If work, kids, travel, social obligations, and more have you feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed, take a deep breath and relax. Stress has a negative impact on our body, and is one of the biggest immune zappers. It’s true – your state of mind effects your state of health. With stress of any significant duration, from a few days to a few months, all aspects of your body’s immune-fighting ability decrease.
There are many causes for stress – nutritional, dietary, and lifestyle, which is a lot to tackle in one blog. As far as dietary goes, I have a couple big suggestions:
- Limit your ingestion of sugar and refined carbohydrates. They don't give your body the fuel it needs to fight through the stress. Choose more brightly colored foods, such as fruits and vegetables. If you're struggling to get a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day, try a green juice or superfood smoothie.
- Eat smaller but more frequent meals with some protein (and fat, if possible) at each meal. The protein is absolutely critical! Imbalanced blood sugar is a common cause of stress and causes cravings for alcohol and sugar.
Also consider these nutrients to help support healthy, normal stress levels from the inside-out.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb used to support stress-related conditions. Traditionally, ashwagandha is used in Ayurvedic medicine for a wide variety of ailments. This plant-based medicine is classified as an adaptogen, meaning it provides the body with support to adapt to physical and psychological stressors. Read more about this amazing root herb: What is Ashwagandha?
A typical dose of ashwagandha is about 300-500 mg of standardized root extract per day. Consider taking 1 capsule of ashwagandha thirty minutes before sleep. This amount has been clinically shown to improve sleep. For those with more serious insomnia or stress, consider taking 2 capsules three times a day. Start low and work up in the dose of Ashwagandha. Do not exceed 6 capsules a day. Ashwagandha is also available in powder form, and dissolves easily. It has a bitter taste, but when combined with hot milk or other ingredients in a smoothie, it tastes fine. I like this Ashwagandha hot chocolate recipe.
Pantothenic acid is a B-vitamin that also supports your adrenal glands, and deficiencies may lead to shrinking adrenal glands. Adrenal health is crucial to balancing the body's stress response and stress recovery, and I prefer to consume pantothenic acid in an adreanal blend. I really like Uckele's Adreno-Lift, which provides a variety of nutrients to support your adrenal glands.
If you don't want to take individual vitamins, consider a broad-spectrum mutlivitamin. Look for one that contains chelated minerals and active B vitamins because it's easier to absorb. Low amounts of B-vitamins and minerals are commonly found in those with nervousness and stress. Consider taking 3 capsules in the AM with breakfast and three capsules at lunch. Avoid taking after 2-3pm or the potent B-vitamins will keep you awake at night.
If you have any nervousness or stress, magnesium is good fore relieving it. Magnesium is critical for numerous enzymatic pathways and neurotransmitter support - along with vitamin B6. Magnesium is needed to relax the central nervous system. Consider taking 2 capsules of Optimal Magnesium in the morning and two in the evening before bed. After one month at 2 capsules twice a day, try reducing to one capsule before bed. Magnesium can also be applied transdermally.
Vitamin C helps your body deal with stress in a couple important ways. First, it's critical for adrenal function, and your adrenal glands and brain tissues contain a higher concentration of vitamin C than most other parts of the body. Excess stress can lead to adrenal exhaustion, so make sure you have enough vitamin C to support your adrenal glands.
Also, cortisol is the stress hormone, and those with nervousness and stress more than likely have high cortisol levels. When someone has low vitamin C levels, cortisol levels stay elevated. Vitamin C helps blunt the cortisol response thereby reducing the effects of stressful situations. Consider taking 1/2 scoop vitamin C in a glass of filtered water on an as needed basis - at least once per day.
Not necessarily an 'anti-stress' nutrient per se but definitely needed for general health, nerve protection and cell membrane support. Stress is a 'catabolic' situation in the body, meaning it breaks down your health vs. building it. Fish Oil helps reverse this. Consider taking 2 tsps. once a day with a meal any time of day.
Of course, this is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to supporting healthy, normal stress levels. Remember to incorporate daily exercise, get adequate sleep, find something to do that relaxes you (ie: massage, meditation, yoga, etc.), and eat clean, healthy foods. Support your health to keep your immune system fuctioning well.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods