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Mental well-being

5 best vitamins for anxiety, stress and mental health

Anxiety rates are at an all-time high. Support your braincare with nutrition to ease stress and reduce anxiety.

Heights
Heights
January 21, 2021
6 min read

If you’re feeling anxious today, you’re not alone. Mental Health First Aid England[1] reports that anxiety and other mental health concerns are at an all-time high, and one of the main drivers[2] for this sharp increase has been our collective health and safety worries during a global pandemic.

You’ve likely heard the stereotypical de-stressing advice recommended by wellness experts ad nauseam (e.g., get more sleep, hit the gym, etc.). But many people are missing one essential step: providing the right vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to reduce anxiety levels and support a healthy mind and a balanced nervous system. These essential vitamins include:

Article breakdown

With a smart nutritional approach to braincare, you can face your day’s challenges and opportunities with less anxiety, less stress, and more confidence.

If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, or want to take proactive steps today to prevent problems down the road, start with these five natural vitamins that can help with anxiety, depression and panic attacks.

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1. B vitamins

Your body needs eight B vitamins for optimal health: 

All B vitamins play a beneficial role in reducing anxiety and improving your mood. For instance, a study[5] published in the Journal of Functional Foods found that people who ate B vitamin-rich foods saw significant improvements in their anxiety and stress scores compared to those who didn't eat B vitamin-rich foods.

However, when it comes to vitamin B for anxiety, vitamin B12 is especially powerful for managing your mood. For instance, there's a strong correlation[4] between low levels of B12 and increased rates of anxiety and depression. B12 also offers additional braincare benefits, such as increasing your ability to focus and remember information. 

Daily nutrient reference values (NRV) for vitamin B12:

  • Adults: 2.4 μg/day

  • Pregnant individuals: 2.6 μg/day

  • Breastfeeding individuals: 2.8 μg/day

Top food sources for vitamin B12:

  • Shellfish like clams, mussels and crab 

  • Fish, especially Atlantic mackerel and salmon 

  • Lean poultry, such as turkey or chicken

  • Plant-based eaters need to pay special attention to B12, as aside from nutritional yeast—it’s pretty tough to come by

2. Vitamin C

You might think of vitamin C as an immune booster, but it’s also a brain booster and one of the best vitamins for anxiety.

This antioxidant plays a vital role in maintaining homeostasis (i.e., balance) in your central nervous system. A study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry[7] declared that "vitamin C deficiency is widely associated with stress-related diseases” and notes that taking a vitamin C supplement may improve your mood and reduce anxiety.

Plus, chronic anxiety leads to elevated levels of cortisol (a stress hormone linked with a higher risk of diabetes and many other diseases). Vitamin C can help your body to better manage its cortisol levels.

NRV for vitamin C:

  • Adult males: 90 mg/day 

  • Adult females: 75 mg/day

Top food sources for vitamin C:

  • Citrus fruits 

  • Colourful vegetables, such as red bell peppers 

  • Tomatoes

3. Vitamin D

Approximately 40% of Europeans[8] don’t get enough vitamin D

And while it’s unclear if a vitamin D deficiency causes anxiety and depression, there’s a correlation[9] between low vitamin D levels and higher rates of anxiety and other mood disorders. One study even found that taking a vitamin D supplement helped improve symptoms of depression[10]. 

NRV for vitamin D:

  • Adults: 600 IU/day

  • Adults over the age of 70: 800 IU/day

Top food sources for vitamin D:

  • Fish, such as salmon or sardines

  • Egg yolks

  • Fortified foods, such as milk or cereal

4. Magnesium

This anti-anxiety mineral is one of the more common supplements. A systematic review[11] analysing nearly 20 different studies found that taking a magnesium supplement improved all measures of anxiety. Besides benefiting your stress and anxiety symptoms, magnesium has also been linked to improving symptoms of depression[12]. 

That may be because your brain and nervous system need magnesium for proper brain function[13] and to regulate neurotransmitters[14].

An estimated 75% of people[15] don’t get enough magnesium. If you choose to try magnesium supplements for anxiety, take them several hours before or after taking any other supplement. The mineral may reduce how well your body absorbs other nutrients.

NRV for magnesium:

  • Adult males age 30 or younger: 400 mg/day 

  • Adult females age 30 or younger: 310 mg/day 

  • Adult males age 31 or older: 420 mg/day 

  • Adult females age 31 or older: 320 mg/day 

Top food sources for magnesium

  • Nuts, such as cashews or peanuts

  • Beans

  • Whole grain brown rice

  • Avocados

5. Omega 3

Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid, and the reason cod liver oil used to be all the rage.

It comes in several forms, but the most important are DHA and EPA. DHA in particular may play a role in protecting your mental health, and getting enough has been linked with a reduced risk of depression. In fact, one study found that taking a daily supplement could reduce the likelihood of developing symptoms by up to 30%[16]. 

One reason for this might be that DHA is vital for the production of serotonin, a hormone that helps us to regulate our mood naturally. Healthy production and regulation of serotonin can also reduce levels of anxiety and stress[17].

However, a lot of people don’t consume any oily fish at all, and the proportion reaching the recommended omega 3 intake is only around 16%[18]. For everyone else, supplements might be worth looking into.

NRV for omega 3

There isn’t a specific NRV for omega 3. However, the recommendation is the equivalent of two servings of oily fish a week, which comes to around 400mg a day.

Top food sources for omega 3

  • Oily fish

  • Seaweed

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What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?

Because the symptoms of stress and anxiety are so similar, many people use the terms interchangeably. It is useful to understand the difference as many vitamins help both but the definition is different. Shared symptoms between the two conditions include:

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • A hard time concentrating on tasks, conversations, etc.

  • Mood swings or mood changes, such as irritability

  • Chronic fatigue and loss of motivation

However, while stress is a response to a short-term trigger (such as a demanding email from your boss, your toddler’s morning tantrum, etc.), anxiety is a persistent feeling that never goes away. 

Whether you’re experiencing long-term anxiety or short-term stress, psychologists point out that both are emotional responses[3] within your brain and nervous system. And an ever-expanding body of research is investigating how the foods you eat affect how you feel, and whether specific vitamins and minerals can help your brain to better moderate your emotional responses to life’s difficulties.


Sources

[1]https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/research-and-evaluation/mental-health-statistics/ [2]https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/coronavirusandanxietygreatbritain/3april2020to10may2020 [3]https://www.apa.org/topics/stress-anxiety-difference [4]https://content.sciendo.com/view/journals/jbcr/10/2/article-p140.xml [5]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1756464617307077 [6]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26912492/ [7]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0955286320304915 [8]https://www.nature.com/articles/s41430-020-0558-y [9]http://www.biomed.cas.cz/physiolres/pdf/64%20Suppl%202/64_S101.pdf [10]https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2796.2008.02008.x [11]https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/9/5/429/htm [12]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25748766/ [13]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23950577/ [14]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25540137/ [15]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5786912/ [16]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27766299 [17]https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/serotonin [18]https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2019.00165/full

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