Nutrition plays a role in the prevention and treatment of mental disorders. A traditional whole-food diet, consisting of higher intakes of foods such as vegetables, fruits, seafood, whole grains, lean meat, nuts, and legumes, with avoidance of processed foods, is more likely to provide the nutrients that promote resiliency against the development of mental disorders.
The brain requires a lot of energy to operate optimally, and as such it relies on amino acids, fats, vitamins, and minerals or trace elements. The functioning of the immune system is also reliant on dietary intakes. For example, the antioxidant defense system, which is also implicated in mental disorders, operates with the support of nutrient cofactors and phytochemicals. In addition, neurotrophic factors found in foods are essential in maintaining healthy brain cells.
Convincing data suggest that select nutrient-based supplements (in isolation, or in combination) might provide many neurochemical modulatory activities that are beneficial in the management of mental disorders.
These are omega-3 fatty acids, S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), zinc, B vitamins (including folic acid), and vitamin D. Particularly, key nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc regulate stress responses via involvement in the production and metabolism of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine. However, chronic stress may decrease synthesis of neurotransmitters, which in turn may increase the risk of severe anxiety.
In addition, B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc are involved in the conversion of α-linolenic acid to longer-chain n-3 fatty acids; n-3 fatty acids are associated with lower risk of anxiety. For example, several studies support the potential usefulness of omega-3 fatty acids for post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression.
Furthermore, there is an accumulation of evidence in favor of specific diets for the protection and relief of anxiety. Specifically, traditional dietary patterns in Australia (vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains), China (gruel, oatmeal, whole grains, fresh yellow or red vegetables, fruit, and soy milk), the Mediterranean and the anti-inflammatory diet have all been associated with a lower risk for anxiety disorders.
For example, a diet that includes vegetables, fruit, beef, lamb, fish, and whole-grain foods has been related to a lower risk of a diagnosis of anxiety, while a western-type diet characterized by consumption of foods such as meats and sugar has been associated with more psychiatric symptoms.
In conclusion, there is evidence of an association between healthy eating patterns and reduced anxiety symptoms. As long as there are no food allergies to speak of, interventions focused on diets in the treatment of anxiety are considered low in risk and have beneficial effects beyond anxiety relief. It is important to add that nutritional counseling is not currently part of standard procedure for the treatment of anxiety disorders, and therefore it will be your decision to pursue that option or not.
Aucoin M, LaChance L, Naidoo U, Remy D, Shekdar T, Sayar N, Cardozo V, Rawana T, Chan I, Cooley K. Diet and Anxiety: A Scoping Review. Nutrients. 2021 Dec 10;13(12):4418. doi: 10.3390/nu13124418. PMID: 34959972; PMCID: PMC8706568.
Kris-Etherton PM, Petersen KS, Hibbeln JR, Hurley D, Kolick V, Peoples S, Rodriguez N, Woodward-Lopez G. Nutrition and behavioral health disorders: depression and anxiety. Nutr Rev. 2021 Feb 11;79(3):247-260. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuaa025. PMID: 32447382; PMCID: PMC8453603.
Masana MF, Tyrovolas S, Kolia N, Chrysohoou C, Skoumas J, Haro JM, Tousoulis D, Papageorgiou C, Pitsavos C, Panagiotakos DB. Dietary Patterns and Their Association with Anxiety Symptoms among Older Adults: The ATTICA Study. Nutrients. 2019 May 31;11(6):1250. doi: 10.3390/nu11061250. PMID: 31159322; PMCID: PMC6627391.
Sarris J, Logan AC, Akbaraly TN, Amminger GP, Balanzá-Martínez V, Freeman MP, Hibbeln J, Matsuoka Y, Mischoulon D, Mizoue T, Nanri A, Nishi D, Ramsey D, Rucklidge JJ, Sanchez-Villegas A, Scholey A, Su KP, Jacka FN; International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. Lancet Psychiatry. 2015 Mar;2(3):271-4. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(14)00051-0. Epub 2015 Feb 25. PMID: 26359904.
Wang SS, Lay S, Yu HN, Shen SR. Dietary Guidelines for Chinese Residents (2016): comments and comparisons. J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 2016 Sep;17(9):649-56. doi: 10.1631/jzus.B1600341. PMID: 27604857; PMCID: PMC5018612.