What is Stress?
While everyone has specific life stressors, factors related to job pressure, money, health, and relationships tend to be the most common. Stress can be acute or chronic and lead to fatigue, headaches, upset stomach, nervousness, and irritability or anger. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and good nutrition are some of the best ways to better equip your body to combat stress, but several vitamins and supplements can also help.
How Unchecked stress can take years off your life:
Chronic stress affects our physical health, our mental health, and ultimately, our mortality. Emotional stress is especially damaging. While stress is pervasive, there are ways to mitigate its effects. Besides practicing mindfulness or deep breathing regularly, eating a healthy diet and getting good exercise, several herbal supplements and vitamins have been shown to help alleviate stress and its symptoms.
How vitamin and mineral deficiencies can contribute to stress:
1. Vitamin B complex Low energy and fatigue can contribute to irritability and stress levels. This is why the B vitamins, which are well-known for keeping energy levels high and improving cognitive performance, can have a positive effect. Clinical data suggests that supplementing with a vitamin B complex can help keep your energy high and stress low. Clinical trials have also shown that supplementing with a vitamin B complex can help reduce “personal strain,” and depressed feelings when in high stress situations. In essence, it supports a feeling of calm and stability. If you want to be more relaxed (and focused!) under strain and pressure, supplementing with a B complex could be a major help.
2. Magnesium Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for muscle and nerve function. Multiple studies have shown that magnesium is especially crucial for sleep, with supplementation helping in this regard. A 2012 study published by the National Institute of Health demonstrated that supplementing with magnesium improves sleep quality. As mentioned, sleeplessness and stress go hand-in-hand. We all know the struggle and frustration of tossing and turning in bed all night. If that is something you struggle with, magnesium is worth consideration.
How Stress Harms Health
Some stress is normal, and even healthy. It serves as an alert to possible danger, initiating the “fight or flight response” to address that danger. “However, too much stress can negatively impact the immune system and cause physical symptoms such as weight gain, acne and high blood pressure, due to excess cortisol, commonly known as the fight-or-flight hormone,” says Jerlyn Jones, a registered dietitian nutritionist, owner of The Lifestyle Dietitian and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Stress causes a cascade of bodily reactions, including the stress hormone response and a general catabolic state, or state of breakdown,” says Melissa Majumdar, a registered dietitian and metabolic and bariatric coordinator with Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta and an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. Stress hormones include cortisol and adrenaline, which can slow down digestion, increase blood sugars and suppress immune and reproductive function. “In other words, our immune system cannot fight as hard if an illness or infection enters the body after prolonged stress,” Majumdar says. “Simply said, the state of heightened stress causes cellular damage.”
How Vitamins Can Help
Vitamins and minerals are important for many aspects of health, including mental and emotional health. Specific nutrients called antioxidants, like vitamin A, C, E and selenium, can help fight cellular damage. “The word antioxidants mean anti-oxidative damage, which is the damage caused by free radicals, the end result of oxidative stress caused by environmental stressors,” Majumdar says. Think of it something like how oxygen can rust metal; here, free radicals – reactive chemical compounds – “rust” cells.
There is a pretty easy way to tell which foods are loaded with these important vitamins, Majumdar says: “Foods that are bright and rich in color tend to be high in antioxidants.” Her list includes the entire visible light spectrum:
- Red (red peppers, beets, pomegranate, cherries).
- Orange (sweet potato, butternut squash, oranges, carrots).
- Yellow (squash, lemons, melon).
- Green (dark leafy greens, lettuces, kiwi, broccoli).
- Blue (blueberries).
- Purple (red cabbage, purple potatoes, red onion).
- here are some to look into.
- Ashwagandha. A study in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine found that 600 mg of this supplement taken for 60 days improved stress levels in chronically stressed adults. It was found to be safe and well tolerated, Jones says.
- B vitamins. These vitamins are important for brain health. A review of 11 studies suggests high doses of B vitamins improve mood and energy levels by lowering blood levels of homocysteine, a chemical linked with stress and an increased risk of several health conditions, including heart disease, dementia and colorectal cancer, Jones says. Food sources of B vitamins include bulgur, fish, beef, chickpeas, banana, eggs, dairy products, and leafy greens.