By Michelle Shapiro and Nicki Parlitsis | Read Time: 11 Minutes
Physical issues can be a root cause of anxiety
Conventional anxiety treatments tend to involve a top-down approach, which uses only psychological interventions to relieve physical anxiety symptoms. At Michelle Shapiro Nutrition LLC, we take a bottom-up approach to combat symptoms of anxiety. This means we target the BODY to help the BRAIN have less anxiety.
We use nutrition and lifestyle to address the root causes of anxiety, which can vary from person to person. There can also be a feedback loop in which the mental symptoms worsen the physical symptoms and vice-versa.
For this reason, addressing BOTH the mental components as well as the physical can be important in relieving chronic anxiety symptoms.
A lack of certain nutrients can increase anxiety symptoms
Important neurotransmitters (signaling molecules in the brain like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine) are created either directly from, or with the help of, nutrients that come from food. The brain’s function can be affected if we’re not eating a balanced diet including high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Nutrients are the foundation of life itself. They help our bodies create essential neurotransmitters, hormones, and proteins, and keep every system in our body running smoothly. Thus, lacking certain nutrients (omega-3 fats, vitamins, minerals, and protein) can play a huge role in keeping anxiety at bay.
Note: It’s important to remember that these nutrients DO NOT operate alone!! Meaning, the goal is NOT to buy a bunch of supplements. Eating whole foods is the best way to nourish your body and actually absorb these nutrients in the way they’re intended. Of course, there are instances where supplementation IS beneficial. We work one-on-one with our clients to personalize their treatment plans to their individual biology.
3 Types of Essential Nutrients that Help Prevent Anxiety
Below is a list of nutrients that, if deficient in the body, can lead to symptoms of anxiety.
NOTE: Taking some of these in the form of supplements MAY interact with medications or cause harmful effects in the body. We always recommend choosing whole food sources of these nutrients.
Sticking to their natural food sources is the best way to ensure adequate intake of these nutrients unless working with a knowledgeable provider who provides alternative recommendations.
1. Essential Vitamins for Mental Health
- Vitamin D is available in foods, but the BEST way to get enough is through exposure to natural sunlight. The darker your skin and the further you live from the equator, the longer you need to spend in the sun to make enough Vitamin D. Vitamin D is found in seafood including cod liver oil, trout, salmon, tuna, and sardines.
- Vitamin B12 is found in animal products including beef liver, clams, tuna, salmon, red meat, yogurt, cheese, eggs, and poultry.
- Folate is essential during pregnancy but is also necessary for those who are not pregnant. It can be found in beef liver, dark leafy greens, beans, peanuts, avocado, and whole grains.
2. Essential Minerals for Mental Health
- Magnesium is found in nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashews), seeds (pumpkin, chia), beans (black, kidney), soybeans/edamame, spinach, potato, brown rice, and yogurt. There are many different types of magnesium supplements that have different functions in the body. So, be sure to ask for a recommendation from a provider or do your research before purchasing.
- Iron is found in both animal and plant foods, but animal sources are much more easily absorbed in the body. Animal sources include oysters, clams, mussels, beef, chicken, organ meats, sardines, and tuna. Plant sources include beans, lentils, spinach, tofu, chickpeas, tomatoes, and potatoes. Vitamin C can increase the absorption of iron from plant foods. Vegetarians or vegans can try pairing sources of iron with sources of vitamin C (peppers, guava, orange, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and brussels sprouts).
- Lithium is found in eggs, meat, fish, milk, and vegetables.
- Copper is found in oysters, baking chocolate, potatoes, mushrooms, cashews, crab, sunflower seeds, turkey, chicken, tofu, chickpeas, salmon, avocado, figs, spinach, and asparagus.
- Zinc is primarily found in oysters. It can also be found in beef, blue crab, oats, pumpkin seeds, pork, turkey, shrimp, lentils, and sardines.
- Manganese content is highest in mussels. It can also be found in nuts (hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts), rice, oysters, clams, legumes (chickpeas, soybeans, lentils, kidney beans), spinach, pineapple, oatmeal, black tea, potato, squash, and blueberries.
3. Types of Healthy Fats for Mental Health
Healthy fats are important for reducing inflammation and supporting brain function. The ideal ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats is 2-to-1. However, the average American eats a ratio of 20-to-1! This means that we need to make an effort to increase our intake of omega-3 fats to get closer to the optimal ratio.
- Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) include olive oil, avocados, nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts), and seeds (pumpkin, sesame).
- Omega-3 Fats include seeds (chia, flax), fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, trout, sea bass)
- Omega-6 Fats (in the right amounts) include walnuts, tofu, eggs, meat (ideally from grass-fed/finished organic meats)
Follow the basic dietary guidelines as follows:
- 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- 2-3 servings of cold-water fatty fish per week
- Organic and evolutionary appropriate options when available (especially for animal products)
Sticking to these guidelines will likely provide you with adequate amounts of each of these nutrients. Emphasizing whole, unprocessed foods will provide your body with the nutrients it needs for optimal mental and physical health.
Not sure you can incorporate these changes into your current lifestyle?
By working with one of our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists at Michelle Shapiro Nutrition LLC, you will receive personalized recommendations and one-on-one nutritional counseling to help you reach attainable goals in a way that fits your lifestyle.
Book a FREE discovery call with one of our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists
Get holistic anxiety and panic attack support
We created an online self-guided program called Anxiety Proof to help you reverse your anxiety using a functional nutrition and naturopathic approach. Anxiety Proof is a fully online, self-guided program that you can do at your own pace. Using this simple, holistic approach, you can become Anxiety Proof for good.