The Role Your Diet Is Playing in Your Panic Attacks

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Is your diet causing your panic attacks? Studies have shown that people with panic disorder are more sensitive to certain substances than people without the disorder. When people with panic disorder consume these substances, they experience increased anxiety or a panic attack. Get the facts about both known and suspected triggers for such episodes.

Caffeine in Your Diet and Panic Attacks

Many people enjoy their morning cup of coffee or a midday soft drink. 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 the former while producing no symptoms in the latter.

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.


People drink alcohol 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.

If you can easily eliminate alcohol from your routine on your own, you may be looking for alternative ways to relax or calm down. Exercise, guided visualization, and meditation are all healthful ways to reduce stress. Writing in a journal, talk therapy, or joining a support group may also prove helpful to you.

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 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 caused by the release of insulin quickly decreasing 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 decrease significantly, or even eliminate, many panic attack triggers. In addition, you’ll enjoy the added benefits of increased energy and better health.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cappelletti S, Piacentino D, Daria P, Sani G, Aromatario M. Caffeine: cognitive and physical performance enhancer or psychoactive drug?. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2015;13(1):71-88. doi:10.2174/1570159X13666141210215655

  2. Nardi AE, Lopes FL, Valença AM, et al. Caffeine challenge test in panic disorder and depression with panic attacks. Compr Psychiatry. 2007;48(3):257-63. doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2006.12.001

By Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC
Sheryl Ankrom is a clinical professional counselor and nationally certified clinical mental health counselor specializing in anxiety disorders.