A Functional Nutrition Approach to Anxiety, Stress & Depression
Updated: Jun 23
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Changes in nutrition are showing up more & more in studies as alternatives or complements to other treatments for anxiety, stress and depression.
Recent studies have shown that taking high doses of vitamin B6 supplements significantly reduced feelings of anxiety, stress, & depression. Researchers at the University of Reading, published a study in the journal Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, showing that after tracking the effects of high doses of vitamin B6 on teens for over a month, the participants reported lower levels of anxiety. The study adds to the growing evidence showing the use of such supplements improve cognitive function & mood disorders, and therefore elevate mental well-being.
The study also has shown that Vitamin B6 - Pyridoxine - has a significant impact on central serotonin & GABA production. GABA is a chemical messenger & neurotransmitter found in the brain that helps calm the nervous system by blocking certain impulses between nerve cells thus slowing down brain activity. This process has a calming effect that can help relieve anxiety, stress, & fear.
A different randomized controlled study found that the combination of magnesium supplementation & Vitamin B6 increased daily physical activity. The study also showed a significant reduction in stress in individuals with severe stress, anxiety and low magnesium levels. As discussed in previous articles magnesium deficiency may be the result of a high sugar diet. (More than 20 grams a day) Your body depletes 50 molecules of magnesium to process one molecule of sugar! Sugar is considered to be an anti-nutrient because of this. Chronic migraine sufferers have also shown to have low levels of magnesium.
While the studies did not show any improvement in mental health with B12 supplementation, most clients we work with have very low levels of this important vitamin. B12 plays an active role in most systems in your body. Plus it is a good energy booster when taken sublingually (under the tongue). I personally keep Whole Foods energy shots in my car for this reason alone. It was later on, and by accident, that I realized the B6 in those shots also helped with driving stress and anxiety. It has been shown that B6 deficiency can occur when your B12 and Folic Acid levels are low.
The last Functional Nutrition connection to mental health is your stomach biome. You often hear of the stomach being your second brain and that is because of the Vagus nerve which connects your stomach to your brain. Due to antibiotics and the modern diet, bad bacteria & yeast tend to overtake your digestive system. This over taxing stress in your gut is transferred to your brain and could possibly be causing mental stress, depression and anxiety. A daily probiotic supplement is a good way to start but adding probiotic foods long term is a better solution. Be careful with sugar content in some probiotic foods such as yogurts and Kombucha. A third of a Kombucha is all you really need per day. It is best to have your daily sugar fix prior to some kind of physical exercise so that you burn it off first!
Caffeine is the general go to for energy and mood lifting but too much may elevate your anxiety. Cutting back should be a slow process if this is indeed causing issues for you. If you drink a lot of coffee the best route to start with is drinking half-cafs to lower your dependency.
Breathing & meditation are also an excellent method for managing stress and anxiety. In its simplest form one can meditate by taking in a deep breath for 5 seconds and then exhaling for 5 seconds. You can add in feeling positive energy entering your body as you breathe in and then breathing out negative energy. One can usually feel stress leave their bodies with just this practice alone. You can search the web and You Tube for various methods, classes, books and more. You Tube has several 'frequency' audio clips to help you meditate.
Supplementation for B vitamins, magnesium and probiotics are a good start but longer term the addition of whole foods listed below are a better solution! Whole Foods 365 brand has a excellent Stress B-Complex and as I mentioned they offer a natural energy shot for on the go. Commercial energy shots tend to be laden in chemicals and artificial flavors/colors.
Foods high in B6
Beef liver, Tuna, Salmon, Chickpeas, Poultry, dark leafy greens, bananas, papayas, oranges, & cantaloupe
Foods high in B12
Responsibly raised fish, red meat, dairy, poultry, eggs, non-dairy milks, nutritional yeast, nori, tempeh, fermented foods.
Dark green leafy vegetables (turnip greens, spinach, romaine lettuce, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli), Beans, Organic Peanuts, Sunflower seeds, Fresh fruits, Whole grains, Liver, Aquatic foods, Eggs
pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, spinach, cashews, organic peanuts, soy milk, avocado, brown rice, milk
Fermented pickles, fermented sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurts, kefir etc.
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