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 vitamins and minerals 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 vitamins and minerals.
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 vitamins and minerals through food or supplementation can make a profound difference.
All of them have really helped me at one point or another.
Note: If you also have depression, check out my other post, 20 Nutrient Deficiencies That Can Make You Depressed
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body, and it’s absolutely essential for optimal brain and mental health.
Unfortunately, many people don’t get enough of it, even if they eat a healthy diet.
In fact, research shows that many people are deficient in magnesium nowadays (1-3).
This is a big problem because magnesium is needed for the proper functioning of your nervous system and optimal neurotransmitter activity.
Researchers have found that low magnesium levels contribute and worsen many neuropsychiatric problems, including anxiety (18).
In one study, it was shown that not getting enough magnesium can significantly increase your anxiety (19).
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, you should try to eat magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis.
These foods are included in my Free Grocery Shopping Guide for Optimal Mental Health.
Epsom salt baths are another source of magnesium and an excellent way to increase your levels. You can simply throw the salts in your bathtub and take a nice relaxing bed at night before bed.
I also recommend a high-quality magnesium supplement so that you know you’re covering all your bases.
I personally take this magnesium supplement.
Zinc is another important mineral for mental health, and you want to avoid a deficiency at all costs.
Like magnesium, it supports neurotransmitter production and nervous system functioning, and research shows that 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, researchers estimate that there are more than 2 billion people in the world that are deficient in zinc. And studies have shown that even a minor 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 take steps to optimize your zinc levels.
Eat zinc-rich foods is a good start.
I created and take the Optimal Zinc supplement to make sure my zinc levels are optimal.
Check out my previous post all about zinc, copper and anxiety if you want to learn more about how zinc impacts your mental health and can contribute to your anxiety.
The article also includes other steps you can taken 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 increase your anxiety.
Some of the best food sources of Vitamin B6 include potatoes, bananas and chicken.
But if you want to see quick improvements, you may want to try supplementing.
Studies have found that Vitamin B6 supplements reduce anxiety (38-40).
That’s why I included it in the Optimal Zinc supplement.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats, meaning your body cannot produce them itself.
They are also 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).
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 take this one.
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 nutrient that was only discovered in 1998.
So it’s fairly new.
Your body makes a small amount of choline, but you still need to eat enough of it through your diet.
Otherwise, you can develop a deficiency.
And many people do.
Most people don’t meet the recommended intake for choline because very few foods in the Western diet contain it.
And researchers have found that adults with low levels of choline are more likely to have anxiety (49-50).
Animal studies have also 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.
I find that it reduces my racing thoughts when I’m stressed or anxious.
Another good source of choline is Alpha GPC.
Both Alpha GPC and CDP-Choline are included in the Optimal Brain 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 they had 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).
I also make sure I’m not deficient by supplementing with it.
Selenomethionine 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 is an important cofactor in the synthesis of serotonin, and an iron deficiency can increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder (57).
In fact, 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 test your iron levels and naturally 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 of cooked beef liver, so I go with the capsules instead.
8. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin.
It’s actually more accurate to describe it as a hormone because your skins synthesizes it when it’s exposed to sunlight.
Every tissue in your body has Vitamin D receptors, including the brain.
So developing a deficiency can lead to a number of costly physiological and psychological problems, including anxiety.
And this is backed up by research.
Researchers have discovered significantly lower levels of Vitamin D in individuals with anxiety (60, 62).
And 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 very common and a major health problem across the globe (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.
Or you can take a Vitamin D supplement.
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).
Researchers have also found that taking both Vitamin C and Vitamin E together reduces anxiety (15-17).
And several other studies show that high dose Vitamin C decreases anxiety (14, 69-71).
In addiction to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of Vitamin C every day.
I’ve tried taking up to 10 grams of Vitamin C daily, and it helped me manage anxiety. But you don’t need to do that regularly unless you find it really helps you.
Vitamin E is also included in the Optimal Antiox supplement, along with Vitamin C.
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
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.
Nutrition is just one piece of the puzzle.
Enjoy This Article? You Might Also Like My FREE Food Guide for Optimal Brain and Mental Health!
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About the Author
Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Fred Hui, MD, CCFP, CAFC