Can A Salmon-Rich Diet Help Reduce Anxiety?

When life is piling on, sometimes it feels like all you can do is grab a spoon and a pint of ice cream and eat your feelings 'til the cows come home. Usually, that's not a recommended coping mechanism for anxiety, but the narrative changes a bit when you stop eating your feelings and start eating for your feelings instead.

Live Science explains that in each of us, there exists a gut-brain axis – a two-way street between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract by which the pair exchange information. Thanks to this connection (or perhaps, no thanks, depending on your diet), if the foods we eat have a direct impact on the structure and function of our gut, so too will it influence the structure and function of the brain. In fact, a 2021 review published in Pharmacological Research revealed that an unhealthy gut can not only worsen but cause neurological disorders like anxiety and depression. Conversely, maintaining a healthy gut through balanced nutrition can improve symptoms of these conditions.

When we eat foods that make our GI tract happy, our brain benefits as well. Certain foods, like salmon, may be particularly influential when it comes to our mental health. Let's take a closer look.

Salmon's brain-health benefits

When you enjoy a filet of salmon, you're not just eating like a king — you're also loading your body with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. According to a 2015 study published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, ensuring that our bodies have adequate amounts of both vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids is essential to the proper synthesis of serotonin in the body — a hormone that facilitates feelings of calm, comfort, and relaxation.

Healthline explains that in people with anxiety, the occurrence of chronic inflammation negatively affecting brain cell function is common. Luckily, omega-3s are here to sort you out in that department too. In a 2015 study published in Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, researchers determined that omega-3 fatty acids have the ability to improve inflammation and neuroplasticity — a feat that may help people with anxiety better navigate life's ups and downs.

Realizing the connection between the nutrition an anxious brain needs and what salmon provides, researchers in a 2014 study published in Nutrients focused their attention on how choosing salmon over pork, beef, or chicken affected anxiety levels. They determined that the men who had salmon three times a week not only felt less anxious but also saw an improvement in the physiological symptoms of anxiety, like increased heart rate.

If you're interested in eating more salmon as a way to improve your anxiety, Healthline suggests adding it to your menu two or three times a week.