Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and uncertainty. It helps us to deal with tense situations, but when anxiety becomes an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it can become a disabling disorder.

1 out of every 75 people worldwide will experience panic attacks at one time in their lives.

Panic attacks are sudden surges of overwhelming fear that that come without warning and without any obvious reason. They are far more intense than the feeling of being “stressed out” that most people experience. 

Repetitive panic attacks can have a severe impact on quality of life, for instance if the sufferer starts to avoid places or situations where panic attacks have occurred. Panic attacks are not dangerous, but they can be terrifying, largely because of the feelings of being out of control.


  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach aches
  • Headaches
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Pale skin

Often someone suffering from anxiety will also experience a sense of dread or panic.

Panic attacks cause similar, but much more intense symptoms. Panic attacks reach maximum intensity within a minute or two once they begin. They then diminish slowly over the next 30 minutes or the next several hours.

Note: some of the symptoms of anxiety and panic can also be attributed to other serious medical conditions. If you experience symptoms such as palpitations, chest pain and shortness of breath it is important to contact your GP to rule out these other causes before embarking on a course of therapy.

Contributory factors

Anxiety and the gut brain axis: it’s is well known that there is an information highway between the gut and the brain, called the gut-brain axis. This involves the stress hormones, immune markers and the autonomic (automatic) nervous system that includes the vagus nerve.

Stress can impact on all these areas and it is widely accepted that stress can negatively impact digestion with some people being more sensitive to this than others. This bi-directional signalling causes anxiety to influence the gut bacteria causing imbalances / dysbiosis which then sends a message back to the brain telling it to be anxious – and a negative loop is created.

Breaking the loop by addressing gut bacteria is key, but working on the anxiety is also very important. One way that stress affects the gut is that the stress hormones prepare you to run away from a tiger or fight a bear – your digestion is shut down so that your energy is available for survival rather than digestion. This means less digestive juices and less effective digestion. Stress signals are carried away from the brain along the vagus nerve and activate the sympathetic side of the autonomic (automatic) nervous system. In those who are more sensitive to the impact of stress, the sympathetic side of the nervous system is more dominant. If you are less affected by stress, you are more parasympathetic dominant. Signals are also sent up the vegus nerve from the intestines and affect emotions.

Stress: stress is one of the most common contributing factors to the onslaught of a panic attack. Many people in highly stressful jobs or who spend time in highly stressful environments are prone to panic attacks. So too are individuals who suffer from medical or emotional conditions that render them anxious.

Often people who are stressed don’t realise that’s the case, because one of the ways the body manages stress is to make us feel as if we are coping.

If you have a demanding lifestyle or stressful medical condition, an Adrenal Stress Test assesses how well your body is really managing by measuring the levels of different stress hormones to look for any imbalances.

Once identified, Smart Nutrition can put together a personalised stress busting protocol for you. 

Imbalanced brain chemistry: anxiety and panic are correlated with slight imbalances in the chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. This can be caused by many factors including a lack of the correct building blocks called amino acids in the diet or a lack of the nutrients needed to help the body make these vital substances.

Deficiencies in these building blocks can be determined by an Amino Acid Test. 

Stimulants: regularly consuming stimulants such as caffeine, chocolate, nicotine or alcohol can also predispose you to panic attacks.

Because these substances can be hard to give up, it’s sensible to use a combination of diet and supplements to support the body and reduce cravings while gradually replacing stimulants with healthful alternatives. Smart Nutrition write individualised protocols to address these issues – use the button at the bottom of the page to book a consultation and find out more.

Food allergies: a food allergy or sensitivity to a food additive can exacerbate or cause the symptoms of anxiety.

If you think you have a food allergy or intolerance, a Food Allergy or Intolerance Test can pinpoint key triggers. This information can be used to design a diet that’s specific to your needs in a Smart Nutrition consultation.

Nutrient levels: there are specific nutrients which can decrease anxiety including magnesium, calcium and B vitamins which help to ensure proper function of our muscles, nerves and heart. Deficiencies of any of these nutrients reduce our resistance to anxiety.

Low nutrient status can be identified during a nutrition consultation where advice on dietary changes and supplements can help to restore healthy nutrient levels and support a relaxed state of mind and body. Possible nutrient imbalances can be identified by the NutrEval Test. 

Useful Links

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The laboratories are closed from the 28th March – 2nd April for the Easter Holiday.