Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions, affecting approximately 7.6 percent of the global population.
It’s an umbrella term used to describe various disorders — such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and phobias — and is generally characterized by constant feelings of tension, worry, and nervousness that can interfere with daily life.
In many cases, medication is often required as a main course of treatment. Though, there are several strategies you can also use to help reduce anxiety symptoms, from exercising to breathing techniques.
Additionally, there are some foods you can eat that may help support brain function and lower the severity of your symptoms, mostly due to their brain-boosting properties.
Here are 6 science-backed foods and beverages that may provide anxiety relief.
Salmon may be beneficial for reducing anxiety.
It contains nutrients that promote brain health, including vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
These nutrients may help regulate the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which can have calming and relaxing properties.
In particular, a diet rich in EPA and DHA is associated with lower rates of anxiety. It’s believed these fatty acids may reduce inflammation and prevent brain cell dysfunction that is common in people with anxiety.
This may also support your brain’s ability to adapt to changes, allowing you to better handle stressors that trigger anxiety symptoms.
Vitamin D has also been studied for its positive effects in reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms. One 2020 meta-analysis showed vitamin D supplementation was associated with lower rates of negative mood disorders.
In another study, men who ate Atlantic salmon 3 times per week for 5 months reported less anxiety than those who ate chicken, pork, or beef. Moreover, they had improved anxiety-related symptoms, such as heart rate and heart rate variability.
For the most benefit, try adding salmon to your diet 2–3 times per week.
Chamomile is an herb that may help reduce anxiety.
It contains both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help lower inflammation associated with anxiety.
Though the mechanisms aren’t clear, chamomile is believed to help regulate neurotransmitters related to moods such as serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
Further, it may help regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, a central part of the body’s stress response.
Some studies have examined the association between chamomile extract and anxiety relief.
One 38-week randomized study in 179 people with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experienced a significantly greater reduction in symptoms after consuming chamomile extract (1,500 milligrams daily) compared to those who did not.
Another study found similar results, as those who consumed chamomile extract for 8 weeks saw reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Though, the study’s low sample size could not provide enough statistical power to demonstrate cause-and-effect.
While these results are promising, most studies have been conducted on chamomile extract. More research is necessary to evaluate the anti-anxiety effects of chamomile tea, which is most commonly consumed.
Turmeric is a spice that contains curcumin, a compound studied for its role in promoting brain health and preventing anxiety disorders.
Known for its high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin may help to prevent damage to brain cells related to chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.
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Moreover, animal studies suggest curcumin may increase the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) — an omega-3 found in plants — to DHA more effectively and increase DHA levels in the brain.
One double-blind, randomized study in 80 patients with diabetes found daily supplementation of nano-curcumin (80 milligrams/day) — a smaller, more bioavailable form of curcumin — for 8 weeks resulted in significantly lower anxiety scores compared to a placebo.
Another small randomized crossover study, consuming one gram of curcumin per day for 30 days was shown to significantly lower anxiety scores, compared to a placebo.
An 8-week randomized, double-blind study observed similar effects in those with major depressive disorder after taking 500 milligrams of curcumin for 8 weeks.
Though promising, most studies observed the effects of curcumin supplementation rather than obtaining curcumin from turmeric. Therefore, more research in this area is needed.
That said, incorporating turmeric into your diet is certainly worth a try. To increase curcumin absorption, try pairing it with black pepper.
4. Dark chocolate
Incorporating some dark chocolate into your diet may also help ease anxiety.
Dark chocolate contains flavonols, such as epicatechin and catechin, which are plant compounds that act as antioxidants.
Some research suggests that the flavonols found in dark chocolate may benefit brain function and have neuroprotective effects. In particular, flavonols may increase blood flow to the brain and enhance cell-signaling pathways.
These effects may allow you to adjust better to the stressful situations that can lead to anxiety and other mood disorders.
Some researchers also suggest that dark chocolate’s role in brain health may simply be due to its taste, which can be comforting for those with mood disorders.
One cross-sectional study in 13,626 participants found those who consumed dark chocolate had significantly lower depressive symptoms compared to those who seldom ate dark chocolate.
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Further, in one randomized study, individuals who consumed dark chocolate twice daily for 2 weeks reported immediately lower levels of anxiety after eating it. This effect continued for 2 weeks, suggesting its effects may not level-off over time.
While this is promising, more research investigating dark chocolate’s effects on anxiety and mood is needed. Further, dark chocolate is best consumed in moderation, as it’s high in calories and easy to overeat. Enjoy a 1.0- to 1.5-ounce serving at a time.
If you suffer from anxiety, yogurt is a great food to include in your diet.
The probiotics, or healthy bacteria, found in some types of yogurt may improve several aspects of your well-being, including mental health.
Though still an emerging field of research, probiotics may support the gut-brain-axis — an intricate system between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. In particular, research suggests healthy gut bacteria may be linked with better mental health.
Further, probiotic foods like yogurt may promote mental health and brain function by reducing inflammation and increasing the production of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, such as serotonin.
In one study, anxious individuals who consumed probiotic yogurt daily were better able to cope with stress than those who consumed yogurt without probiotics.
Another study found that women who consumed 4.4 ounces (125 grams) of yogurt twice daily for 4 weeks had better functioning of the brain regions that control emotion and sensation, which may be associated with lower anxiety levels.
Though a promising field of research, more human trials are needed to explore the direct relationship between yogurt consumption and anxiety reduction.
It’s also important to note that not all yogurt contains probiotics. For the benefits of probiotics, choose a yogurt that has live active cultures listed as an ingredient.
6. Green tea
Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that’s been studied for the positive effects it may have on brain health and anxiety reduction.
In one double-blind, randomized study, participants that consumed a beverage containing L-theanine reported significantly lower subjective stress and decreased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone linked with anxiety.
These effects may be due to L-theanine’s potential to prevent nerves from becoming overexcited. Additionally, L-theanine may increase GABA, dopamine, and serotonin, neurotransmitters that have been shown to have anti-anxiety effects.
Moreover, green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant suggested to promote brain health. It may play a role in reducing certain symptoms by also increasing GABA in the brain.
Interestingly, the combination of L-theanine, EGCG, and other compounds found within green tea appear to play a synergistic role in promoting calmness and alleviating anxiety and may be more effective together than as separate ingredients.
This may suggest why drinking several cups of green tea daily is associated with less psychological distress.
That said, more research is needed.
Other foods that may help with anxiety
While some of the foods listed below have not been studied specifically for their anti-anxiety effects, they’re rich in nutrients thought to improve related symptoms.
- Turkey, bananas, and oats. These are good sources of the amino acid tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin in the body and may promote relaxation and anxiety relief.
- Eggs, meat, and dairy products. All provide high-quality protein including essential amino acids that produce the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which have the potential to improve mental health.
- Chia seeds. Chia seeds are another good source of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help with anxiety.
- Citrus fruits and bell peppers. These fruits are rich in vitamin C, which has antioxidant properties that may help reduce inflammation and prevent damage to cells that may promote anxiety.
- Almonds. Almonds provide a significant amount of vitamin E and healthy fats, which play key roles in brain health.
- Blueberries. Blueberries are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, such as flavonoids, that have been studied for their ability to improve brain health and thus help with anxiety relief.
Though these foods may support your mental well-being, they should not replace any medications or other therapies prescribed by your healthcare provider.
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Anxiety is a complicated mental health disorder that requires a multitude of approaches to manage it effectively.
Along with medication and therapy, the foods you eat may help support your mental health, reduce symptoms of anxiety, and promote better brain health. In particular, whole, minimally-processed foods high in antioxidants appear beneficial.
However, there’s not enough research to support using food as a first-line treatment for anxiety and therefore should not replace any medications or therapies recommended by your healthcare provider.
Nonetheless, adding these foods to your diet is a great way to support brain health and overall well-being.