Does Your Diet Contribute to Your Panic Attacks?

Avoid Panic by Avoiding These Common Dietary Triggers

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Diet and Panic Attacks. PeopleImages / Getty Images

Studies have shown that people with panic disorder are more sensitive to certain substances than are people without the disorder. When these substances are given to people with panic disorder, the result is increased anxiety or a panic attack. Here are some examples of these known and suspected triggers:


Many people enjoy their morning cup of coffee or their midday soft drink pick-me-up. Caffeine is effective when you need a boost because it is a central nervous system stimulant.

But, if you have panic disorder, this stimulant effect may be contributing to your symptoms. Studies have shown that administering equal amounts of caffeine to individuals with panic disorder and to those without, caused increased panic and anxiety in those with the disorder, but did not produce symptoms in those without the disorder.

Caffeine may occur naturally in a product, such as coffee, or it may be added by a manufacturer to enhance flavor. Some over-the-counter and prescription medications also contain caffeine to enhance their effects. Common items that may contain caffeine include:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Soft Drinks or Sodas
  • Chocolate
  • Some Cold Remedies
  • Some Pain Relievers

If you have been consuming caffeine regularly or in large amounts, stopping abruptly may cause some withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms may include headaches, irritability, anxiety and mood swings. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about these side effects.


Consuming alcohol is often thought of as a way to relax and calm down. But alcohol causes sugar fluctuations and increased lactic acid buildup in the blood. Both of these can cause increased anxiety, irritability, and disturbed sleep patterns.

If you are having difficulty eliminating alcohol from your life, talk to your doctor or counselor.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Some experts believe that monosodium glutamate (MSG) can trigger panic attacks in some people. MSG is a flavor enhancer that is commonly added to our food supply. Many Asian foods, soups, meats, frozen dinners and many others contain MSG.

Refined Sugar

A diet high in refined sugar is indicated in a variety of mood disturbances and decreased energy. This is believed to be due to the release of insulin to quickly decrease blood glucose when large amounts of sugar are consumed. This causes a blood sugar "crash" or hypoglycemia, which is a state of low blood sugar. High sugar diets can also cause lactic acid to build up in the blood.

By maintaining a healthy diet, you may be able to significantly decrease, or even eliminate, many panic attack triggers. In addition, you’ll enjoy added benefits of increased energy and better health.

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