While anxiety is very much a mental health issue, the symptoms of anxiety can also be caused by various nutrient deficiencies in the body. The good news is that also means that supplementing these nutritional deficiencies is a great, natural way to help alleviate feelings of anxiousness and to promote calmness. That’s why it’s so important to be armed with the knowledge of what may cause or mimic panic attacks or anxiety--it helps you more quickly identify them so that you can spring into action!
We think it’s always best to take a holistic, whole body approach to anxiety, instead of just masking the symptoms of anxiety and putting a bandaid on them temporarily. With that said, let’s take a deep dive into exactly what deficiencies can be at the root of anxiety disorders, what makes our bodies tick, and how all of that can influence our anxiety levels!
GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid)
When looking at what deficiency causes anxiety, let’s start with arguably the most important one, gamma-Aminobutyric acid. More commonly known as GABA, gamma-Aminobutyric acid is an amino acid that our brain naturally produces. It plays an important role in brain function as a neurotransmitter, which means that it sends chemical messages from neuron to neuron, mostly in the brain. Think of it as kind of like one of the satellite post offices of the brain.
Research has shown that anxiety symptoms start as a miscommunication between the brain cells and the body cells. Specifically, this happens when that miscommunication affects the way we interpret the world around us. GABA specifically acts and sends messages to the amygdala, the part of our brains that processes emotions (specifically fear) and communicates back what we should do about those emotions.
Since GABA is a major factor in how our brains are able to get the information needed to help our bodies decide how to react, having “enough” of those neurotransmitters functioning properly is critical. You couldn’t make an informed decision with only half of the information, right?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a deficiency of GABA can directly trigger an increase in our anxiousness and can even potentially cause panic attacks as the brain starts to perceive everything as a threat, which sends the body into a “fight or flight” response. Without the ability to properly communicate, our body literally sets itself into panic mode.
In the past, the “treatment” for the symptoms of a GABA deficiency has been medications like benzodiazepines, which simply block those fearful, anxious feelings. The big problem with that is that some of those medications come with a pretty hefty list of potential side effects. They also don’t actually treat the problem, they just cover it up.
That’s what makes GABA supplementation such an attractive, natural addition to helping with mental health problems. Not only can supplements with GABA help to reduce anxious feelings and relieve restlessness, they can also help improve our brain's ability to communicate with our bodies.
But, how does a deficiency happen?
There are actually a few different reasons - not having a balanced diet, being overloaded on the stress hormone cortisol, or even simple genetics. GABA deficiency can also happen as a result of the way that other medications tend to interact with the receptors that GABA needs to successfully transmit information. Unfortunately, one of those categories of medications is ironically antidepressants, which can lead to a vicious cycle of anxiety and depression as the body literally chases itself around in circles.
GABA supplementation works best in combination with other supplements that can help it to be more effective, specifically L-theanine and Rhodiola.
There are also a few foods naturally high in GABA:
- Tea (black, green, oolong)
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts)
- Fruits and veggies (berries, citrus, potatoes, broccoli, spinach)
- Whole grains
So, just starting with a supplement to increase GABA levels in the body (like PYM Original Mood Chews), and eating a healthy diet (with a chocolate bar for dessert, of course) may help to seriously reduce your anxiousness. If it’s that simple, why not start today? We’ll be right here when you get back!
B Complex Vitamins
Next up in the deficiency list is a common deficiency that has been linked to an increase in anxiety, the B vitamin group. While many people are familiar with vitamin B12 (often called the “energy” vitamin), it may surprise you to find out that there are actually eight B vitamins in the vitamin B complex! Each of them fulfills a specific role in the body, from supporting heart health to immune health, and even helping the health of babies before they're even born (we’re looking at you, folic acid).
That said, a vitamin B12 deficiency is still one of the most common links to anxiety symptoms in people who are deficient. This is due to the way that B12 impacts the nervous system, enhancing the way that GABA is able to perform within it. In fact, a serious deficiency in B12 can even lead to hallucinations and serious bouts of clinical depression. Why play with fire?
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) can also help improve overall mood and help to reduce anxiety levels. B1 (thiamine) is also said to be particularly helpful to improving feelings of wellness in women struggling with anxiety.
However, the B vitamins ultimately work best when used in tandem, so choosing a single supplement or multivitamin with the full spectrum of B complex vitamins is going to be much more beneficial than trying them out individually. Sorry, B12. Looks like you’ll have to share.
If you’re the type of person who likes to improve their mental health and work on vitamin deficiencies through food sources, there are also a fair amount of foods naturally rich in B complex vitamins:
- Salmon, tuna, mackerel, and other fatty fish (omega-3 fatty acids found in these fish are also supports of mental wellness)
- Leafy greens - specifically spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, and romaine lettuce
- Milk (vitamin D deficiency is also common, so milk can check multiple boxes!)
Eating healthy really can do wonders for your mental health!
There are also some studies that have shown that anxiety could be the result of an overall antioxidant deficiency. More specifically, if the body doesn’t have enough antioxidants during periods of oxidative stress (caused by too many free radicals bouncing around), it triggers an anxiety response in the body as it goes through a state of heightened awareness. Basically, antioxidants help our body help itself. Without them, our body continues to look for reasons to panic.
In addition to antioxidant supplementation, focusing on a healthier diet that can naturally add in antioxidants can always be beneficial. The USDA has done extensive research into antioxidant-rich foods (thankfully, as there are more than 3,000 of them!) and has come up with the following list of the most efficient options:
- Beans: Black beans, red kidney beans, and pinto beans
- Berries: Blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and strawberries
- Fruits: Apples, cherries, plums, and prunes
- Nuts: Walnuts and pecans
- Vegetables: Artichokes, beets, broccoli, kale, and spinach
There are also a few spices that not only have those beneficial antioxidant properties, they are also said to help relieve anxious feelings on their own!
Providing your body with the improved ability to fight off the physical causes of stress can also help to naturally reduce anxiety levels, and it’s tasty and easy to do it! So, make a fruit salad and take a deep breath! Help is on the way.
Last but certainly not least, while vitamins often get the majority of the focus when it comes to supplementation and deficiency, minerals are just as important for helping to relieve stress and anxiety. Mostly, this is due to their ability to be great wingmen to other essential components of your brain and body. Because there are so many minerals out there, here’s a list of just a few that are the easiest to supplement.
- Magnesium: Magnesium is a “wonder” mineral. It promotes calmness in the nervous system, and with a calm body comes a calm mind. With or without a magnesium deficiency, you can add more magnesium into your diet with leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Magnesium also works best when combined with calcium (which is often lacking in people who take antidepressants). Now take a deep breath and get those shoulders out of your ears!
- Zinc: Zinc not only can provide immune function support, it can also help reduce anxiousness by naturally helping to raise GABA levels in the body. Foods rich in zinc include liver, egg yolks, and cashews. Zinc is also a great companion mineral to more than 300 enzymes in the body, helping them function as they should!
- Selenium: One of the lesser knowns, selenium can be found in beef, pork, turkey, and Brazil nuts. It is also commonly added to breakfast cereals. It not only helps with anxiousness, but can also relieve tension in the body (which can be a natural response to stress). It is also technically classified as an antioxidant!
Phew! We know, that was a lot of information! Hopefully you’ve learned a little more about what nutritional deficiencies are linked to anxiety. If there is one takeaway from this article, it’s that, in the end, when healthy coping strategies are combined with a healthy lifestyle, it can really change the game when it comes to beating your anxiety.
Work on changing up your diet to include some of the foods we’ve mentioned today, and think about adding in a supplement rich in GABA and other complementary vitamins and minerals (l-Theanine and Rhodiola are good ones, and are found in PYM Mood Chews) for a well-rounded approach to improving your overall mental health.
You might be surprised by how just a few, simple, easy to do changes can help! Your body will thank you.