When I first started looking for ways to overcome my chronic anxiety, I originally didn’t think nutrition had anything to do with it.
But I was wrong.
Being deficient in certain nutrients can actually cause or worsen anxiety.
And getting more of the right nutrients can increase your ability to properly manage stress.
Anxiety itself can also deplete nutrient levels.
So the more anxious you are, the faster your body will burn through its nutrients.
And the lower your nutrient levels, the more anxiety you’ll have.
It can become a never-ending cycle, eventually leading you to a psychiatrist’s office.
But instead of checking your nutrient levels, your psychiatrist is likely to prescribe you anti-anxiety medication.
And what most people don’t realize – including most psychiatrists – is that anti-anxiety medications can further deplete your nutrient levels.
This all might sound like a disaster, but I promise you – it’s not.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
You can nip the problem in the bud.
This article lays out nine nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to anxiety.
Making sure you get enough of these nutrients through food or supplementation can make a profound difference.
All of them have really helped me at one point or another.
Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body.
Unfortunately, lot of people are deficient in magnesium today (1-3).
This is a shame because magnesium is absolutely essential for the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity, and not getting enough of it can significantly increase your anxiety (19).
Research shows that low magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems, including anxiety (18).
The good news is that nine different studies have concluded that magnesium supplementation can reduce anxiety in humans and improve anxiety-related disorders (20-22, 24-25).
So if you have anxiety, it’s clearly important to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium so that you don’t have a deficiency.
Luckily, there are a number of ways to do this.
First, make sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, including spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado, dark chocolate and bananas. These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.
Epsom salt baths are another great way to increase your body’s intake of magnesium.
Since most people are deficient, magnesium is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should be taking.
Like magnesium, it plays a key role in neurotransmission and nervous system functioning, and having a deficiency can worsen your anxiety.
More than one study has found that individuals with anxiety have significantly lower levels of zinc (31, 35-36).
But supplementing with zinc can effectively increase zinc levels and reduce symptoms of anxiety (31).
Other studies have also revealed a link between zinc deficiency and anxiety (32, 34).
And when animals are fed a zinc-deficient diet, they display increased anxiety-like behaviour (33).
Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 2 billion people in the world are deficient in zinc, and six different studies show that even subclinical deficiency of zinc impairs brain function in children and adults (4-6).
So, if you struggle with anxiety, it’s quite possible that you’re deficient, and you’ll definitely want to optimize your zinc levels.
Also, check out my previous post all about zinc, copper and anxiety if you’re interested in discovering more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels and lower your anxiety.
3. Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is a key nutrient that supports your entire nervous system.
It accomplishes this by playing a key role in the production of calming neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin and GABA.
So having a deficiency in Vitamin B6 can definitely cause an increase in your anxiety.
Some of the best food sources of B6 include potatoes, bananas and chicken.
But supplementation is often necessary to see quick improvements.
And studies have found that Vitamin B6 supplements can reduce anxiety (38-40).
This is because these medications can actually further deplete Vitamin B6, increasing anxiety in the long run.
If you take a medication to manage your anxiety, or simply have anxiety and want to manage it better, I highly recommend supplementing with the bioactive version of vitamin B6 (pyridoxal 5’-phosphate, or P-5-P).
I took this P-5-P supplement before and after coming off medication.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself, and they are necessary for the normal functioning of your brain and nervous system.
So not surprisingly, not eating enough omega-3 fatty acids can increase anxiety.
Researchers have found low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in anxious individuals (41-42).
In fact, people with the lowest levels of omega-3 fatty acids tend to have most severe anxiety (46-47).
Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish such as salmon, black cod, sablefish, sardines and herring.
Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough omega-3 fatty acids through their diet.
That’s why I recommend supplementing with krill oil, a special kind of fish oil that contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids.
I feel more anxious when I stop taking it. I actually notice the difference.
Researchers have also noticed this, as numerous studies show that supplementing with fish oil can lower inflammation and reduce symptoms of anxiety (43-46, 48).
You can read more about the importance of omega-3 fatty acids here.
Choline is an essential B vitamin that most people don’t consume enough of, because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.
Researchers have found that adults with low levels of choline are more likely to have anxiety (49-50).
And animal studies have shown that choline supplementation during pregnancy can prevent or dramatically reduce the chance of offspring developing anxiety disorders (51).
The best food sources of choline include grass-fed beef liver and egg yolks, and I definitely recommend eating those foods regularly.
But taking a high-quality choline supplement can have a more noticeable and immediate effect on stress levels.
Citicoline (also known as CDP-Choline) is my favourite choline supplement.
You can get it here.
I find that it reduces my racing thoughts when I’m stressed or anxious.
Another good source of choline is Alpha GPC, which can be found in this nootropic supplement.
Choline can also promote the regeneration of myelin.
Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is important for many bodily processes that affect your brain and mental health.
In one study, researchers found that individuals with the lowest levels of selenium reported increased anxiety (52).
But then after five weeks of supplementing with selenium, their anxiety decreased (52).
Another study found that selenium supplementation reduced anxiety in HIV+ drug users (53).
Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, but it can also be found in wild-caught seafood, pastured eggs and grass-fed meat.
I also make sure I’m not deficiency in selenium by taking this multi-mineral supplement. It includes selenomethionine, which is a highly-absorbable form of selenium.
Iron is a trace mineral found in every living cell in our bodies.
It carries oxygen to all parts of your body, and low levels can leave you feeling tired, pale and irritable.
But research also shows that iron plays an important role as a cofactor in the synthesis of serotonin, and an iron deficiency can increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder (57).
Iron levels are significantly lower in individuals with panic disorder (58).
And other studies have found that iron-deficient individuals have increased anxiety and increased fearfulness (55-56).
Animal research also supports the idea that iron deficiency increases anxiety, and normalizing iron levels can reverse anxiety-like behaviour (56).
Despite all this, I don’t actually recommend supplementing with iron because some research suggests that too much iron can cause health problems and actually increase anxiety (56).
It’s definitely a much better idea to get your iron from food.
I make sure I get enough simply by taking these grass-fed beef liver capsules.
Beef liver is one of the best sources of iron, but I don’t like the taste, so I go with the capsules.
8. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your skin synthesizes when exposed to the sun.
Every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain, so a deficiency can lead to costly physiological and psychological consequences, including anxiety.
Researchers have discovered significantly lower levels of Vitamin D in individuals with anxiety (60, 62).
Two studies found that fibromyalgia patients and pregnant women with Vitamin D deficiency have higher levels of anxiety (59, 61).
Unfortunately, reports indicate that Vitamin D deficiency is widespread and a major health problem globally (11).
Researchers estimate that 50 percent of the general population is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency (12).
It’s best to get your Vitamin D by going outside and getting sunlight, but some people can’t get enough, especially during the winter.
That’s why I recommend supplementing if you’re low.
9. Antioxidant Nutrients (Vitamins A, C, and E)
Lastly, some nutrients have antioxidant effects in the body, and being deficient in them can increase your anxiety.
But after six weeks of supplementing with these vitamins, researchers observed a significant increase in the blood levels of these nutrients, and the anxious patients experienced a significantly reduction in their anxiety (68).
And several other studies show that high dose Vitamin C decreases anxiety (14, 69-71).
In addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 1 gram of this Vitamin C every day.
I’ve experimented with taking up to 10 grams daily, and it helped me manage anxiety, but that’s not necessary unless you find it really helps you.
I don’t supplement with Vitamin E anymore, but when I did, I took this one.
For Vitamin A, I don’t typically recommend supplementing with it. Instead, you should get enough from food, such as grass-fed beef liver, pastured egg yolks, grass-fed butter/ghee, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach and broccoli.
Antioxidants can also reduce your body’s main stress hormone.
Bringing It All Together: Why You Should Take Them in Combination
The mainstream approach to treating anxiety is through talk therapy and medication.
But you can’t treat a nutrient deficiency with counselling and prescriptions.
And it’s important to note that taking all the above nutrients in combination will provide the greatest relief from anxiety.
Together, they have a synergistic effect.
At this point, you may be thinking that you could just take a daily multivitamin, and that would cover your bases.
But I wouldn’t recommend it.
Overall, if you have anxiety, I would recommend:
- Eating lots of whole foods – download my free food guide
- High-quality mineral supplement
- High-quality methylated B complex
- Krill oil
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
- Beef liver capsules
If you need additional support, I also recommend this anti-anxiety supplement. It contains a number of natural compounds that I’ve used over the years to manage my anxiety. You can use the coupon code FIVE$45496275 for a 5% discount.