In our last article we looked at key nutrients that can support our nervous system in times of stress. In this edition we explore these in more detail.
Remember, when we are under stress, our adrenal glands (which sit above our kidneys) secrete more of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin. This increase in stress hormones requires even more nutrients than usual. This is because our body needs vitamins and minerals to produce these hormones and neurotransmitters (the brain’s messengers) required to adapt to the stress and bring the body back into balance.
As much of our food is depleted in important vitamins and minerals it is important to supplement these key nutrients during times of increased stress.
B Group Vitamins
Needed for healthy mood, motivation and wellbeing. They are also vital for producing energy, as well as the neurotransmitters that promote happiness, relaxation and sleep. Vitamin B5 and B6 are particularly crucial for supporting our adrenal glands which make our stress hormones (cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin). Taking a good quality B complex supplement is an important part of any stress management prescription.
Required for the synthesis of our key stress hormones cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin. It is also found in high concentration in the adrenal cortex. When stress levels are high the adrenal cortex may become depleted in vitamin C which may affect our production of stress hormones. Vitamin C is also important for immune system support which is adversely affected by long term cortisol production.
Zinc is required for brain function and the regulation of several key neurotransmitters including dopamine one of our main feel good chemicals produced in the brain. Zinc may become depleted during periods of high stress due to its key role in a wide variety of biochemical processes in the body.
When you are stressed, your body requires more magnesium than normal. In addition to stress management, magnesium is required for heart function, hormonal balance, pain management and energy production. It is also a muscle relaxant which may improve mood and sleep.
Adaptogenic herbs have been shown to normalise levels of stress hormones. They may also help to minimise the negative effects of excessive stress hormone production. Some of my favourites include Withania, Siberian Ginseng, American Ginseng, Rhodiola, Schisandra, Licorice and Rhodiola. These are best used in combination in liquid, tablet or powder form.
Calming herbal medicines are beneficial in reducing feelings of anxiety and stress and may also assist with restful sleep. Some of my favourites include Lemon Balm, Motherwort, Chamomille, Kava, Oats, Passionflower and Zizyphus.
Setting up the Foundations
Now that we know which nutrients can support us in times of stress, let’s explore some nutritional recommendations to support our nervous system. What happens to your diet when you’re stressed? Do you eat a lot, do your skip meals? or do you make poor food choices when short on time or patience? Keep the following in mind during times of stress:
Green leafy vegetables, such as rocket, broccoli, spinach, chinese greens and nuts and seeds are high in minerals such as magnesium and potassium which are important for relaxation, energy production and hormonal balance.
Protein from fish, lean meats, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds can provide us with amino acids to fuel our brain and muscles whilst sustaining us for longer, minimising those stress cravings.
Fish, in particular, contains both protein and essential fats, otherwise known as omega-3 fatty acids which can support a healthy stress response and healthy brain and mood.
In the next article on this topic we will explore lifestyle recommendations to assist you to build reliance to stress. In the meantime, if you are feeling overwhelmed by stress don’t wait, contact a health professional like myself or a professional counsellor or psychologist to formulate a tailor made stress management plan.