Anxiety and Stress: It’s All Connected
Throughout our lives, there are times in which we experience elevated levels of stress. Stress can lead to many negatives biochemical responses, including anxiety. Stress can be physical, it can be mental, it can be emotional; there are no boundaries as to how stress can manifest.
There is also an endless list of things that can cause stress, as it truly varies from person to person. It can be outside pressures, overwhelming responsibility, feelings of uncertainty, dramatic changes in life, illness, etc… Hard times throughout life can cause an increase in stress hormones, and one of the main symptoms of stress is anxiety. About 18% of the US adult population are affected by anxiety disorders (1). And while anxiety can be treated by one’s own self, the majority of those affected don’t reach out for help or even know where to start.
An easy place that everyone can start at is with themselves. Things that we can do to help reduce our anxiety and stress is to adapt our lifestyles to counteract these negativities. Not everyone knows, but our gut has a biochemical connection with our brain.
The foods that we eat not only have an effect on our nutrition, but also our mental state. Did you know that about 95% of our serotonin, a hormone associated with happiness and well-being, is produced in our gut (2)! By putting the right foods into our bodies, as well as taking part in certain activities, we can help regulate our moods and feelings of stress and anxiety.
Top 10 Natural Foods to Reduce Anxiety and Stress
Whether it be the omega-3s, the vitamins and minerals, tryptophan or antioxidants, the nutrition inside our food effects the biochemical compositions of our brain and, thus, our body. The activities that we engage in on a daily basis also affects our minds and bodies, and you can check out the top 10 activities to help reduce your anxiety and stress here!
Here are 10 natural foods that you can introduce into your lifestyle that can help reduce anxiety and stress!
Salmon, in specific wild salmon, contains high doses of omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D. The specific omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have been linked to lower levels of anxiety. This link isn’t exclusive to just people who are experiencing anxiety, but also for those who are looking to prevent it!
A study noticed that the consumption of Atlantic salmon, over a course of time, lead to a decreased state of anxiety (3). Multiple other studies have noted that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) lead to decreased levels of anxiety, lowered inflammation, and helped prevent long-term anxiety disorders (4, 5, 6, 7). Other studies have linked Vitamin D deficiency to anxiety and other mental disorders, so increased Vitamin D dosages have been seen as helpful (8, 9, 10).
There’s no need to feel bad about that piece of dark chocolate that you’ve been saving for a rainy day, as there are many untold positives to dark chocolate! Focusing on mood, dark chocolate has been seen to help promote healthy brain function. Dark chocolate contains an antioxidant, known as a flavanol, amongst other beneficial molecules.
Dark chocolate has been linked to positive improvements in mood and cognition under stressful situations (11, 12). Another study also linked improvements in anxiety levels amongst people with low stress/anxiety, showing that its consumption can be beneficial to practically anyone (13). Multiple studies have linked the flavonoids present in dark chocolate to elevated/enhanced positive moods and lessened stress (14, 15).
Long gone are the days that turkey was just for thanksgiving day, as we’ve come to understand how turkey is a healthier, leaner meat. This epiphany comes at a good time, because turkey has been associated with reduced anxiety and reduced stress. Turkey contains a specific amino acid called tryptophan, which is needed/a precursor to the body producing more serotonin, the happy-go-lucky feeling neurotransmitter (16, 17).
Tryptophan is found in other foods like nuts and bananas, but typically has the highest concentration in turkey. Multiple studies have linked tryptophan to reduced levels of anxiety and stress, with an increased feeling of calmness (18, 19). Another study linked tryptophan to improved cognition and mood, due to its link to serotonin production (20).
Tea (Chamomile + Green)
For thousands of years, civilizations have turned towards tea, a warm beverage to sooth any situation. In this case, chamomile tea and green tea have been linked to numerous health benefits, including reductions in anxiety and stress.
Chamomile has been linked to having anti-inflammatory properties, due to flavonoids in its molecular makeup. Inflammation has been linked to anxiety and stress (21), so the anti-inflammatory properties of chamomile are useful to combat against it (22). Other studies have linked chamomile to reduced levels of anxiety in individuals diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, as well as those without the disorder (23, 24, 25).
Another ancient favorite, green tea has had numerous studies linking it to reductions in anxiety and stress. The major component of green tea is an amino acid known as L-theanine. This amino acid has been linked to improvements in brain health and reduced anxiety (26, 27). L-theanine in green tea has been linked to reduced stress, in specific reduced heart rates and decreased levels of cortisol (28, 29). L-theanine has also been linked to elevated feelings of relaxation and happiness, thus reducing stress and anxiety (30). Green tea also contains an antioxidant known as EGCG, short for epigallocatechin gallate. The EGCG present in green tea has been linked to reduced levels of stress (31), as well as properties that can reduce anxiety (32).
Avocados have had there share in the lime light, whether it be spread onto toast or thrown into a salad. But avocados are here to stay, and for a good reason too! On top of the many health benefits that are hidden inside avocados, they also contain vitamins and minerals that have been effective at reducing stress and anxiety.
Avocados are filled with good stuff, including antioxidants that help prevent neurodegenerative disorders (33). They also contains many vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, etc. (34). The vitamins and minerals present in avocados have been linked to increased levels of serotonin, reduced anxiety and stress, lowered blood pressure and positive cognitive growth (35, 36, 37, 38, 39).
Just like tea, turmeric has been a staple in many cultures for hundreds of years. In recent years, the health benefits of turmeric have been thoroughly studied, and many of those benefits can be linked back to one of turmeric’s main ingredients, curcumin. Curcumin is an antioxidant that helps promote brain health, increase omega-3 productions and decrease inflammation.
Studies have linked curcumin to increases of DHA, an omega-3 in your brain, which can help prevent against anxiety (40, 41). The curcumin in turmeric has also been linked to having anti-inflammatory properties, in which inflammation has been linked to anxiety disorders (42, 43). Other studies have also linked curcumin to overall anti-anxiety traits in individuals (44, 45). Turmeric has been proven to have many positive health effects, including reducing stress and anxiety (46), so it won’t hurt to throw in a dash of it every now and then into your meal!
As mentioned at the start of the article, your gut and your brain have a biochemical connection with one another. In order to have a healthy kind, you must have a healthy gut (47). And one way to maintain a healthy gut is through the ingestion of probiotics, present in most fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc (48, 49)…
Yogurt contains probiotics like Bifidobacteria and Lactobaccilus, which have been linked to anti-anxiety effects (50). Another study linked the daily consumption of yogurt with your brain and body’s natural ability to reduce stress (51). Due to yogurt’s high probiotic count of beneficial bacteria for your gut, it’s a recommended food to mix into your diet to help reduce stress and reduce anxiety (52, 53, 54).
Sometimes a controversial stalky green vegetable at the dinner table, asparagus has a stronghold of vitamins and minerals. More than just antioxidants and vitamin B6, asparagus contains another B vitamin known as folate. Folate helps with the production of dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure and feel-good emotions.
Studies have shown that a lack of folate in the body is linked to increased stress and depressive qualities (55). This is why having sufficient amounts of folate is so important in order help maintain and reduce anxiety and stress. Asparagus has healthy amount of folate per serving, as studies have shown reduced anxiety with the daily intake of asparagus (56).
Almonds have been a tasty snack for many, many years, containing a great source of healthy fats, fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. In specific, almonds are a good source of vitamin E, magnesium and zinc, which have all been studied to be helpful in treating and reducing anxiety and stress in individuals.
Studies have linked a lack of vitamin E to be related to certain anxiety-related disorders (57). Adding some vitamin E, through almonds, into your diet can help with reducing some of that stress and anxiety (58). Another study linked the lack of zinc, amongst other minerals, to anxiety symptoms (59). Studies have also linked the intake of zinc to help reduce anxiety and reduce stress in individuals (60, 61). Finally, a lack of magnesium has been linked to induced anxiety (62). Introducing magnesium is crucial to help reduce anxiety, as well as increase serotonin (63).
Whether it’s blended up into your green smoothie, or made into a salad, kale has been making its way into homes everywhere… and for a good reason too! Kale has certain vitamins and minerals that other leafy greens seem to be lacking. And those certain vitamins and minerals have been shown to be effective at reducing stress and anxiety.
Kale has a good amount of glycine, an amino acid, per serving and has been linked to reducing anxiety and improving calmness (64, 65). Kale also contains beta-carotene, an antioxidant that has been linked to helping with inflammation (66), which helps with reducing stress and anxiety. Kale also contains a healthy amount of vitamin C, which has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety and stress amongst individuals (67).