Some people may need drugs for anxiety, but others just have a simple vitamin or mineral deficiency. Here's the science.
The Doctor Problem
Walk into just about any doctor's office and tell the doc about your symptoms. Here's what should happen:
Doc: Hmm, let's see if we can figure out what's causing those problems. We'll first make sure this isn't some type of simple nutritional deficiency before we go further.
Here's what often happens instead:
Doc: Okay, here's a prescription for something that might mask those symptoms.
Okay, that's a bit unfair. Sometimes you do need a prescription drug. But prescribing drugs shouldn't be any doctor's knee-jerk reaction for things like anxiety, especially if he or she knows a little about nutrition. Sadly, many don't.
What's more, a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that most doctors only give patients 11 seconds to explain the reasons for their visits before they're interrupted (1). How many phoning-it-in physicians are just thinking of what drug to put you on during those 11 seconds?
The rushed consultations and the general lack of nutritional knowledge have consequences. Many people are now dealing with the adverse effects of taking benzodiazepines (like Xanaz and Valium) when they might just need to eat a juicy steak.
A Japanese study gathered up 21 people with varying levels of anxiety, plus a control group. Anxiety here is defined as excess worry, nervousness, elevated heart rate, the inability to concentrate, and even trembling and hyperventilation.
Here's the quick and dirty: Those suffering from anxiety all had low levels of iron and vitamin B6 (2). This makes sense. It's believed that the root cause of excess anxiety is sub-par levels serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan, and iron and vitamin B6 play a big role in that process.
Low iron and B6 can lead to low serotonin, and puny amounts of serotonin can trigger anxiety, even panic attacks.
How to Use This Info
Iron deficiency is tricky and sometimes you'll need a mega-dose of supplemental iron to get levels back up to normal. This is especially true for women. (Men seldom need iron supplements.) Read The Missing Element in Female Fitness for details.
Diet-wise, here's what to eat to keep your iron up:
- Red meat
- Dark leafy vegetables
And for vitamin B6:
- Red meat
If you're a vegetarian, you'll probably need to supplement both iron and B6.
- Naykky Singh Ospina, Kari A. Phillips, Rene Rodriguez-Gutierrez, Ana Castaneda-Guarderas, Michael R. Gionfriddo, Megan E. Branda, Victor M. Montori. Eliciting the Patient’s Agenda- Secondary Analysis of Recorded Clinical Encounters. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2018; DOI: 10.1007/s11606-018-4540-5
- Mikawa et al. "Low serum concentrations of vitamin B6 and iron are related to panic attack and hyperventilation attack." Acta Med Okayama, 2013.