I suffered from anxiety for years. It runs in my family. Many of my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents suffer from anxiety and depression and have relied on alcohol, nicotine, and anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication to manage it. I didn’t want to go down that path, so I’ve sought out alternative treatments for years.
Unfortunately, my family is not alone. Anxiety and panic attacks are incredibly common today. While in university, I remember asking a doctor on campus if she had witnessed an increase in the number of college students who had come to see her about their anxiety over the years. And she responded with an overwhelming yes.
“There are just not enough resources and practitioners to manage them all,” I remember her saying.
I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to get to the bottom of my anxiety. And so I have an urge to share this information with the world. But what has worked for me might not work for everyone.
And I want to make it clear - there is not just one solution. There really is no magic bullet if you want to overcome this. There are a number of things that can contribute to anxiety. And there are a number of things you can do to cumulatively get over it. (If you’re looking for a quick fix, try antidepressants. And they really aren’t a quick easy fix, as they don’t work for a lot of people and come with a lot of side effects).
But today I want to discuss just one of the things I did to help myself, and hopefully it helps you too. In upcoming posts, I will explore other alternative therapies and technologies that have helped me master my own mind and avoid the unfortunate path of my ancestors.
If you go to your doctor and suggest that maybe a deficiency or imbalance of nutrients is causing your anxiety, they’ll laugh at you. But nutrients have a powerful impact on mood and brain function – especially supplements with high-quality, biologically-active nutrients.
Our nervous system requires several dozen minerals, vitamins, fatty acids and amino acids to function at all properly. Deficiencies of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A, B-complex, C, D3 and E are common, especially if you eat refined foods.
This TED talk by Julia J Rucklidge, Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Canterbury, discusses the power of nutrition and supplements. She explores a range of scientific research showing the significant role that nutrition plays when it comes to mental health or illness:
The Intricate Balance between Zinc and Copper
We all get anxious once in a while, but tend to get over it. But chronic anxiety, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), is when a person suffers from worry and tension all of the time. People who suffer from GAD are often clinically depressed as well (1).
Recent research looking into GAD suggests that an imbalance of zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu), two essential trace minerals within the body, may be contributing and worsening the condition. Researchers of a study titled “Decreased zinc and increased copper in individuals with anxiety” used Inductively Coupled Plasma-mass Spectrometry (ICP) to measure trace minerals in 38 chronically-anxious individuals. They compared the mineral status of these individuals with the mineral status of 16 people in a control group without anxiety symptoms. They found that individuals with chronic anxiety had significantly higher plasma levels of copper and very low levels of zinc, and their anxiety improved significantly with zinc supplementation (2).
In other words, people who suffer from anxiety have way too much copper in their bodies, and not enough zinc. I used to suffer from GAD and depression, and increasing my intake of zinc, and limiting my intake of copper, is one of the most impactful actions I have taken to overcome them, so this makes sense to me personally.
The positive effects of zinc supplementation also makes sense in light of my independent research and understanding of biochemistry. Zinc and copper are antagonists. They compete with one another for absorption and receptor channels. When your body doesn’t absorb enough zinc, copper rises. And because of their essential roles in neurotransmitter synthesis, zinc and copper levels can directly affect thoughts and behaviour.
How Copper Can Accumulate in Your Body and Make You an Anxious Wreck
Functional medicine practitioner and acupuncturist Chris Kresser explains that copper and zinc are very important for neurotransmitter health, but zinc needs to dominate. If not, all sorts of neurological and behavioural disorders can emerge, including depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia. (3).
Too much copper can have a powerful effect on the mind and alter mood and behaviour. The accumulation of excess copper in the brain enhances the production of stimulatory neurotransmitters (epinephrine and norepinephrine), which can further promote anxiety. Pfeiffer and Goldstein (1984) monitored the brain waves of individuals who took 5 mg of copper or 5 mg of Dexedrine (a common amphetamine that increases epinephrine and norepinephrine), and they found that copper and the amphetamine exhibited an equivalent stimulation of the central nervous system (40, 41, 43, 44).
On top of this, research has shown that too much copper can inhibit and block the neurotransmission of GABA, one of the main calming neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (5, 6, 42). It’s no wonder that anxious people find such relief from alcohol and anti-anxiety medications, as they both activate GABA receptors in the brain.
Depending on the severity of the copper toxicity and the susceptibility of the person, copper can affect the mind moderately or very severely. The milder effects are initially positive because it is activating and stimulating and can increase creativity and productivity. I’ve witnessed this myself, as I used to feel as if my chronic anxiety motivated me to accomplish a lot of work. It may be why creative people tend be depressed and anxious individuals.
But as the toxicity continues and builds up more and more, it becomes increasingly exhausting on the body and the individual can start to break down mentally, leading to an inability to cope adequately with stress. The anxious person’s fatigued body can’t keep up with their overactive mind, and medication often becomes necessary.
But instead of taking drugs, people need to consider supplementing with zinc. Zinc is an essential trace mineral that activates several hundred enzymatic reactions, including brain and nervous system function and neurotransmission. Yet it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in the mineral, and six different studies show that subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (45, 46, 47).
Zinc is very calming and sedating, as it enhances GABA activity in the brain. A number of studies also show that zinc deficiency causes depression-like and anxiety-like behaviors, and supplementation has successfully been used as a treatment (48-53).
Practical Takeaways: What Should You Do To Combat This?
The key takeaway here is that if you suffer from chronic anxiety, you need to work on lowering your copper to zinc ratio, as it is likely very high at this point.
- Don’t drink tap water: Copper piping for water has become the norm, which contributes to ingesting much more copper than what can be found in your diet. Tap water also contains fluoride, which has been shown to reduce IQ (32).
- Stop taking a multi-vitamin: Many multi-vitamins and multi-mineral supplements contain relatively high doses of copper. There are some multi-mineral supplements that purposely don't include copper. I take this one by Thorne. You can get it through Amazon.
- Eat zinc-rich foods foods such as oysters, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, Brazil nuts and legumes. Raising zinc levels is a more straightforward approach than trying to lower copper levels.
- Take a zinc supplement every day: I discovered a few years ago that I was very deficient in zinc, and my anxiety improved significantly after supplementing with 50-100 mg every day. Anxiety itself also lowers zinc levels, as the body rapidly uses up zinc in times of stress. I take zinc picolinate by Now Foods, which has been proven to be the best absorbed form of zinc (4). You can get it through Amazon. I’ve also heard that zinc methionine is also well absorbed (36). Don’t worry too much about overdosing on zinc. Compared to other minerals, zinc is relatively harmless (35).
- Supplement with vitamin D and B6: They have been shown to improve the absorption and utilization of zinc (37, 38, 39). I take Doctor's Best Vitamin D3, 5000IU from Amazon. And make sure to take the biologically active form of B6.
- Reduce oxidative stress: Glutathione and metallothionein are major antioxidants that protect the brain and can capture and remove excess copper from the body (54, 55, 56). N-Acetyl-Cysteine, Selenium, R-Lipoic Acid, and Vitamin C are nutrients that are essential for the production of glutathione and metallothionein and can support the chelation process. I take them all regularly. Now Foods has both NAC and the proper form of Selenium in one supplement.
Increasing zinc and reducing copper intake is just one nutritional option for people who suffer from chronic anxiety. It’s one of many things that have helped me. For people with severe anxiety, it will take some time for zinc to build up in your system and copper to be reduced. But you should find relief over time.
Unfortunately, your doctor isn’t aware of this. Modern medicine doesn’t care very much about deficiencies of essential nutrients, and most physicians are mistakenly taught that diet provides sufficient nutrition.
This is because nutritional deficiencies benefit the pharmaceutical industry. Malnutrition leads to chronic symptoms that can be “managed” by patented drugs. Natural supplements can’t be patented. But drugs can. So as long as underlying nutritional imbalances aren’t corrected, doctors will keep prescribing and the pharmaceutical industry will have life-long customers.
For now, the “drug model” of disease remains prevalent, and until it becomes a thing of the past, people will just have to acknowledge and accept that they need to take control of their anxiety and overcome it themselves. It is a multi-faceted condition, but nutrients can play a huge role in eliminating it.