Foods That Can Cause Panic Attacks

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Are There Foods That Cause Panic Attacks?

Do you suffer from panic attacks? It can be frightening to experience a panic attack out of the blue, when you least expect it. The heart pounding, difficulty breathing, dizziness, lightheadedness, and feelings of terror can make you feel very alone and helpless. Have you ever considered how diet affects your panic attack symptoms? Are there foods that can cause panic attacks?

Are There Foods That Can Cause Panic Attacks?

There is some medical evidence that diet plays a role in panic attacks. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2010 showed that women who eat a diet high in processed foods, characteristic of the typical American diet, have a greater risk for both anxiety and depression.

The good news? The same study showed that eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein helps to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. In addition, other studies show that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish may help to protect against symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s likely that this type of whole food diet would also have benefits for panic attack prevention, since they reduce anxiety.

Specific Foods That Can Cause Panic Attacks: Caffeine

If you have panic attacks, be sure to make your next latte a decaf one. A Brazilian study showed that people who suffer from panic attacks are more likely to develop panic symptoms after a high dose of caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant which increases the heart rate and blood pressure, and causes anxiety - which can trigger a panic attack. Keep in mind that caffeine is found not only in coffee - but tea, chocolate, and some medications as well. Limit caffeine sources as much as possible if you want to reduce the number of panic attacks.

Are There Foods That Cause Panic Attacks?: The Sugar Problem

Another type of food to avoid if you have panic attacks are foods high in sugar. Sweet foods such as candy bars, soft drinks, and cookies cause quick rises in blood sugar levels. This rise creates an insulin surge, which triggers an equally fast drop in blood sugar levels, leading to a panic attack in some individuals. To avoid this problem, limit foods containing processed sugar - and keep blood sugars stable by eating more protein rich foods throughout the day.

Other Foods That Cause Panic Attacks

Other foods to avoid if you have panic attacks are foods that contain artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame. Some people are sensitive to the neurological effects of this synthetic sweetener, that’s so commonly found in packaged food products. Another area of controversy is artificial coloring and flavorings. Some experts believe these additives trigger ADHD symptoms in children - and could be a problem for adults who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. Alcohol is another substance to avoid with panic attacks. Alcohol may temporarily calm you, but once the effects wear off, it leaves you more vulnerable to anxiety and panic.

Are There Foods That Can Cause Panic Attacks?: The Bottom Line?

Diet does play a role, but the types of foods that trigger panic attacks may vary from person to person. One way to see how different foods affect panic attacks is to keep a food diary, carefully documenting each food you eat along with any panic attack symptoms. It may take several weeks to see an association, but when you do, try eliminating that food and see if the frequency of panic attacks decreases.


Compr Psychiatry. 2007;48:257-263.