9 Nutrient Deficiencies That Can Make You More Anxious

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.  

Note: If you also have depression, check out 20 Nutrient Deficiencies That Can Make You Depressed

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1. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body. 

Unfortunately, a 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). 

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In fact, one recent study found that a magnesium deficiency can increase anxiety by changing the composition of gut bacteria (23). 

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). 

Plenty of researchers have also found that magnesium has a calming effect in animals by activating GABA (A) receptors. These are the same receptors activated by anti-anxiety medication (26-30). 

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. 

But I also recommend a high-quality magnesium supplement to most people. I personally take this magnesium supplement

Since most people are deficient, magnesium is one of the three supplements that I think everyone should be taking

Correcting a magnesium deficiency can also help you overcome trauma, depression, addiction and withdrawal

2. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for mental health, especially if you have chronic anxiety.

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).

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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

Some of the best food sources of zinc include oysters, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, cashews, mushrooms and spinach.

However, if you’re deficient like I was, I recommend taking a high-quality zinc supplement, at least for a short period of time. 

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’re interested in discovering more steps you can take to increase your zinc levels and lower your anxiety.

Zinc can also stimulate your vagus nerve, which reduces 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.  

Vitamin B6 levels have been shown to be significantly lower in individuals who have anxiety and panic attacks (37). 

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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).

When I took antidepressants and benzodiazepines for my chronic anxiety, multiple functional and integrative doctors suggested I supplement with vitamin B6.

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 Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is included in the Optimal Zinc supplement.

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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). 

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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 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.

You can also order very high-quality seafood and krill oil supplements here.

Other than reducing anxiety, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to stimulate your endocannabinoid system and lower cortisol.

5. Choline

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). 

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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. 

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. You can get it here, and Amazon also now carries it.

Choline can also promote the regeneration of myelin

6. Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is important for many bodily processes that affect your brain and mental health.

Research shows that being low or deficient in selenium is associated with a significantly greater incidence of anxiety, and selenium supplementation diminishes anxiety (54). 

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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 supplementing with it.

Selenomethionine is a highly-absorbable form of selenium.

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7. Iron

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). 

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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. 

Other good sources include spirulina, dark chocolate, spinach, sardines, pistachios and raisons

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). 

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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 using a Vitamin D lamp. I use this one. You can get it here or here.

The lamp is much better and more effective than taking a Vitamin D supplement

If you do decide to supplement, Vitamin D3 is included in this all-in-one mental health supplement

Increasing your Vitamin D levels can also help with depression, addiction and withdrawal

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. 

One study found that people with generalized anxiety disorder have significantly lower levels of Vitamin A (beta carotene), Vitamin C and Vitamin E, all of which have antioxidant properties (68). 

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). 

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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 addition to getting Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, I take at least 500 mg of 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.

Good food sources of Vitamin E include almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, olive oil, sunflower seeds and butternut squash.

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. 

Cod liver oil is also a very good source of Vitamin A, and it includes Vitamin D as well. I take cod liver oil throughout the winter. 

Antioxidants can also reduce your body’s main stress hormone

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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.

For example, numerous researchers have found that taking Vitamin B6 and magnesium together is more likely to reduce your anxiety than simply taking a magnesium supplement by itself (64, 66-67). 

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.

Why? 

Because one-a-day multivitamins often contain too much of the nutrients you don’t need (synthetic folic acid), and not enough of the nutrients you do need (magnesium, Vitamin D). 

Overall, if you have anxiety, I would recommend:

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.

And don’t forget to stimulate your vagus nerve regularly and process any emotionally traumatic experiences from your past. 

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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Live Optimally,

Jordan Fallis

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Reviewed by Dr. Richard Nahas, MD CCFP DCAPM ABIM