One of the most common causes of anxiety is being deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. So, make sure you are sufficient! You can get a blood test done to check your levels if you aren’t sure. This is something my own blood work revealed I was deficient in, and I immediately felt better once I started to eat more salmon and take fish oil capsules.

Omega-3 fatty acids contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is a primary structural component of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina, and its deficiency is linked to several neurocognitive disorders and behaviors linked to anxiety and depression. (1) Notably, low levels of DHA are associated with generalized anxiety, (2) whereas supplementation with DHA has been shown to have anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects. (3)

Primary sources of DHA are fish, including anchovies, salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna, trout, mussels, oysters, Atlantic cod, caviar, snow crab, tiger prawn, barramundi, clams, and halibut; grass-fed red meat; and turkey. Eggs naturally contain small amounts of DHA. If you’re vegan or just interested in getting your omega-3s from plant-based sources, you can get DHA from spirulina, a type of blue-green algae. I add spirulina to my Brain Smoothie every day, and I’m not even vegan. You could also take a fish oil supplement. I do both.

Because vegetarians and vegans do not eat fish, they consume virtually no EPA and DHA. However, vegetarians and vegans often eat a diet rich in the plant-derived omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In one study, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, were trying to better understand how turmeric and its active component, curcumin, support brain health. They found that consuming curcumin actually increases the cellular machinery necessary to convert ALA into EPA and DHA. (4) This is why turmeric (and its active compound, curcumin) can be another vegan source for DHA.

Other plant-based sources of DHA are certain algae, seaweed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, strawberry, broccoli, edamame, kidney beans, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, avocado, coconut and coconut oil, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil, olive oil, and olives.

Sources:

1.     H.F. Chen and H.M. Su. “Exposure to a Maternal N-3 Fatty Acid-Deficient Diet During Brain Development Provokes Excessive Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Responses to Stress and Behavioral Indices of Depression and Anxiety in Male Rat Offspring Later in Life,” Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, vol. 24, no. 1 (January 2013), pp. 70–80, doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2012.02.006.

2.     J.J. Liu, et al., “Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA) Status in Major Depressive Disorder with Comorbid Anxiety Disorders,” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, vol. 74, no. 7 (July 2013), pp. 732–8, doi: 10.4088/JCP.12m07970.

3.     M.A. Pérez, G. Terreros, and A. Dagnino-Subiabre, “Long-Term ω-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation Induces Anti-Stress Effects and Improves Learning in Rats,” Behavioral and Brain Functions, vol. 9 (June 14, 2013), p. 25, doi: 10.1186/1744-9081-9-25; H.F. Chen and H.M. Su, “Fish Oil Supplementation of Maternal Rats on an N-3 Fatty Acid-Deficient Diet Prevents Depletion of Maternal Brain Regional Docosahexaenoic Acid Levels and Has a Postpartum Anxiolytic Effect,” Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, vol. 23, no. 3 (March 2013), pp. 299–305, doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2010.12.010; A. Wu, et al., “Curcumin Boosts DHA in the Brain: Implications for the Prevention of Anxiety Disorders,” Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, vol. 1852, no. 5 (May 2015), pp. 951–61, doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2014.12.005.

4.     A. Wu, et al., “Curcumin Boosts DHA in the Brain: Implications for the Prevention of Anxiety Disorders,” Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, vol. 1852, no. 5 (2015), pp. 951–61, doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2014.12.005.