Anxiety strikes us all at some point. A certain amount of anxiety is completely normal – nervousness before an exam, avoiding that dark alleyway… anxiety keeps us safe in times of danger and keeps us alert when situations require it. We wouldn’t last long if we launched into the world completely fearless!
This issue lies when the anxiety dominates our thoughts - overwhelming feelings of fear and lack of control take over, and the world appears to be a very dark, threatening place.
Standard treatment for anxiety is often focused on mental and emotional support - counselling, and positive psychology tools such as CBT and meditation. One exciting area gaining momentum in the treatment of anxiety is the use of diet and nutrition. The food we eat has a dramatic effect on our mood and emotional wellbeing. Numerous research studies have demonstrated the influence of individual nutrients on anxiety and depression.
Could making some simple but important dietary changes improve or even eliminate our anxiety? Here, I will give an overview of just a handful of some of the most powerful nutrients that may help:
Often referred to as ‘Nature’s Tranquiliser’, magnesium has a well-deserved reputation for supporting all manner of physical and mental stresses.
Magnesium plays a role in biochemical reactions throughout the body, including our brain. Without magnesium, the toll on our bodies' cells when under stress is dramatic. From a mental health point of view, numerous studies have demonstrated its important influence on anxiety. However, this vital nutrient is often deficient in the modern diet – our soils are mineral-deficient due to large-scale industrial farming, and our diets are loaded with nutrient-poor processed foods. It is estimated that most people do not even reach the bare minimum RDA for Magnesium consumption. This is bad news for your mood.
Taking an easily absorbed magnesium supplement, such as magnesium taurate or magnesium threonate, is helpful. From a dietary point of view, good food sources of magnesium include vegetables - especially dark leafy greens; nuts, seeds, avocados, dried fruit and, of course, dark chocolate!
Folate and B12
Folate and vitamin B12 are two other vital nutrients that have wide-reaching influence on the nervous system and mood.
Folate and B12 both belong to the B-Complex group of vitamins, are they are hard-working nutrients. Together, they have major influence on how our bodies detoxify, and low folate and B12 have been found to be a common marker in patients suffering with anxiety. Similarly, low levels of these nutrients trigger inflammation, through elevated homocysteine, leading some researchers to suggest that anxiety and depression are in fact signs of systematic inflammation rather than stand-alone mental health disorders.
Interestingly, folate food sources are the same for magnesium above, whereas B12 can be found in liver, meats, dairy and eggs. If you want to add a supplement, it is best to select methylated versions of both folate (methylfolate) and B12 (methylcolbalamin) to ensure they are readily absorbed.
Omega oils
Omega oils have long held a reputation for being ‘food for the brain’, but the link between omega oils and anxiety is less well known. Yet researchers have frequently found significant improvement in both anxiety and depression through increasing dietary omega oils. And the reason? Once again, it appears to be inflammation.
In the modern diet, we are seeing an increase in dietary omega 6 oils which, when coupled with insulin-triggering processed foods leads to an inflammatory response in the body. Regulating the omega balance by increasing omega 3 oils appears to reduce this inflammatory effect. Optimise your body’s omega balance by regularly consuming oily fish, and consider adding fish oils or cod liver oil supplements.
When we realise that when our brain, like any other organ in the body, is starved of its fuel it will malfunction, and it will do so through mental health issues such as anxiety. Supporting your mood by eating a healthy diet is an essential key to emotional wellbeing.
Fiona O’Farrell is an Acupuncturist and Alternative Health Practitioner, and runs a vibrant practice in Greystones, Co. Wicklow specialising in women’s health and wellbeing. For more information see
Natural Health Therapist