I came late to the vitamin party; I never took a multi, and I couldn’t hold down my prenatals. I guess I didn’t really believe supplements made that much of a difference. So imagine my surprise when, several years ago, my doctor suggested I undergo a comprehensive nutrient evaluation as part of my treatment plan for anxiety and depression.
Turns out, vitamins (and minerals) are a big deal for anxiety sisters. In fact, the production of stress hormones, the ingestion of SSRIs (Prozac, Zoloft, etc.) and our favorite anxiety soothers (caffeine, sugar, alcohol) all actually deplete your stores of key vitamins and minerals. (FYI: lots of meds deplete vitamins—aspirin, Advil, antibiotics, antacids, and H-2 blockers such as Zantac and Pepcid, just to name a few.) To add insult to injury, anxiety slows down digestion, thus inhibiting the absorption of vitamins and minerals from your diet. So, basically, if you have anxiety, you are most likely lacking in important vitamins and minerals that protect your brain, heart, and other crucial organs.
In a nutshell (a great source of Vitamin B and magnesium), here are the three most important vitamins and minerals for anxiety sufferers:
VITAMIN B—I put this one on top because correcting my B deficiency was the easiest and fastest acting treatment I have ever found for my anxiety and depression. Vitamin B is the brain vitamin: it provides the body with energy (it’s hard to feel good without energy) and, more importantly, helps the body create serotonin and norepinephrine (the feel-good neurotransmitters anti-depressants are designed to boost). Although there are 8 vitamins in the B complex, the ones to watch in terms of mood stabilization are B6, B9 (also known as folate) and B12. As soon as I began taking Folate and B12 daily, I noticed a huge difference in energy and my moods felt more balanced. If you are interested in how to up your levels through diet, you can find B6 (pyridoxine) in poultry, fish, organ meats, potatoes, starchy vegetables, and non-citrus fruits. B9 (folate or folic acid) is abundant in green leafy vegetables, liver, yeast, black-eyed peas, lentils, asparagus and Brussels sprouts. B12 is found in all animal foods as well as in nori (seaweed). If you are a vegetarian or vegan, it is hard to get enough B12 without supplementation; even if you are a carnivore like me, you can be severely lacking in B, so hurry up and check it out. This can be a quick fix!
VITAMIN C—Probably best known for boosting immunity, Vitamin C is actually more important for fighting stress and anxiety, which it does in three ways: (1) it suppresses the production of the stress hormone Cortisol (2) it lowers blood pressure (3) it is required by the body in order to produce and synthesize serotonin and norepinephrine (the feel-good neurotransmitters). Several studies have shown that people lacking in Vitamin C are more likely to suffer from mood disorders like anxiety and depression and that people diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder saw a substantial reduction in symptoms when they took Vitamin C daily. The best sources of Vitamin C are citrus fruits, strawberries, pineapple, papaya and kiwi. Peppers of all kinds (red, green, or yellow bell peppers and hot peppers), tomatoes, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale) also contain Vitamin C, but you’d have to eat quite a lot of them to get the recommended daily allowance.
MAGNESIUM—The connection between magnesium and anxiety is so strong that researchers can induce anxiety in lab animals by depriving them of magnesium. This mineral stimulates the production of GABA, often referred to as “nature’s valium—a neurotransmitter that calms the brain when it is overstimulated, as is the case when it is experiencing a panic attack or having obsessive thoughts. Magnesium also suppresses the production of stress hormones and acts as a barrier to keep them from entering the brain. As a bonus, magnesium regulates blood sugar levels, which decreases anxiety often caused by sugar highs and lows. In terms of dietary magnesium, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that you can find magnesium in lots of healthy stuff such as avocado, black beans, legumes, whole grains, spinach, nuts, seeds and soy products. The bad news is that our soil has been largely depleted of magnesium so foods don’t contain as much as they once did. Also, more than 200 drugs block the absorption of magnesium, so, if you take any meds, you probably are lacking in the magnesium department. The best magnesium supplement is magnesium glycinate. DO NOT INGEST MAGNESIUM SULFATE (like Epsom Salts)—IT CAN CAUSE KIDNEY FAILURE AND CARDIAC ARREST.
There are other vitamins and minerals which, when lacking, are connected with brain disorders such as anxiety and depression. These include Zinc, Iron, Calcium, Vitamin D, and Omega-3 fatty acids. But the big three—B, C and Magnesium—are the first ones you should investigate. Ask your doctor to prescribe the bloodwork and discuss the results with him/her.
One last piece of advice: use pharmaceutical-grade supplements, if at all possible. There is a lot of variation in nutritional products, and, with few exceptions, you get what you pay for. Here’s my argument for using pharma-grade: (1) they are made with the highest quality raw materials, (2) they have been purified to eliminate contaminants and, most importantly, (3) they are formulated to optimize absorption.
Have you had good results from taking nutritional supplements? Let us know what works for you…