The current mental health movement has without a doubt sparked curiosity and conversation in areas that many were not previously aware of, bringing a positive, sometimes conflicting, but forward thinking change. Overall, this has brought to the surface more of a cultural understanding of emotions, trauma, and even the physical side of mental health and potential root causes that live in the body. I do want you to walk away from reading this article with an understanding that mental health is probably more multifaceted than you originally thought, and it never hurts to be open and embrace all sides, especially if there is research to back it up.
About a year ago, I kept hearing Dr. Daniel Amen on podcasts that I frequently listened to, and was intrigued by his big belief that “brain health is mental health”, which much of his content and approaches to clinical practice stems from. Then I thought, it’s almost crazy to me that this almost seems revolutionary and that we don’t talk about mental health in this way already. This goes to show how separate and tabooed mental health treatment really is compared to traditional health care, and tells me that we have a long way to go. As a dietitian, I’ve seen the struggle for the push for the medical community to see our value regarding something as obvious as chronic disease, so making space for nutrition in mental health treatment will definitely take some work and advocacy.
In this article, I want to address anxiety and how nutrition factors can all help self regulate and potentially address a root cause.
This is what I think of first when I think of self-regulation, nutrition and anxiety. This is an area that we are continuously learning about, and still has so much potential for further research. Overall, we are learning that the communication between the microbiome and central nervous system can work both ways. Current research supports that dysbiosis and inflammation of the gut have been linked to anxiety, and can even be a root cause. There is truly so much to gut health, but overall here are a few target areas:
Like anything, it takes time to really heal your gut and create a supportive gut environment. That said, gut health shouldn’t be overlooked with anxiety and it is important to give yourself some time and grace.
Magnesium, B Vitamins and Vitamin C
Although many nutrients play some role in your stress response, all of these are of higher priority and we actually usually run through more of them during times of high stress. Naturally, it is helpful to be mindful and intentional of these nutrients to truly feel empowered with our anxiety and stress response. Let’s start with one of my personal favorites- magnesium. I am big on food sources (beans, nuts, greens, and avocados to name a few), but with current farming practices (magnesium is more depleted in these foods than it has been historically) and the prevalence of dysregulated nervous systems, I recommend supplements for almost all of my clients. Although I like various forms of magnesium for different reasons, magnesium glycinate is my favorite broad spectrum magnesium supplement for anxiety, sleep, and much more. This can really help your body relax, help you get into deep or REM sleep, and support your stress response for the next day. An increasing amount of evidence shows the role of B vitamins in neurotransmitter production (such as the most famous one- serotonin) and nervous system regulation. There are multiple B vitamins (8 essential), yet many of these are found in food together and work together. When it comes to B vitamin supplements, it is helpful to look for methylated forms (for instance, B12 as methylcobalamin), as it is better absorbed by most of the population. Vitamin C is essential to the production and management of cortisol, our stress hormone, and I really do encourage food sources (a lot of your bright oranges, yellows, and reds).
Putting It All Together
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I never don’t talk about blood sugar balance with any of my clients- and that is true for those trying to regulate their anxiety. Eating enough balanced meals and doing it consistently has a tremendous impact on making your body feel safe. Working with this, adding in the specific nutrients mentioned above, and really healing your gut takes time, but the increase of body awareness and wisdom through the process is a timeless and rewarding lifelong skill.