Over the past three decades, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has become increasingly popular. For people with anxiety, complementary health approaches (CHAs) have become a viable option. 

In the treatment of anxiety disorders, the goal of CAM is to improve overall health while relieving symptoms. People often report that they use CAM because of fear of side effects from prescription medications, which can range from direct systemic toxicity, to allergic reaction, to presence of contaminants, to interactions with prescribed medications. 

CAM treatments can be particularly beneficial in reducing anxiety, but—similar to conventional treatments—it may take time to see results. If you’re having a panic attack or other severe symptoms of anxiety, CAM treatments alone may not be enough; especially in the beginning while you’re developing a treatment plan. 

CAM therapies often work best when used alongside traditional treatment, such as psychotherapy. When a nonconventional treatment is used in conjunction with a traditional one, it is called a “complementary health approach” (CHA). One of the most useful CHAs is an anti-anxiety diet. 

Diet and Anxiety 

One of the most recognized factors in the management of mental health is the role of nutrition. The association between diet and mental health is growing as the field of nutritional psychology develops. 

Researchers have long known that nutrition has a substantial physical impact, but it is the mental impacts of nutrition that have gained attention in recent years. As it turns out, the food you eat directly affects the function of your brain and mood. Eating high-quality foods that contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and improves its performance. Conversely, a diet high in processed foods can impair brain functions and worsen mental health. 

People are learning that one of the best ways to reduce anxiety lies not in the medicine cabinet, but in the refrigerator. By creating your own personal anti-anxiety diet you may be able to successfully fight off anxiety. 

Dietary changes can be highly beneficial in the treatment of anxiety, yet most people never considerate it. Research has found that diet quality is poorer in persons with anxiety disorders. The more severe and chronic the symptoms, the poorer the diet quality. 

There are several important mechanisms when it comes to how diet affects anxiety. For one, eating a whole foods diet with minimal or no processed foods has been found to help anxiety due to the large amount of nutrients they contain. 

The classic well-balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats remains a practical strategy for those who struggle with anxiety. By avoiding processed foods and foods high in sugar, the body experiences fewer high and low blood sugar levels, which helps to further reduce feelings of anxiety. If you’ve ever had a sugar rush, you know it can mimic a panic attack. 

Over the past decade, research has exploded with studies demonstrating the positive effect diet has on anxiety disorders. For example, a 2010 study of 1,046 women ages 20-93 with anxiety and depressive disorders determined that the quality of a diet was directly correlated with anxiety. 

The researchers found that a dietary pattern characterized by vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains was associated with lower odds for both anxiety and depressive disorders. In contrast, a Western diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products, and beer was associated with a higher incidence of anxiety and depression. 

There are several diets that contain elements of an anti-anxiety diet, all of which have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Of course, there’s classic anti-inflammatory diet. Some of the other beneficial diets in this respect are the Mediterranean style diet, the ketogenic diet and the SOS-free diet. All have features that are known to prevent anxiety and reduce symptoms. There will be more on these diets in future posts.

Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.


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