Updated: Oct 3, 2019
Is there such a thing?
It's not yet a science, but there are helpful dietary tips that are conducive to managing anxiety levels and mood. Having just discussed diet recommendations with the clients attending our recent intensive course, I thought others would be interested. Below are my recommendations based upon client feedback and personal experience. In all cases, these are recommendations and should not be followed without consulting your doctor or health care practitioner.
Low glycemic diet: our most helpful advice regarding food is to base your regular diet on the Glycemic Index. Have a read about this here. Essentially, people with elevated anxiety will benefit from cutting down on high GI foods such as highly refined carbohydrates (sugar, white flour, etc) and concentrating on low GI foods that keep your blood sugar more stable. it’s common sense, scientific advice based upon your body’s chemistry and necessary for anyone who is diabetic.
Drinks: Please try to steer away from caffeine in coffee and tea. Be aware of hidden caffeine in fizzy and energy drinks. Sugary drinks fall into the previous category of high glycemic foods and hence milkshakes, Coca Cola, Ribena, etc. are all culprits. Reducing any excess alcohol is recommended although this isn't as common a problem as you'd think. I'm sure that the instance of alcohol self-medication is elevated in anxiety conditions in general however, many OCD sufferers avoid excessive alcohol for fear of losing control (particularly in the case of responsibility OCD).
Supplements: Please note, although this area is gaining momentum, it is still an under-researched area. The pharmaceutical companies aren’t too enthusiastic about natural supplements,, for obvious reasons, so research tends to be ad-hoc and under-funded. Hence, do seek advice before adding any supplement to your diet, especially if you are taking medication for OCD or another condition. With that caveat in mind, our experience and client feedback have found the following supplements to be helpful for OCD:
Omega 3 and 6 oils. No surprise here. I think the best form for these is Flax Seed Oil which bypasses the fishy aftertaste from fish oil derivatives. The best flax oils are the ones found in a fridge in your health food store. This means they are fresh. Failing this, freshly ground flax seeds are just as good and can be mixed into joghurt, smoothies or food. I also like adding chia seeds to drinks and salads and they have similar properties and great fibre.
Vitamins B12 and B6. Following the findings regarding B12 and 6 and Alzheimers, there seems to be evidence that these are beneficial supplements for the brain.. I prefer the B12 Sublingual drops which you put under the tongue. These offer a very high dose of both crucial B vits.
Evening Primrose or Star Flower Oil. This is great for our female clients. Clients report a calming, regulating effect. There seem to be great sources of these in most UK heath food shops.
Phosphetidyl Serine/Holy Basil. Both of these these work in a unique way to help anxiety. They carry out the same function of lowering levels of cortisol which may have reached toxic levels if you have been anxious for a period of time. Cortisol is supposed to have a nasty impact on your mood and mental health in general. It has gained press due to weigh loss products since it directly targets the “executive stomach” that middle aged executives tend to get in response to stress, i.e., when we are stressed, cortisol encourages a particular stomach weight gain. But I am more interested in its benefits for anxiety in general. Most cognition focused mixed supplements now include PS. Some yoga retreats insist that their stressed attendees take Holy Basil for at least two weeks prior to the retreat since they say that it brings balance back to your focus and attention.
Passiflora. A respected, traditional and time tested antidote to anxiety without drowsiness. It does seem to work for most people. Good for travelling apparently.
Rescue Remedy . Another oldie but goodie. Some clients won't be without this and it is supposed to have a comforting, sedative effect on nervous energy and anxiety. Based on flower essences and no chemicals involved. Always works for me.
Minerals. Don’t also discount the role of minerals in mental health. Magnesium is often cited as important, as is iron and selenium. There is a good article regarding minerals and other supplements here.
On a final note, about administering some of the above to someone who is very anxious. I had a conversation with a carer who was concerned about the inability of their OCD family member to digest food given high levels of anxiety. We came to the conclusion that a morning smoothie might be the answer. It is a great option and can take care of the days nutritional needs in one delicious serving which is easy to digest and palatable. I suggested a base of cold or iced soya milk or low fat diary milk with berries, preferably blueberries, but raspberries and strawberries work well too (frozen or fresh). Then add a tablespoon of flax oil or some freshly ground flax seeds (or Chia seeds) and either walnuts or almonds for brain benefits. I’m imagining that any of the above supplements could be added without problems.
Good luck and any comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated.