by Dr. Craig A. Maxwell
When you hear that anxiety attacks could be caused by food it may seem like old news. After all, anyone who lives with anxiety attacks is aware caffeine can trigger them. When it comes to treating anxiety effectively, avoiding trigger foods is only half the battle. It isn’t only what you eat, but how your body processes what it’s given that can determine the severity of your anxiety.
The Connection between Anxiety Attacks and Food
- Nutritional Deficiencies
Poor diet and poor digestive health have caused an epidemic of nutritional deficiencies. Either you’re not eating a nutritious diet or your body is not successfully absorbing nutrients from your food. Perhaps it’s a little bit of both.
According to published psychiatric studies, lack of adequate levels of vitamin D3 in an expectant mother greatly increased the chances of her child being born with a diagnosable mental illness: schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression being the three most common.
Magnesium deficiency is another frequently-overlooked cause of anxiety. Without adequate levels of magnesium, your neurological health can be severely impacted. Those with magnesium deficiency often experience debilitating anxiety attacks, insomnia, unusual behavior, and paranoia.
- Food Allergies
Until recently, the proposed connection between food and anxiety was cursory at best. Now, more and more studies are emerging to show that food allergies and intolerance can contribute to panic attacks.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats. Inability to digest this protein not only has a negative impact on your digestive health but your mental health as well. Gluten can contribute to anxiety in several ways.
For one, if you have autoimmune celiac disease, your immune system will cause chronic inflammation in your gut as it attempts to destroy what it believes to be a foreign invader. This chronic inflammation interferes with the proper function of your enteric nervous system or “gut brain.” This lowers your natural stores of the feel-good hormone, serotonin, which can cause anxiety.
Also, gluten acts as an addictive opiate to the brain and causes cravings for the indigestible protein. This feeling of addiction and withdrawal, even over the course of several hours, can trigger a panic attack.
Furthermore, when your digestion is negatively impacted in this way, it can wreak havoc with your blood sugar, causing dangerous drops and spikes. This constant state of chemical confusion can also bring on anxiety attacks.
- Food Dyes
Intolerance to synthetic food dyes found in cereal, candy, gum, and soda can be a hidden panic attack trigger. Research has shown that children and teenagers who consume a diet high in synthetic food dyes such as Red #40, Yellow #5, and Blue Lake have difficulty with concentration, exhibit symptoms of ADHD, have uncontrollable mood swings, aggressiveness, hostility, phobias and anxiety.
Unlike gluten intolerance, corn intolerance hasn’t quite yet reached the same ‘popularity’ and understanding, but it still exists. My strong belief is that the inability to digest corn is due to the fact that the large majority of it is genetically modified. Corn intolerance symptoms are very similar to that of gluten intolerance and can often contribute to unusual psychiatric symptoms.
Soy is another crop that is mostly genetically modified, which can contribute to unusual mental health symptoms. Genetically modified soy contains a pesticide called Bacillus thuringiensis injected directly into the seed. It cannot be washed off. Continued consumption of a food product containing pesticides can cause permanent neurological damage that can cause the symptoms of mental disease.
Hypoglycemia isn’t a case of anxiety attacks being caused by food but by the way your body processes the nutrients you’re taking in. In a person with hypoglycemia, there is a deficiency in blood glucose (sugar), which is your body’s main source of energy. If you’re hypoglycemic and go for more than a few hours without eating, you may feel shaky, disoriented, anxious, and moody until your sugar becomes stable again.
- Trigger Foods
In addition to gluten, food dyes, corn, and soy, which are trigger foods for those intolerant to them, there are other foods that may bring on panic attacks. Caffeine is a big one as it is a stimulant. Those with anxiety should avoid excessive caffeine consumption. Sugar (aspartame, table sugar, sucralose, high fructose corn syrup) interferes with proper glucose function and can bring on feelings of panic and anxiety. Alcohol, starchy foods, and anything containing MSG can also worsen your panic attacks.
Anxiety Attacks Can Be Worsened by Prescription Drugs
The most common conventional treatment for anxiety is prescription medication like Xanax and Klonopin. While these drugs may lessen anxious feelings for a short time, they do not treat the underlying causes of panic attacks themselves.
Furthermore, long-term use of prescription drugs for anxiety can worsen panic attacks by causing both physical and psychological addiction and dependence. Quite commonly any attempt to get off of these medications can trigger anxiety attacks much worse than what was experienced before the drugs were introduced.
The Importance of Keeping a Food Journal
The best way to tell if food or the way your body processes food is causing your anxiety attacks is to keep a food journal. Record every single food and drink you consume and how you feel 1-2 hours afterward for several months. Over time, you may notice a pattern and be able to eliminate most if not all of your trigger foods. Keeping a food journal can also help you to pinpoint allergies and correct nutritional deficiencies.
Before you ask your doctor for a prescription for your anxiety, find out if your panic attacks are caused by food. A few dietary changes and the addition of high-grade nutritional supplements may be all you need to get your anxiety under control.
My 6 year old son has a gmo corn intolerance and has terrible side effects from it. I believe our issues began as early as infancy with his formula. Do you know if there is a possibility of his body outgrowing something like this? He can eat any organic/nongmo corn product and
without a reaction. It’s a very difficult intolerance to have for a young boy. We are unable to eat dinner out and he is definitely excluded from certain activities! I changed my whole families diet to match his and it has helped with my anxiety/depression. Whenever I stray and eat out, I noticed I feel blue. I believe gmos cause so many health problems that didn’t exist years ago as well as food dyes and preservatives. If you have any more information that is helpful please pass it along!
Hi Ms Maier,
Thank you for contacting me. I certainly understand your frustration. Have you considered having your son evaluated for Mast Cell Activation Syndrome? I recently posted an article on this. It was once considered rare but recent studies reveal that about 1 in 6 have this condition. Many things can trigger it. My program is designed to slow, or stop, the abnormal release of histamine.
I wish you all the best of health!
Nice to meet and talk to you Dr. Maxwell. I have been in a right state with stress and realy bad anxiety from an emotional truma. And it left me with intolarence to a lot of food. I can only eat potatoes at the moment all other foods just blows me away with feeling of guilt from things years ago that I come to terms with many years ago. Sometimes I think of suicide as the only way out of this crisis. Not that I would do it but its there if needed.I have just used magnesium oil and its helping. But I go up and down with stress and anxiety. I have had it for years but not so bad as the present. Could you help me please with any tips on how to deal with it or a solution to get back to normal with life and my eating problem. Thank you for your concern and your thoughtful site. May peace dwell along with you in life from Ken to a thoughtful person Dr. Maxwell
Thank you for your kind words! I am sorry to hear about all you are going through.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with more information about yourself. I would be glad to schedule a telemedicine consultation with you, as there are ways to alleviate your symptoms which many have suffered from over the years.