One-third of Americans will experience prolonged anxiety at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. While treatment once largely focused on medication and therapy, research suggests food and nutrients should play a role too.
This is because inflammation is often a root cause or underlying contributor to anxiety. Chronic inflammation causes changes in brain communication and neurotransmitter functioning that affects mood, emotional reactions, and memory.
Eating foods that reduce inflammation and supply brain-specific nutrients may improve anxiety symptoms. Try adding these seven anti-inflammatory foods to your diet.
Low magnesium levels are associated with an increased likelihood of both anxiety and depression. Research suggests that increasing magnesium intake can ease anxiety. Almonds are a top source, providing 20% of the recommended daily value (DV) in a 1-ounce serving. Other good sources of magnesium are cashews, peanuts, and leafy greens like spinach.
Eggs are a source of the anti-inflammatory nutrient choline. Choline is a component of acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter involved in memory and mood. Low choline levels are associated with higher anxiety levels. Two eggs contain 50% DV for choline.
Higher intake of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA is associated with a lower risk of anxiety (and may also ease existing anxiety). These fatty acids ease neuroinflammation in the brain and enhance neuron communication. DHA and EPA are only found in fish with a higher fat content, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, and sea bass, so try to get two to three servings of these a week.
4. Probiotic-rich foods
Gut health influences the ability of inflammation to develop, which means it also influences risk for mental health issues like anxiety. Strengthening the gut’s microbe barrier by eating certain “good” bacterial strains can help prevent inflammatory compounds from entering the body and may decrease anxiety. While research is limited, two kinds of foods that do appear to help anxiety are fermented foods (such as sauerkraut and kimchi) and dairy products (such as yogurt) that contain Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
Eating antioxidant-rich foods is vital, and blueberries are packed with polyphenolic compounds that act as antioxidants to protect brain cells from free radicals. These compounds also ease neuroinflammation and promote proper brain functioning, particularly during stressful periods.
According to a recent study, leafy greens like spinach are rich in nutrients specifically associated with mental health. This makes them a top choice to help prevent or ease conditions like anxiety and depression. Spinach and other leafy greens provide minerals like folate and magnesium, and include vitamin C and beta carotene, which ease current inflammation.
7. Lean animal proteins
Inadequate intake of vitamins B6 and B12 can contribute to mental health issues like anxiety because they are needed to make neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine (which control mood and cognition). Getting enough B6 and B12 can be difficult, but lean animal proteins like beef, pork and chicken are a good source of both.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)
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