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Diet for anxiety in children

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Dear Delialah,

Can you recommend a basic diet program for children suffering from anxiety?


Peter Chase, Charlotte NC

Dear Peter,

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Children who suffer from anxiety may exhibit intestinal symptoms such as nausea, stomachaches, diarrhea and vomiting. Controlling anxiety may reduce intestinal symptoms. Although there is no evidence that any particular diet can cure anxiety, some studies suggest that eating and avoiding particular types of foods may help decrease the number as well as the severity of attacks. Implementing dietary changes does not serve as a substitute for treatment. If your child suffers from severe anxiety that interferes with his daily activities, consult a pediatrician.

Giving your child adequate protein for breakfast will help him sustain his energy levels throughout the day. Children who suffer from anxiety may experience episodes of lethargy from lack of sleep and emotional drain. Obtaining energy from a proper diet will help combat these effects. According to the Mayo Clinic, carbohydrates are thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which has a calming effect. Avoid simple carbohydrates found in sugary foods and white breads, and opt for whole grains instead. Breakfast foods that are high in protein and healthy carbs include scrambled eggs on a whole wheat tortilla, whole grain toast or English muffin spread with peanut butter, or an all natural whey protein shake.

Drinking an adequate amount of water is crucial to good physical and mental health. The Mayo Clinic states that even mild dehydration can affect your mood. Dehydration can cause fatigue, dizziness, lethargy and confusion; all of which can increase feelings of anxiety. As a general rule, children should drink half of their body weight in ounces to stay hydrated. Children suffering from anxiety should avoid caffeinated beverages, which can make them jittery, disrupt sleep and add to feelings of nervousness. Coffee, tea and most sodas all contain caffeine and should be avoided.

Fish oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. According to neuroscientist Andrew L. Stoll, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, who has studied the effects of omega-3s on Major Depression, a few promising studies suggest that natural sources of omega-3s- especially fish oil- may help bring mood back into balance. Not all fish are created equally, and fatty fish such as salmon, herring and tuna, have the highest level of Omega-3's. Many other types of fish contain smaller amounts of Omega-3's, but some fish, such as tilapia and catfish, contain higher levels of unhealthy fats and should be avoided.

Children react to food additives differently. Artificial colorings, artificial flavorings and artificial sweeteners are types of food additives that can lead to increased anxiety in children. While some children appear to be unaffected, others are highly sensitive to them and will develop negative side effects after consuming them. In addition to experiencing unpleasant physical effects, children may experience irritability or increased anxiety. Processed foods are full of preservatives that may have the same negative effects. Children with anxiety should consume fresh, whole foods as often as possible.

The brain requires folic acid to function properly. Some studies suggests that low levels of folic acid may lead to an increased risk of depression, insomnia, irritability, fatigue and anxiety. Folic acid is a common ingredient in most pediatric multivitamin formulas. Magnesium is a mineral that shows promise in managing the symptoms of anxiety. Powdered formulas can be mixed with water and given before bedtime to induce a sense of well being, ease stomachaches and reduce anxious thoughts. Vitamin B1 may aid the nervous system and promote mental well being. Vitamin B6 assists amino acids in forming brain chemicals that are necessary to reduce anxiety and depression. Vitamin B12 increases energy levels, boosts brain function and helps the nervous system function at optimum levels. Zinc can reduce anxiety because of the calming effect it produces. Speak with your child's pediatrician for recommendations about nutritional supplements to decrease anxiety.

email your alternative health questions to Delialah at


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