Anxiety has a wide spectrum, from mild to extreme, and there can be multiple causes. Common contributors to anxiety are poor gut health and your adrenal glands. We explain how your gut and adrenal gland health can affect anxiety and the best foods and vitamins for stress and anxiety.
Your gut and stress
There is a strong connection between the gut and the mind, known as the gut-brain axis. Most of the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) in your brain are synthesised in the gut before they reach the brain so improving gut health is one of the first areas to work on when improving anxiety.
Adrenal glands and stress
Your adrenal glands are 2 glands which sit on top of your kidneys. They produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol in response to stressors. These hormones help you to think quickly, move quickly and have a burst of energy. Not only are they stimulated in response to stress, but they also release their hormones after caffeine and nicotine consumption, when blood sugar levels are unbalanced.
Other factors that can trigger a stress response are looking at a screen such as the TV or the computer, or after a majorly stressful event such as loss of a job or loved one. When your adrenal glands become overused and tired, they start to function poorly, which can further to contribute to anxiety and stress.
Read our blog 'How adrenal glands affect stress and anxiety'
Foods for stress
The good news is some foods can help the body to cope with stress in a more effective manner. They provide nutrients needed by the adrenal glands and which help to calm the nerves.
Wholegrains such as brown rice and whole wheat are rich in B Vitamins and Magnesium. B Vitamins, especially Vitamins B5 and B6 are needed for the production of adrenaline and cortisol in your adrenal glands. When the diet contains enough B Vitamins, the body usually reacts to stress in a more favourable way.
Kiwis are rich in Vitamin C, an essential vitamin for stress. A small amount of Vitamin C is stored in the adrenal glands and is released at the same time as stress hormones. During stressful situations, your immune function can be impaired and the Vitamin C that is released helps to minimise the impact, so consuming Vitamin C regularly ensures your body has a supply for those stressful situations.
Kiwis also play another role in the stress response - they provide a type of fibre not found in many other foods. This fibre supports the growth of probiotics in the gut, especially the probiotics that are sensitive to oxygen, and therefore cannot be taken as a supplement. These probiotics have a beneficial effect on stress. They produce B Vitamins needed for the adrenal glands and also synthesise brain chemicals including serotonin – the happy hormone which helps the body to cope with stress and helping you stay calm.
Chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts
Omega 3, found in chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts and algae is needed for brain health. Omega 3 works in balance with omega 6 and research has found that too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3 in the diet increases the risk of anxiety. Omega 3 fatty acids are a vital building block of your brain, and their receptiveness to brain chemicals such as serotonin and GABA play a role in sharpening your memory and improving your mood, as well as protecting your brain against decline.
Check out our blog '5 foods to improve your mood'.
You may be delighted to hear that studies show dark chocolate can help reduce stress and anxiety. Chocolate contains flavonoids that reduce neuro-inflammation and death of cells in the brain, as well as improving blood flow in your brain. These flavonoids combine to help improve your moods and deal with stress better.
Cocoa also has a high tryptophan content, which gets converted in your gut into serotonin – the happy hormone. Try to avoid brands with excess sugar as high levels of sugar are counterproductive. Try adding cocoa powder to tomato dishes to enhance their flavour, and look for dark chocolate that has a 70% or more cocoa content.
Try this delicious Vegan Chocolate Cake recipe
Green leafy vegetables
Green leafy vegetables are typically rich in Magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral used by the nerves and brain to help you stay calm and relax. It is involved in over 300 processes in your body and one of these is the production of a brain chemical called GABA, which induces calm and relaxation. Magnesium is usually needed for anything that is “tight”, whether it is tight muscles or an uptight mind.
Turmeric is a yellow spice that contains the active compound curcumin which has an anti-inflammatory action in the body. Low-grade inflammation in the body can sometimes be a cause of anxiety. Remember, if you're taking turmeric and curcumin, combine it with ginger and black pepper which significantly improves absorption of the turmeric.
Green tea contains the amino acid theanine. Theanine increases the level of dopamine in the brain and helps to bring a sense of calm to the mind. This is great for any situation that brings anxiety. Studies show that theanine induces relaxation and calmness and lowers tension.
Supplements for anxiety and stress
Rhodiola is an Adaptagenic herb. Adaptagenic herbs balance the functions of the body and can help the body to deal with stress.
Rhodiola contains as many as 140 active compounds, of which the most potent two are rosavin and salidroside. One of Rhodiolas’ main benefits is the balancing affect of the adrenal glands which may be beneficial for individuals who suffer from anxiety and stress.
Ashwagandha is another Adaptogenic herb which helps the body to manage stress through its active compound, withanolides. These withanolides help lower cortisol levels (your stress hormone) in the body, helping to reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety.
Magnesium is an essential mineral for the production of GABA – the chill-out hormone. Magnesium can become depleted in the body during stressful events and when the diet contains too much sugar and caffeine, as well as among those who smoke.
A Magnesium supplement may be beneficial to individuals with anxiety and stress as research has found that magnesium supplementation can reduce the symptoms of anxiety. You may like to read our blog 'How do I know if I'm deficient in Magnesium'.
Vitamin D plays a role in brain and nerve health. Researchers have linked Vitamin D deficiency to mood disorders including anxiety. Vitamin D may be especially useful to those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder.
Read our blog: How do I know if I'm deficient in Vitamin D
B Vitamins are essential for the health of the nerves and the brain, and any deficiencies may cause impaired mental capacity, anxiety and the onset of psychological disorders.
B vitamins are needed for the coating of the nerves which helps the nerve and brain cells communicate with each other. Some B Vitamins may not be consumed in sufficient levels if you're on a plant-based diet and it is not well planned out. Taking a multi-vitamin formula which provides B Vitamins, including Vitamin B12, can ensure you're receiving adequate intake.
Discover our range of vegan vitamins and supplements.
Want to hear more from our nutritionists? Sign up to our email newsletter for insights and exclusive offers: