders is the brain-adrenal axis. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is part of your sympathetic “flight-or-fight ” response and something, and can play a role in adrenal fatigue. Stress hormones, like cortisol, can cause seratonin receptors to become less sensitive to activation. Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, rhodiola and holy basil are some of the tools I use to optimize brain-adrenal function in patients.
12. Leafy Greens
If you struggle with stress and anxiety increase the greens! Plant foods like Swiss chard and spinach are rich in magnesium, the natural “chill pill,” which also helps regulate the brain-adrenal axis.
13. Fatty Meat
Inflammation is one factor when it comes to brain health and anxiety. Omega-3 fats have been shown to decrease anxiety. Omega-rich foods like Alaskan salmon and grass-fed beef can help decrease inflammation and help cortisol and adrenaline from spiking.