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Poor Diet Increases Risk of Anxiety Disorders

“The likelihood of anxiety disorder was increased by more than 70 percent.”


A new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has shown that adults who follow an unhealthy diet are more likely at risk of developing anxiety disorders.

Canadian researchers discovered an association between poor diet and anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety, social anxiety, phobias, panic disorders, obsessive compulsion disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The researchers found that adults who consume less than 3 sources of vegetables and fruits daily are at greater risk of having an anxiety disorder.

Study co-author Jose Mora-Almanza said, “This may also partly explain the findings associated with body composition measures. As levels of total body fat increased beyond 36 percent, the likelihood of anxiety disorder was increased by more than 70 percent.”

Lead study author Dr. Karen Davison said, “Increased body fat may be linked to greater inflammation. Emerging research suggests that some anxiety disorders can be linked to inflammation.”

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The researchers also found that body composition measures were also linked to increased risk of anxiety disorders, such as gender, socioeconomic status, immigrant status, marital status, and several health issues.

The study discovered that gender also plays a key role in developing anxiety disorders.

Another study co-author Dr. Karen Kobayashi said, “Our findings are in keeping with previous research which has also indicated that women are more vulnerable to anxiety disorders than men.”

In addition, the risk of anxiety disorders was much higher in singles than those who were having a partner. Furthermore, at least one in five participants with incomes less than $20,000 a year had anxiety disorders.

Co-author Hongmei Tong said, “We were not surprised to find that those in poverty had such a high prevalence of anxiety disorders; struggling to afford basics such as food and housing causes relentless stress and is inherently anxiety-inducing.”

People who have three or more health issues were nearly 17 more likely to have anxiety disorders. And those with chronic pain had double the prevalence of anxiety disorders.

Co-author Shen Lin said, “Chronic pain and multiple health conditions make life very unpredictable and can be anxiety-producing. One never knows whether health problems will interfere with work or family responsibilities and many activities become more challenging and time-consuming.”

Surprisingly, immigrants to Canada were found to have a lower risk of anxiety disorders than peers born in Canada.

Senior study author Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson said, “Immigrants may face a myriad of challenges associated with resettling in a new country, including language barriers, poverty, difficulties in getting qualifications recognized, and limited social support, so it seems counterintuitive that they should have a lower likelihood of anxiety disorders than those born in Canada.”

“It may be that potential immigrants with anxiety disorders would find the challenges of relocation too anxiety-inducing and would therefore not choose to immigrate, so there is a ‘self-selection’ for those with lower anxiety,” added Dr. Fuller-Thomson.

The researchers said there is one important limitation of the study, which was the self-reporting of a medical diagnosis for the assessment of anxiety disorders.

“It is estimated that 10 percent of the global population will suffer from anxiety disorders which are a leading cause of disability,” said Dr. Davison. “Our findings suggest that comprehensive approaches that target health behaviors, including diet, as well as social factors, such as economic status, may help to minimize the burden of anxiety disorders among middle-aged and older adults, including immigrants.”