Nutritional therapy

Guest Blog: How to manage your anxiety through nutritional therapy?

7th Nov 2018

This weeks guest blog is featured by Nutritional Resource, who give some top tips on how to cope with anxiety through important nutritional and lifestyle changes which you can start today.  

What is anxiety?

When coping with a cancer diagnosis, treatment or recovery, anxiety can be a prevalent emotion. Registered Allison Llewellyn from Nutritionist Resource details how you can manage levels of anxiety through your diet.

Anxiety; defined as "a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome." It’s natural that everyone suffers with anxiety from time to time; whether it’s a job interview, meeting your in-laws, a doctors appointment or taking a driving test, you’ll recgonise the familiar butterflies in your stomach, frequent visits to the bathroom and often sleep-disruption prior to the event. Often once we are in the moment, the nerves disappear.

If these nerves develop into a chronic state, anxiety can become a problem. This anxiety can evolve in many different forms including OCD, panic attacks, PTSD, phobia, social anxiety and many more. Daily life becomes affected, and our moods, hormones, digestion and sleep may all experience negative consequences.

Feeling anxious

These daily negative associations feed our anxiety, making it difficult to listen to our rational voice. Life becomes a continuous scenario of ‘what if’, continuously focusing on the worst possible outcome. These outcomes are generally out of our control: the weather for a special occasion, someone’s opinion of you, the traffic on the motorway etc.

As we now know, the gut and the brain talk to each other and feed into one another. Our gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to our emotions and our brain is aware if our gut is under strain. A recent study conducted with mice indicated that the absence of gut bacteria can affect areas of the brain associated with anxiety.

Nutrition and lifestyle play a big part in our anxiety levels and contribute to the balance, or imbalance of cortisol levels. When coping with a cancer diagnosis, anxiety and the ‘what if’ scenarios can be heightened and are very sensitive.

In order to reduce an anxiety attack and prevent it from turning to a panic attack, it’s important to identify your triggers and learn to avoid the stimulants that we often turn to when under stress. Whilst theses stimulants (commonly chocolate, alcohol, cigarettes etc) act as comfort at the time of need, they are usually only a temporary relaxant and in many cases, increase our anxiety.

What should we avoid?

  • Caffeine/caffeine on an empty stomach
  • Diet fizzy drinks
  • Refined carbohydrates/processed foods
  • Reduce gluten intake
  • Trans fats (biscuits, cakes, sweet treats)
  • Ketchup
  • Alcohol
  • Msg (cheese, grapes)

Junk food

What can we do?

  • Eat three balanced meals a day
  • Maintain balanced blood sugar
  • Establish a healthy sleep routine
  • Exercise regularly, preferably in fresh air
  • Increase intake of turmeric and black pepper in cooking or smoothies
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation
  • Listen to calming music
  • Relax in epsom salt baths
  • Consume foods rich in magnesium (fruits, peas, salmon)
  • Consume foods high in tryptophan (oats, red meat, eggs)
  • Drink plenty of water 

healthy balanced diet

How can we help ourselves?

To ensure your diet isn’t increasing your anxiety levels, stick to foods that are rich in magnesium and contain the amino acid tryptophan. Antioxidants full of vitamin C & E and foods containing B vitamins help calm and maintain our nervous systems.

Beneficial for brain health, oily fish is rich in omega 3 fatty acids and walnuts, chia and flax seeds are excellent sources. A study published in 2011 on healthy young students showed a reduction in anxiety levels from those taking omega 3 supplements.

Magnesium is a cofactor in over thousands of processes in the body, both cellular and at protein structure levels. It’s fundamental for energy production and is a muscle relaxant, aids bone creation and cardiovascular health. Sadly, many people are deficient and as a result suffer from a variety of minor irritants to major conditions. For anxiety, one of magnesium’s main benefits serves as a relaxant to aid sleep. (Recommended daily amount of Magnesium is 375mg.)

So what should we eat?

Magnesium-rich foods including pumpkin seeds, swiss chard, sesame seeds, almonds, spinach, quinoa, black and navy beans, dark chocolate, avocado, yoghurt/kefir and bananas.

Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters aiding our well-being and sleep respectively. By eating foods rich in tryptophan such as, cheese, eggs, poultry, meat, dark chocolate, buckwheat and most proteins we can help to increase the benefits from these neurotransmitters.

As well as diet, essential oils can be a calming influence, perfect for adding to a bath or a simple foot soak. Ensure all oils are added to a carrier oil as they are extremely powerful, but if in doubt speak to a herbalist/therapist.

Essential oils to calm and soothe include:

  • Lavender
  • Rose
  • Ylang ylang
  • Vetiver
  • Frankincense
  • Chamomile
  • Bergamot

If you aren’t taking medication, then adaptogenic herbs may help. Adaptogens help to restore homeostasis to the body with their regenerative properties. Ashwagandha, rhodiola, and ginkgo biloba have all been proven to produce positive benefits.

If you are undergoing treatment for cancer, we do recommend that you check with a medical professional or qualified practitioner before trying new dietary approaches or supplements.