Craig Hudson, MD, FRCP(c)
Anxiety is a funny thing. If relaxed enough, you may, when faced with stress, become sharper, brighter, and better able to tackle the stress you fac.
Anxiety is a funny thing. If relaxed enough, you may, when faced with stress, become sharper, brighter, and better able to tackle the stress you face.
It's not so funny, however, if the stressor causes you to feel anxious and overwhelmed, bringing unpleasant physical and emotional responses that diminish your ability to deal with the pressure. Simple changes to your diet, including adding natural supplements that act as stress reducers, can help.
Carbs Control Moods
We may know intuitively that starchy "comfort food" somehow produces a sense of calm - but how? The answer was revealed by two nutritional scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology more than thirty years ago when they gave insulin to mice, hoping to reduce the amino acid concentration in their blood. To the researchers' surprise, the amino acid tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin (a brain compound which produces a sense of calm) actually increased in concentration in response to the insulin. Follow-up studies with carbohydrates, which stimulate insulin production by the pancreas, have the same effect on amino concentrations in the blood and brain.
This observation explains the tryptophan paradox: only foods rich in carbohydrates increase brain levels of tryptophan and, in turn, serotonin. This finding need not be heresy to those that follow current high-protein diets, but it does explain the increased rates of depression, anxiety, and insomnia in those that avoid all carbohydrates. A small amount of dietary carbohydrates, such as 2 graham crackers eaten 30 minutes before a stressful situation, can help lower anxiety levels.
Not only does eating fish reduce your risk for Alzheimer's disease, but according to studies reported in 2003 by the US National Institutes of Health, it reduces anxiety and depression as well.
Not all fish, however, are equal. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is the long-chain unsaturated fatty acid that is found in highest concentrations in fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel (pacific and jack but not king), and herring that inhabit the cold deep ocean. Tuna, haddock, and halibut vary in concentration of EPA, but generally are not rich in this fatty acid. Farmed fish may not offer the same concentrations of EPA as wild fish; it can depend on what the fish were fed.
If you don't like the taste of fish, take salmon oil capsules, available at your local health food store. One gram of fish oil per day is enough for most people, but higher dosages may be required if you suffer from a severe and persistent mental illness. Check with your natural health care provider first.
Many herbs are available for the treatment of anxiety including lemon balm, peppermint, and valerian root. St. John's Wort, like many other herbs, is effective, but is not a quick fix. While it raises serotonin levels in the brain, it takes weeks or months to do so. (Note: St. John's Wort should be avoided if you are already taking an antidepressant. It can also lead to light sensitivity). To choose a herbal remedy that is best for you, consult with a herbalist or naturopath.