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Stress comes in a multitude of forms, sometimes caused by external events and sometimes entirely self-inflicted. It chips away at our wellbeing, wears us down, and depletes our nutritional reserves. During stressful times important nutrients are quickly depleted. And if we’re eating a less-than-stellar diet, we have fewer reserves to begin with. The good news is that there are feasible action steps we can all take to help our bodies better cope with stress, thus improving long-term health.
Along with a nutrient-dense diet and mindful practices, there are a number of specific nutrients and herbs that can provide the body with even more support during times of stress. These are some of the most helpful ones.
The B-complex vitamins have been recognized as anti-anxiety and anti-stress nutrients since the 1940s —they are also among the first to be depleted during times of stress. The body needs these vitamins, along with several other nutrients, to make serotonin and other calming neurotransmitters. In an Australian study, researchers gave a daily high potency B-complex supplement to 60 men and women who were experiencing intense workplace stress. By the end of the three-month study, the supplements significantly reduced personal strain, depression, dejection, confusion, and anger. Other studies have found a multivitamin (which contains the B-complex) or the combination of a B-complex and vitamin C also reduce stress and improve mood. Vitamin B1, or thiamine, has been successfully used to treat some of the symptoms of anxiety, including insomnia, nightmares, diarrhea or constipation, chest pain, depression, aggression, and headache at doses of 250 mg daily.
Try: A high-potency B-complex supplement containing 20 to 50 mg of vitamins B1, B2, and B3 and/or an additional 250 mg of vitamin B1.
In one of its many important roles in the body, magnesium acts as a stress “gatekeeper.” Part of the stress response involves calcium entering neurons in the brain, causing them to fire; if there isn’t sufficient magnesium to move calcium out of the cell, neurons become overloaded with calcium, fi re too frequently, and eventually die. Magnesium can also suppress the release of stress hormones and may prevent the adrenal hormones from penetrating the bloodbrain barrier. It is another nutrient that is quickly depleted in stressful times. Try: 300-600 mg daily. EPA & DHA. Two studies have found that the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA can ease feelings of stress and anxiety.
Try: 500-1,000 mg total of a combination of EPA and DHA daily.
This vitamin is needed for normal adrenal function. A study conducted at the National Institutes of Health found that the first symptoms of vitamin C deficiency were irritability and fatigue—two of the more common responses to stress.
Try: 1,000-2,000 mg of vitamin C daily.
Some herbs are considered adaptogens, meaning that they enhance the body’s ability to adapt to stress.
Rhodiola improves adrenal function and can help with stress-related fatigue. It has also been found to be more effective than some conventional antidepressants for depression and is cardioprotective during times of stress.
Try: 200-300 mg daily.
Eleuthero, sometimes referred to as Siberian ginseng, helps the body cope with stress and may support immunity.
Try: 200-300 mg daily.
This Ayurvedic herb has traditionally been used for a range of mental conditions, including anxiety. Compounds in the herb have been shown to increase brain serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of wellbeing and happiness, and have an anxiety reducing effect.
Try: 200-400 mg daily.