Fighting Anxiety with Food

How do you manage anxiety? Is it exercise, meditation, deep breathing? We all have tactics to reduce daily stress but for some people, anxiety can have crippling effects. For those, prescription medication is required and is a lifelong reality. Relief may have another component though. Food. Twenty percent of Americans suffer from debilitating anxiety and all fingers are pointing to processed foods.

Standard American Diet to Blame
The American diet is lacking in essential nutrients that literally feed the brain. In the past forty years, our diet has gone through radical changes resulting in high levels of inflammation throughout the body and particularly the brain. Subsidized farming is largely to blame. When soy and corn became America’s cash crops, body inflammation rose.  These ubiquitous foods are not only found in our food products but also the feed of the animals we eat. Corn and soy and other grains are high in omega 6 fatty acids, which are necessary components of a health diet but not at the levels we now consume them. Omega 6 fatty acids must be in balance with omega 3 fatty acids to mitigate inflammation. There are now findings that foods rich in omega 3s may act as antidepressants.

Less than forty years ago omega 3s were the most abundant fats in the world. Grazing animals would convert the plants they ate into omega 3s and then would be more absorbable for our bodies. Now when these same animals are fed grains, there is no source of omega 3s and the omega 6 in their feed dominates. The same goes for farm-raised fish fed similar grain.

Since the advent of subsidized farming, rates of anxiety and depression have continued to climb. Chris Kresser goes so far to say that depression is an inflammation problem. And in order to decrease that inflammation we must balance our omega 3 with our omega 6 intake. The imbalance is thought to be at the root of multiple health issues, including hormonal and neurological problems. Omega 3s help stabilize our neuronal cell membranes and may be helpful in treating attention deficit disorders, depression, bipolar disorders,and early dementia.

How Omega 3s Help the Brain
The brain is hyper-sensitive to inflammation and I’m not talking about the kind that results in a headache. But the kind that lies deeper in your cells. Omega 6s carry inflammatory hormones known as eicosanoids, which cause disrupted nerve signaling in the brain. Our brains are also composed of sixty percent fat, the most of any organ, and we need a steady supply of the right finds of fat from food to maintain it.

Omega 3 fatty acids are a family of naturally occurring fats and three of which are essential for human functioning, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Our bodies do not produce these in any form so they must be consumed through diet.  EPA and DHA are found in the brain. DHA is structural while EPA is anti-inflammatory. When EPA is low, inflammation increases and our bodies use up EPA quickly so it must be replenished often. Fatty fish is the best source of these omega 3s. The third type, ALA, is only found in plants and difficult to convert into the usable forms EPA and DHA.

Eat More Fish
Iceland has disproportionately low rates of seasonal affective disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and postpartum depression. Considering it’s cold climate and lack of sun this seems unlikely. The link is that Icelanders eat more fatty fish per capita than anywhere in the world. And for those that eat little fish these rates still apply. The omega 3s are abundant in dairy and in pastured animal meat too. Their grasses are quite rich in ALA which the animals are converting into EPA and DHA.

Omega 3-rich food sources are now being recommended by some psychiatrists for depression and anxiety. They are prescribe as a substitute or enhancer for antidepressant medications, 1 gram per day of EPA or EPA+DHA. The hope is that omega 3s will reduce prescription dosages since antidepressants can have uncomfortable side-effects like sexual dysfunction and diminished libido. An increased intake for EPA has been shown to improve abilities to handle stress and generate significant improvements in mood. Even “normal” individuals are shown to be happier and have a better capacity for stress when consuming higher levels of EPA.

To feed your brain and fight off neurological disease, consider adding more omega 3 sources to your meals.  Most successful research studies used two grams of EPA per day as their testing amount. That would be the equivalent to two pounds of salmon per day. That’s a lot of fish! And considering the environmental impact, our ocean supplies cannot account for that demand.  Instead of salmon, try fish eggs as an alternative bioavailable source of omega 3s. Just one teaspoon of caviar has the same nutritional benefit as 4 ounces of salmon.

Try these Yummy Omega 3 Rich Recipes!

Salmon Cakes 
Baked Salmon Cakes

 

 

 

 

 

Spicy Cajun Salmon DipSpicy Cajun Salmon Dip

 

 

 

 

Moroccan Spiced Sardines

Sardines in Spicy Moroccan Tomato Sauce


 

 

 

 

Resources:
Allport, Susan. The Queen of Fats: Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We Can Do to Replace Them

Wolfe, Liz. Eat the Yolks: Discover Paleo, fight food lies and reclaim your health

Miller, Daphne. The Jungle Effect: Healthiest Diets from Around the World–Why They Work and How to Make Them Work for You 

Is Depression a Disease or a Symptom of Inflammation? http://chriskresser.com/is-depression-a-disease-or-a-symptom-of-inflammation/

The Neuroscience Vitality Tip, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/vitality/201407/the-neuroscience-vitality-tip-5-omega-3-fatty-acids

Omega 3 and Brain Health, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-food/201106/omega-3-and-brain-health

Anxiety and Omega-3 Fatty Acids, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-zone/201201/anxiety-and-omega-3-fatty-acids

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution, http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3-fats/

Finding Calm in Magnesium

 

“It’s the most, wonderful time of the year!” Christmas songs will be ringing through my ears from now until New Years Day. They bring me a big, fat bowl of J-O-Y. Yet, I also lean on these tunes for emotional support and to help guide my mood. Type A during the holidays means creating dozens of DIY decorations, entertaining multiple times throughout the month, cooking exceptional meals, selecting the perfect presents and baking holiday treats for everyone I know. That’s quite the exhaustive list! So the songs tell me to be merry while I accomplish each item.

Merry for 30 days straight isn’t realistic. Relaxation must squeeze into the schedule if I want to make it through a sane person. Magnesium may be just the thing to help.

Epsom Salt
Magnesium Deficiency & Anxiety

Multiple studies have found a direct correlation between anxiety and magnesium deficiency. A higher dietary magnesium intake reduces stress levels and decreases chances of depression.  Over 6 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder, and those are just diagnosed cases. As magnesium decreases in the body, anxiety increases. In a Norway study of 5,700 adults, those with low magnesium were at higher risk of depressive disorders. We all know our society breeds stress with our go-go-go lifestyles. The American diet is also a cause for the increasing stress levels.

Today’s popular diet of calcium rich foods, high amounts of sugar and alcohol are working against us. We’re told to take extra doses of calcium but we need magnesium if we want to absorb it. Our bodies retain calcium better than magnesium so it’s important to regularly replenish those supplies. When we consume large amounts of sugar and alcohol, magnesium is needed to flush it through our systems and then the magnesium is excreted through the urine. Calcium is stored throughout, while magnesium is used to break down the cake and wine you had with dinner. It’s too focused on removing the toxins from your body and doesn’t have anything left to perform it’s other jobs.


This list from Body Ecology shows the roles magnesium play in your health.

►Gives rigidity AND flexibility to your bones
►Increases bioavailability of calcium
►Regulates and normalizes blood pressure
►Prevents and reverses kidney stone formation
►Promotes restful sleep
►Helps prevent congestive heart failure
►Eases muscle cramps and spasms
►Lowers serum cholesterol levels and triglycerides
►Decreases insulin resistance
►Can prevent artherosclerosis and stroke
►End cluster and migraine headaches
►Enhances circulation
►Relieves fibromyalgia and chronic pain
►Treats asthma and emphysema
►Helps make proteins
►Encourages proper elimination
►Prevents osteoporosis


Where to find extra Magnesium

►Foods – Dark leafy greens, chard, spinach and seaweed contain high amounts.

►Epsom Salt Bath – Add 2 cups of epsom salts to your bath and soak for at least 12 minutes up to three times per week. This will also help relieve sore muscles.

Topical Magnesium Oil – Apply this before bed for a restful night’s sleep. Or you can make this nourishing Body Butter recipe from DigPrimal. 

►Magnesium supplements can be tricky for anyone with a compromised digestive system so I’m sticking with the real food and topical treatments for now.

I feel better when I put a stress relief system in place. My pre-holiday gift to myself is a stocked supply of epsom salts and magnesium oil. Goodbye anxiety.


Resources:

Low dietary intake of magnesium is associated with increased externalising behaviours in adolescents., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25373528

Magnesium deficiency and anxiety-depressive syndrome in elderly patients with chronic heart failure.,  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23289218

Nutrition status of primary care patients with depression and anxiety., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22551840

Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20929532

Association between magnesium intake and depression and anxiety in community-dwelling adults: the Hordaland Health Study., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19085527

Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms & Solutions: What You Need to Know About This Widespread but Woefully Underreported Health Issue, http://bodyecology.com/articles/magnesium_deficiency.php#.VH4k7GTF_xh

Magnesium, http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/magnesium

Magnesium, NOT Calcium, Is The Key To Healthy Bones, http://thepaleomama.com/2014/02/magnesium-calcium-key-healthy-bones/