Nutrient Deficiencies and Anxiety
- Monday, 09 March 2009
In previous blogs I have discussed what anxiety is and how it can be caused by diet and lifestyle choices. Here I will discuss how particular nutrient deficiencies can cause anxiety.
Anxiety can be caused by a deficiency of B complex vitamins, possibly because B vitamins are needed for the optimal metabolism of sugar in the body and the efficient elimination of lactic acid. Drs. Alan Gaby and Jonathan Wright report that, in their experience, niacinamide (the non-flush form of vitamin B3) at doses of 500–1000 mg three times daily is sometimes effective, especially for those whose anxiety is secondary to reactive hypoglycemia.
It is interesting to note that many anti-anxiety drugs like Valium work very much like niacinamide in the brain. Both will attach in the brain to the same receptors. While Valium has numerous side effects, niacinamide has virtually none.
Other B complex vitamins that play a role in anxiety are:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine)—needed for carbohydrate tolerance
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)—needed in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)—needed for nerve cell metabolism
Vitamins C & E
Deficiencies in vitamin C and E have also been linked to a higher risk of anxiety disorders.
Magnesium deficiency also causes anxiety because magnesium is required by the body to clear excess lactic acid. High stress levels can deplete an individual’s reserves of magnesium, which, in turn, could worsen anxiety.
Deficiencies in calcium caused by either poor intake or a disease called hyperparathyroidism have been linked to a higher risk of anxiety.
Anxiety disorders have also been reported to occur more frequently in people deficient in phosphorus, potassium, and selenium.
Essential Fatty Acids
Deficiencies in essential fatty acids, especially the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, have been linked to both anxiety and depression. Supplementing the diet with fish oils, flaxseed oil, hempseed oil, and/or evening primrose oil may reduce the vulnerability to stress.
Tryptophan (L-tryptophan) is an amino acid derived from protein. It is the dietary precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which controls both our moods and level of anxiety.
Deficiencies in tryptophan can cause low serotonin levels as well as both depression and anxiety. Supplementation of L-tryptophan may reduce or ameliorate most anxiety disorders. An alternative health food store remedy is 5-HTP (5-hydroxy-tryptophan), which is a metabolite of L-tryptophan that gets converted in the brain to serotonin. For more about 5-HTP, see my next blog.
Tryptophan is very effective for insomnia. I recommend 1000–3000 mg of L-tryptophan before bedtime. 5-HTP is a good alternative, as serotonin helps induce sleep. Foods high in tryptophan include bananas, figs, dates, and nut butters.
Avoid foods high in tyramine as they may prevent sleep by increasing the brain levels of adrenalin. These are cheese, alcoholic beverages, chocolate, sauerkraut, bacon, ham, sausages, eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes, and tobacco.
Toxic Heavy Metals
In my practice, at least 50% of all the cases of chronic immune system and neurological disorders—like anxiety disorders, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), multiple sclerosis, attention deficit disorder, and others—involve toxic heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, nickel, and aluminum.
Heavy metals are often ignored causes of serious health problems. They can accumulate and damage the brain, kidneys, and immune system.
Experts estimate that at least 25% of the North American population suffers from some degree of heavy metal poisoning. The best way to find out whether or not your body is contaminated with any of these heavy metals is to get lab testing done.
Next I will discuss more natural anti-anxiety remedies.