Anxiety and Blood Sugar

In this article, we discuss a relationship between anxiety and blood sugar.

Over the years, neurologists and others studying the brain have learned an abundance about the very interesting characteristics of the brain. This has been made possible because of advanced brain scans, and may suggest

Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D. in his book Change Your Brain Change Your Life discusses how these scans have provided information on various brain systems, their functions, and resulting problems when one of these systems doesn’t function optimally.  This work has also allowed an abundance of helpful suggestions to emerge on how to optimize the functioning of various areas of the brain.

Best of all: there are really good implications for anxiety and panic attack sufferers.

Dr. Amen discusses the basal ganglia system: an area of the brain that is responsible for many processes such as fear, anxiety, panic attacks, and other things.

He explains that by optimizing the functioning of the basal ganglia, things such as fear and anxiety can be decreased while at the same time things such as motivation and energy levels can be increased.

But how does one optimize the basal ganglia system?

Dr. Amen explains how this can be done by keeping one’s blood sugar levels consistent throughout the day.  So you see, there is an important link between anxiety and blood sugar.

You might be asking: how can I keep my blood sugar levels consistent?

Fortunately you can take advantage of the connection between anxiety and blood sugar accomplish by focusing on what and how you eat.

What do I mean?

Well let me ask you a question: Have you ever watched animals such as horses eat? You’ll notice that they graze throughout the day as opposed to eating several big meals like we humans are inclined to do.  This grazing helps keep blood sugar levels stable.

This is because eating more frequently throughout the day in smaller quantities (for example, eating 5 times a day in smaller quantities instead of 3 big meals) helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.

But there is another factor at play concerning anxiety and blood sugar: it’s important what you eat…It’s important that you have your hunger satisfied throughout the day by utilizing food that lasts longer in the body.  This is because food that lasts longer typically doesn’t cause a jump in blood sugar levels.  Remember how important it is to keep blood sugar levels as consistent as possible throughout the day?

What type of food?

Well one of the very interesting books I came across which speaks to this question is called The New Atkins for a New You; it is written by three doctors: Dr. Eric C. Westman, Dr. Stephen D. Phinney and Dr. Jeff S. Volek.  Also according to my opinion such a diet would be HEALTHY and would consist of:

A. foods lower in carbohydrates (than the TYPICAL Western diet) – PARTICULARLY LOW IN CARBOHYDRATES WITH A HIGH GLYCEMIC LOAD,
B. foods lower in sugar.
C. Consuming them more frequently throughout the day in lesser quantities

Please bear with me a little more.  I need to define the term “glycemic load”.  To explain I’ll have to start with the “glycemic index”.

The glycemic index is a system that ranks carbohydrates according to their effect on blood sugar.  The more dramatic your blood sugar response, the more insulin your body needs to produce in order to bring down your sugar levels to normal.

Glycemic load takes into account both a carbohydrate’s glycemic index as well as how many carbohydrates are contained in a typical portion.  This is a better predictor of how high your blood sugar is raised because it is more geared towards how much of the carbohyhdrate you are likely to eat.

You see a carbohydrate rich meal with a high glycemic load will produce a greater spike in energy because of a more dramatic blood sugar response; HOWEVER this spike is followed by a more dramatic drop in blood sugar – referred to as a crash.

This crash makes you feel lethargic and hungrier.  Obviously, given what has been discussed above regarding the basal ganglia system, the crash is not desired.

There is an important article discussing how eating sugary foods can be linked to depression.

All these reasons are why eating a diet that consists of carbohydrates with a lower glycemic load, in my opinion, is best for anxiety, panic attacks, weight loss and overall wellness.

There are many great tasting sources of carbohydrates lower in their glycemic load ranking and many great sources of protein and healthy fats: vegetarian, meat, fish dairy, vegetables, nuts, protein powders.

I’m not suggesting that this dietary approach concerning anxiety and blood sugar is a magic potion, but I am saying it is a great adjunct to the many other things that can form part of a holistic approach to anxiety and panic attacks.  For more information about an overall approach to anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia please sign up for our newsletter below.

Reference (Anxiety and Blood Sugar)
1. Amen, D. Change Your Brain Change Your Life
2. Glycemic Index. Retrieved January 10, 2010, from 
3. S. Phinney, J. Volek & E. Westman. The New Atkins for a New You