What is stress and how can nutrients make a difference?
We’re living in a fast-paced society and a lot of people are suffering from mental and/or physical stress because of that. Most of us know exactly how it feels like to be pressured at work caused by high expectations and a lack of time to finish tasks, or mothers that have to care for their kids, doing the household and still work a half or full-time job. Athletes and people having a physically demanding job also have to deal with a different type of stress, called physical stress. In addition to that, we all are exposed to some degree of environmental stressors like UV-radiation, air pollution, and even noise. Many things can cause stress which triggers multiple reactions in our body in order to adapt to those stressors. However, if the level of stress exceeds our body’s ability to cope with it, it can cause things like insomnia, mental disorders, suppression of the immune system, and even lead to chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases.
…a well balanced diet and sensible supplementation can optimise your body’s ability to cope with increased stress.
What nutrition can do for us
First of all, nutrition, supplements, and even drugs can’t remove stress unless poor nutrition or drugs are the actual stressors. Only changing your lifestyle can relieve the pressure which causes stress. However, a well-balanced diet and sensible supplementation can optimize your body’s ability to cope with increased stress. This could make your day-to-day life easier and prevent from sleepless nights, burn-out and even chronic diseases.
Here are some of the micronutrients you should look for:
Magnesium is an essential mineral, involved in over 300 reactions in the body. Recent studies indicate a relationship between Magnesium deficiency and stress reactions in humans. According to this research, increased stress may cause higher magnesium elimination from the body and in turn, Magnesium deficiency may decrease the body’s ability to cope with stress¹. Several animal studies support this finding. So it seems like Magnesium is used by our body to adapt to given stressors. Also, stress is directly linked to sleep because a healthy sleep helps us to recover from stressors, like high work demand, social stress, and high physical activity. Too much stress also impairs our sleep by the inability to calm down our body and mind, so these two aspects go hand in hand when it comes to optimizing them. Magnesium supplementation can also help to improve sleep duration and quality².
…stress is directly linked to sleep because a healthy sleep helps us to recover from stressors
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids belong to the group of essential fatty acids which means that they have vital roles in the metabolism, but the human body is unable to produce them endogenously. That being said, we need to consume Omega-3 fatty acids through our diet in order to function optimally. The list of benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids is very long, but one of those benefits is to enhance the body’s response to increased stress. Furthermore, Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce stress hormone levels even in healthy, non-stressed persons³. Optimizing your Omega-3 status will also optimize your ability to cope with stress.
Vitamin D is called the “sunny vitamin” because it’s the only micronutrient where the main natural source is not food, but rather an endogenous synthesis fueled by sunlight. Without adequate direct sun exposure, our bodies do not produce much of Vitamin D. In 2010, 29% of the American population was clinically insufficient in Vitamin D and 3% were reported as clinically deficient⁴. However, 77% of the population ranges below the optimal amounts for bone health⁵. Suboptimal Vitamin D levels are associated with lower sleep quality which is directly linked to your ability to cope with mental and physical stress as mentioned above⁶. Vitamin D also correlates with depressive symptoms and bad mood is one kind of mental stressor in our life⁷.
Which other supplements can help with stress?
Rhodiola Rosea is a Scandinavian herb, used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote physical and cognitive vitality. It belongs to the group of adaptogens, which means that it increases the body’s ability to adapt to a certain stimulus. Numerous human studies have shown that this herb can decrease the level of perceived fatigue and stress, as well as enhance mood⁸,⁹,¹⁰. Rhodiola is not only effective in reducing the perceived amounts mental stress, but also physical stress. If you have a very stressful life, Rhodiola might be worth a try to help you fight against it.
Adaptogens increase the body’s ability to adapt to a certain stimulus.
L-Theanine is an amino acid, naturally found in small amounts in green tea. It is known for its ability to promote relaxation without making you tired as well as increasing attention when combined with caffeine. However, research has also shown that L-Theanine can reduce the body’s psychological and physiological responses to stress¹¹.
Last but not least, I want to discuss a herb called Ashwagandha. In the US, Ashwagandha is very popular for many good reasons. One of them is being an adaptogen, increasing the body’s ability to get along with mental stress and other things. Recent research suggests, that high concentration extracts of Ashwagandha root can improve the body’s resistance towards stress and lower the number of stress hormones like cortisol¹². This extract is a real powerhouse amongst herbal supplements!
By optimizing your nutrient status, you can do a lot in order to fight against the nasty sides of stress.
Stress is an important function of our body in order to adapt to our environment. However, if the amount of stress exceeds our natural body’s ability to cope with it, mental disorders, insomnia, fatigue, and even chronic diseases can be the consequence. Removing stressors would be the ideal intervention to lower stress, however, in most cases, this not a suitable option. Nutrition and micronutrients have a tremendous impact on our resistance towards stress. By optimizing your nutrient status, you can do a lot in order to fight against the nasty sides of stress. In addition to that, some herbal supplements like adaptogens can further help you to decrease the amounts of perceived stress. Also, yoga, meditation, and light physical exercise may be useful tools. However, herbs and exercise can’t mask nutrient deficiencies. Getting your micronutrient levels fixed should be the base of your war against stress.
- Tarasov, E. A., et al. “Magnesium deficiency and stress: Issues of their relationship, diagnostic tests, and approaches to therapy.” Terapevticheskii arkhiv 87.9 (2015): 114–122.
- Rasch, B. and Born, J., 2013. About Sleep9s Role in Memory. Physiological reviews, 93(2), pp.681–766.
- Skulas-Ray, Ann C., et al. “Effects of marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids on systemic hemodynamics at rest and during stress: a dose–response study.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 44.3 (2012): 301–308.
- Brock, K., et al. “Low vitamin D status is associated with physical inactivity, obesity and low vitamin D intake in a large US sample of healthy middle-aged men and women.” The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology 121.1 (2010): 462–466.
- Bailey, Regan L., et al. “Estimation of total usual calcium and vitamin D intakes in the United States.” The Journal of nutrition140.4 (2010): 817–822.
- Majid, Mohammad Shahi, et al. “The effect of vitamin D supplement on the score and quality of sleep in 20–50 year-old people with sleep disorders compared with control group.” Nutritional Neuroscience (2017): 1–9.
- Wong, S. K., K. Y. Chin, and S. Ima-Nirwana. “Vitamin D and Depression: the Evidence from an Indirect Clue to Treatment Strategy.” Current drug targets (2017).
- Edwards, D., A. Heufelder, and A. Zimmermann. “Therapeutic Effects and Safety of Rhodiola rosea Extract WS® 1375 in Subjects with Life‐stress Symptoms–Results of an Open‐label Study.” Phytotherapy Research 26.8 (2012): 1220–1225.
- Schutgens, F. W. G., et al. “The influence of adaptogens on ultraweak biophoton emission: a pilot‐experiment.” Phytotherapy research 23.8 (2009): 1103–1108.
- Kasper, Siegfried, and Angelika Dienel. “Multicenter, open-label, exploratory clinical trial with Rhodiola rosea extract in patients suffering from burnout symptoms.” Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment 13 (2017): 889.
- Yoto, Ai, et al. “Effects of L-theanine or caffeine intake on changes in blood pressure under physical and psychological stresses.” Journal of physiological anthropology 31.1 (2012): 28.
- Chandrasekhar, K., Jyoti Kapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty. “A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults.” Indian journal of psychological medicine 34.3 (2012): 255.