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Anxiety Disorder – Where does food fit in?


We are suffering a huge increase in the amount of anxiety today. Problems range from social anxiety to a mixture of anxiety and depression. People worry about money, politics, safety and the future. How can we fix ourselves without resorting to benzos and other sedatives?

What’s happening in the brain with anxiety?

Well, it’s not just you have an anxious personality, research has shown that there’s actually an imbalance of your brain hormones going on as well. MRIs have shown that people with anxiety have an overactive emotional centre.

The limbic system of the brain combines emotions and memories and so when its overactive, we get into a vicious cycle of worrying, reliving anxious or upsetting images from the past and memories of past failures. Low self-esteem is often the end result.

The brain hormones responsible for this are adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. Adrenaline is released when we feel fear – it’s our ‘fight or flight’ hormone. But we need other hormones to balance it out.

Dopamine, our excitement hormone, also plays its part. Our dopamine, surprisingly, helps us make rapid decisions and plan our escape. So when you are being chased by a wooly mammoth, dopamine helps us rapidly work out the best method to get to safety.

Often our dopamine is low through poor food and lack of nutrients, and so we have little help to work out our problems. The end result is endless worry without clear solutions, descending into panic attacks.

Dopamine is particularly low in drug addiction, especially ice and other amphetamines. So anxiety and panic attacks plague recovering addicts.

Serotonin helps us balance anxiety by counteracting adrenaline, and we see raised levels in anxiety. So our brain is working hard to fix things but can’t get there without the dopamine. What we need is the right building blocks to boost or dopamine and balance our brain.

Food plays a part

We get the right building blocks from food. Research has shown that people who eat lots of sugar are often subject to bouts of anxiety.

Cut out the bad foods

Sugar and lots of processed foods are the main culprits here. They ramp up inflammation and have little in the way of nutrients. I would also try going wheat free, as wheat has chemicals like cannabinoids which play havoc with our moods – giving us highs and lows.

Add in the right building blocks

Zinc and magnesium are vital minerals which our brains need to build hormones. Get zinc from organic red meat, pumpkin seeds and delicious seafood, like oysters. Magnesium comes packaged in green leafy vegetables and delicious cacao. Normal chocolate bars don’t have much cacao in them. So have the chocolate, just make sure it’s raw and dark.

Omega 3 is the right essential fatty acid to calm your brain. Without it your nerves are exposed and irritable. So take those krill or fish oils – they’re no use sitting in the cupboard.

The bottom line

Food plays an important part in the battle to beat anxiety. Make sure your diet is helping you not holding you back

Talk soon

Dr Shirley MD