5 Foods to Reduce Anxiety

By Georgia Hartmann

Naturopath, Nutritionist & Women’s Health Expert


Anxiety is the most prevalent psychological disorder, affecting around 1 in 4 adults. It is more than feeling stressed or worried; it’s associated with symptoms of: [1,2] 


  • Excessive worry
  • Catastrophizing or obsessive thinking
  • Trembling
  • Restlessness or feeling tense
  • Racing heart
  • Tightening of chest
  • Rapid breathing
  • Panic attacks
  • Hot and cold flushes

What we know about anxiety is that it is associated with inflammation within the brain. Such inflammation disrupts the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamineーthose which make us feel happy. [3,4]


We also know that anxiety is associated with inflammation within the gut. Specifically, an imbalance between beneficial and harmful bacteria within the gut increases inflammation which is then transported along the gut-brain axis to affect mood, anxiety, and depression. [5-7]


Science shows us that by reducing inflammation within the brain and the gut, our mood and symptoms of anxiety can improve. One very cost-effective way of doing this is by looking at the foods we eat. [8,9]


Here are my top five foods to reduce anxiety:


  1. Leafy green vegetables 

Leafy greens such as spinach and kale are rich in antioxidants and magnesium, which are key constituents for reducing inflammation and improving mental health.[10]


Research published in the journal of Neurology shows that just 1 serving of leafy green vegetables per day (equates to just ½ cup cooked spinach or kale) helps to slow cognitive decline associated with aging. [11]


  1. Blueberries

Blueberries contain flavonoids, which not only give them their gorgeous colour, but also reduce inflammation and stimulate blood flow and neural signaling within the brain. This has been shown to directly result in improved mood, cognition, and memory. [12,13]



  1. Avocado

Avocados are a source of healthy fats. Considering more than 60% of the brain is made of fat, avocados make an obvious food choice for mental health. Avocados also contain almost 20 vitamins and minerals, all of which are important in reducing inflammation and protecting against neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. [14]


  1. Salmon

Salmon is a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, that reduce inflammation and oxidation within the brain and modulate neurotransmitters to support a healthy mood. [15]


Research published in Brain, Behaviour & Immunity shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and anxiety among medical students experiencing elevated stress in the days before an exam. [16]


  1. Fermented foods

Fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso, contain probiotic and prebiotic components that enhance the intestinal barrier in the gut to decrease inflammation. [17]


As the gut microbiome is responsible for the production of a wide array of neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine, the consumption of fermented foods is beneficial in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. [17,18]



References:
[1] Bandelow, B., et al. Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 2015. 17(3). PMID: 26487813.
[2] Beyond Blue. Anxiety: Signs and Symptoms. Retrieved from here.
[3] Felger, J.C., et al. Imaging the Role of Inflammation in Mood and Anxiety-related Disorders. Current Neuropharmacology, 2018. 16(5). PMID: 29173175.
[4] González, R., et al. Effects of flavonoids and other polyphenols on inflammation. Critical Reviews in Food Science & Nutrition, 2011. 51(4). PMID: 21432698.
[5] Bannaga, A.S., et al. Inflammatory bowel disease and anxiety: links, risks, and challenges faced. Clinical & Experimental Gastroenterology, 2015. PMID: 25848313.
[6] Bear, T.L.K., et al. The Role of the Gut Microbiota in Dietary Interventions for Depression and Anxiety. Advances in Nutrition, 2020. 11(4). PMID: 32149335.
[7] Li, X-J., et al. Bidirectional Brain-gut-microbiota Axis in increased intestinal permeability induced by central nervous system injury. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 2020. 26(8). PMID: 32472633.

[8] Costello, H., et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of the association between peripheral inflammatory cytokines and generalised anxiety disorder. BMJ Open, 2019. 9(7). PMID: 31326932.
[9] Opie, R.S., et al. The impact of whole-of-diet interventions on depression and anxiety: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Public Health Nutrition, 2015. 18(11). PMID: 25465596.
[10] Brookie, K.L., et al. Intake of Raw Fruits and Vegetables Is Associated With Better Mental Health Than Intake of Processed Fruits and Vegetables. Frontiers in Psychology, 2018. PMID: 29692750.
[11] Morris, M.C., et al. Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline: A Prospective Study. Neurology, 2018. 90(3). PMID: 29263222.

[12] Khalid, S., et al. Effects of Acute Blueberry Flavonoids on Mood in Children and Young Adults. Nutrients, 2017. 9(2). PMID: 28230732.
[13] Travica, N., et al. The effect of blueberry interventions on cognitive performance and mood: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Brain, Behaviour & Immunity, 2020. PMID: 30999017.

[14] Ameer, K. Avocado as a Major Dietary Source of Antioxidants and Its Preventive Role in Neurodegenerative Diseases. Advances in Neurobiology, 2016. PMID: 27651262.
[15] Su, K-P., et al. Association of Use of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids With Changes in Severity of Anxiety Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Network Open, 2018. 1(5). PMID: 30646157.
[16] Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K., et al. Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behaviour & Immunity, 2011. 25(8). PMID: 21784145.
[17] Aslam, H., et al. Fermented foods, the gut and mental health: a mechanistic overview with implications for depression and anxiety. Nutritional Neuroscience, 2018. PMID: 30415609.

[18] Melini, F., et al. Health-Promoting Components in Fermented Foods: An Up-to-Date Systematic Review. Nutrients, 2019. 11(5). PMID: 31137859.


About the author:
Having been diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure two years prior to conceiving her first child naturally, Georgia’s passion lies within helping women overcome their hormonal imbalances through the blend of conventional and complementary medicine. For additional support, you can contact Georgia via:

IG: georgiahartmann_naturopath

W: www.georgiahartmann.com

E: hello@georgiahartmann.com