I just recently finished another training with the fabulous Dr Datis Kharrazian diving deeper into anxiety and mood disorders. It was a great reminder of how blood sugar balance is not only the basis for hormone balance but also for anxiety. And it’s true: that inflammation that we get in our brain when our blood sugar is doing the roller coaster, it doesn’t only cause brain fog, but also triggers anxiety.
Did you know that about 40 million adults alone in the US are affected by anxiety disorders? As I said, diet and lifestyle (aka stress management) do have a big impact on anxiety levels, but of course, there’s also the lack of progesterone in perimenopause that makes women much more prone to anxiety once they hit 35.
For some people just cutting out caffeine is doing the trick: the first step really is to find out what’s triggering your anxiety.
In this article, you’ll learn about anxiety symptoms and what triggers to avoid for anxiety.
Occasional anxiety is completely normal. We all experience nervousness, jitters or fear from time to time, especially before important events, a job interview, or public speaking. However, experiencing intense, excessive, or persistent anxiety, fear, or worry can interfere with the quality of your life and health.
An anxiety disorder is categorized by experiencing anxiety such as generalized anxiety, social anxiety disorder, phobias, or another form of anxiety for six months or longer.
I never considered myself to be anxious but I can admit now that I’m a control freak who has a hard time going with the flow and not planning everything ahead. I also physically need to move my body a lot everyday in order to be at peace. I seem very calm on the outside but my brain is in constant hyperactivity. And even though I’m not suffering from an anxiety disorder, I definitely find that it has a negative impact on my quality of life.
I’d just like to share an example of what happened last week: besides preparing a trip to the US, I also have several workshops to prepare and have a lot of other projects going on. I got so absorbed by planning and organizing that I hit a point where I was so stressed that I got really conscious of how much I was spoiling the pleasure of this trip. So I had to stop and tell myself to take a deep breath, stop overthinking and planning and just play by ear. I realized that I was about to ruin this trip that I was so much looking forward to because of all my anxiety.
So this is an example of what anxiety looks like for me, how does it look like for you?
The symptoms of anxiety are different for everyone and they depend on your situation and the form of anxiety you have. Common signs of anxiety can include:
Increased heart rate
Having a sense of danger
Sense of stress, distress, dread, or worry
Intense fear or worry about a specific situation, place, person, or activity
Feeling out of control
Difficulty falling asleep
Painful or worrisome thoughts or memories you are unable to control
Having difficulty controlling fear or worry
What can trigger anxiety?
You may think about stress as an anxiety trigger and you’re definitely right about that, but there are also other things that can trigger anxiety:
Blood sugar imbalance
Gut-brain axis dysfunction
Neurotransmitter imbalance of GABA & Glutamate
Lack of progesterone
Blood sugar imbalance
Skipping meals can lead to a blood sugar drop that’ll cause the release of stress hormones and can therefore be a trigger for anxiety.
Eating a diet high in processed foods and sugar will lead to blood sugar highs and lows throughout the day (and night and cause insomnia by the way) and again, those crashes or blood sugar lows can trigger anxiety.
The fact that blood sugar imbalances can trigger anxiety is not new: One of the first studies on the topic was published in 1966. People experienced anxiety, depression, insomnia, trembling, racing heart, dizziness, and forgetfulness. They were also consuming a diet high in refined carbohydrates and caffeine. Once they were put on a low-sugar, high-protein, and caffeine-free diet, their blood sugar levels evened out and their anxiety symptoms resolved.
Foods that can trigger anxiety
So you probably know that caffeine can be a big anxiety trigger, but I’ve also mentioned the blood sugar imbalance that can trigger higher anxiety when you get to that blood sugar drop. So logically, high carb foods will also be an anxiety trigger. But in general, all foods that cause inflammation will inflame your brain and therefore they can trigger anxiety.
Here’s an overview of 6 foods to avoid when struggling with anxiety:
Caffeine: coffee, tea, energy drinks and also chocolate
High carb and sugar foods like pasta, rice, bread, grains, sweets & baked goods but also high sugar fruit like mango, pineapple, raisins, banana, dried fruit…
Gluten and grains: many people are sensitive to gluten, which can cause inflammation, pain, and other health. Gluten can also trigger anxiety. For some, even gluten-free grains are difficult to digest and can trigger anxiety.
Artificial ingredients, additives & preservatives: aspartame and MSG in particular can trigger anxiety. Other additives or preservatives like monosodium glutamate, artificial coloring, high fructose corn syrup, guar gum, sodium benzoate, trans fats or any artificial flavoring can all lead to inflammation and trigger anxiety.
Processed vegetable oils like sunflower, canola (or rapeseed), grapeseed, soy, corn peanut, sesame… are all highly inflammatory as they are already oxidized when you buy them and are all high in omega-6 fatty acids. Go back to my previous article on inflammatory fats here to read more.
Conventional meat: you know that I pray about the importance of eating animal protein, but the kind of meat or fish you eat absolutely matters. Animals raised for industrial meat products are not treated well and they also are not fed well: they're getting hormones and antibiotics and are fed with grain instead of grass. These animals are not healthy and therefore their meat are inflammatory and can contribute to hormone imbalance and anxiety.
Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) are chemicals that are produced by the bad bacteria in your gut and can cause an acute inflammatory response. If you then also have leaky gut, these endotoxins will leak into your bloodstream and cause even more havoc like chronic health conditions, chronic inflammation and all the downstream effects of that.
LPS has been associated with anxiety and depression. Source
Glutamate and GABA are 2 of your neurotransmitters. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an inhibitory or calming neurotransmitter while Glutamate is excitatory. Inhibitory neurotransmitters slow us down, or put the brakes on informational flow. Excitatory neurotransmitters tend to increase the flow of information by causing more neurons to fire. They keep us engaged and focused.
Since glutamate is excitatory, it must be balanced by adequate GABA.
If you have a lack of GABA, you can experience anxiety.
Lack of progesterone
Progesterone has a calming effect on the brain by enhancing the activity of GABA. GABA helps reduce feelings of anxiety and promotes relaxation. Low progesterone levels can disrupt this balance and contribute to increased anxiety.
During perimenopause, progesterone levels drop, which can lead to mood swings, irritability, and anxiety especially in the second half of the menstrual cycle.
Low progesterone can also exacerbate anxiety because it will have a negative impact on your sleep and stress response.