Best Nutrients for Fighting Stress
Taking care of everything you need to juggle in a day can often seem monumental. And that all leads to one thing: stress. But fortunately there are some good and positive ways to combat that stress — with a trip to the grocery store. There are many foods that can be added to your diet to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and return your body to both physical, as well as emotional, balance.
Vitamin B for the Blues
Vitamins might be one thing you think of if your body needs something. The family of B complex vitamins has been found to be great blues busters. Vitamin B1 can improve mood states and is essential for stable nerve transmissions. Vitamin B3 is critical to help regulate sleep patterns; lack of sleep is a major factor in stress and anxiety.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical. It is the neurotransmitter most responsible for mood. Antidepressant medications work to regulate the level of serotonin. Vitamin B6 can do the same thing without the harmful side effects of such mood-altering drugs. Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid, helps the hormones put out by the adrenal glands, which controls the body's fight-or-flight reaction to stress.
Vitamin B12 is also important in making serotonin and dopamine, another one of the brain's “feel good” chemicals. B12 is also essential for melatonin, the chemical that helps our sleep/wakefulness cycle. Choline is a B vitamin found in eggs that has been found to reduce anxiety.
Feeling down during the winter months? According to medical experts it may not just be a case of the “holiday blues.” There is an actual condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and it can be prevented with diet. Two important neurotransmitters that affect mood are serotonin and melatonin, and levels of sunlight either help or limit these chemicals. During a long dark winter, these chemicals can be reduced so much that depression can result. But the good news is a diet rich in magnesium and good carbs from veggies and omega-3s can boost the serotonin and melatonin.
Vitamin A helps to get rid of toxins that cause weakness and fatigue and that can often lead to depression. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can fight the buildup of oxidative stress in the brain. This oxidative stress can lower serotonin and dopamine, which causes depression, anxiety, and other troublesome moods. During times of stress the body uses up vitamin C, so lower levels of vitamin C can lead to feelings of nervousness and irritability.
Calcium, Chromium, and Magnesium
Equally as important as vitamins to staying calm and keeping moods more balanced are certain minerals. Calcium, chromium, and magnesium all can reduce stress, help you to relax, and stabilize blood sugar levels. Selenium helps vitamin E in its antioxidant work. Zinc helps in resistance to infection, and when you aren't coming down with some infection you are less apt to feel stress. Omega-3 amino acids are believed to help neurotransmitters to get through cell membranes, which means they can help lessen irritability and help to fight anxiety and depression.
Important neurotransmitters need the amino acid tryptophan. Increasing your intake of tryptophan can boost the levels of the feel-good chemicals and the chemicals that regulate sleep. Protein is necessary for the amino acids needed for all the brain chemicals that influence mood.
Theanine is an amino acid that binds with certain brain chemicals and in doing so has a calming and stress-reducing effect. Theanine is highly present in the leaves of green tea, and may account for the soothing effect reported by green tea drinkers. So curl up and relax with a glass of green tea; besides the theanine, knowing you are doing your body good with the antioxidants alone should be enough to ease your mind.
Your brain needs carbohydrates to provide sugar for fuel. But too many processed carbs leads to spikes and valleys in glucose levels in the blood, which makes for mood swings. Complex carbs from whole grains and veggies are useful so that sugar levels, and thus moods, will keep more constant.
Nutritional chemicals called adaptogens have been found to lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is what triggers the adrenal glands to put out adrenaline and other fight-or-flight chemicals in stressful situations. Interestingly enough, adaptogens that have this tranquilizing effect are found in ginseng, kava, and licorice — all roots that were used for centuries to create teas or “calming tonics” long before the discovery of the adaptogenic compounds.
The foods that contain these vital vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other nutrients are the true “comfort foods.” When feeling down, look for them, and avoid reaching for energy drinks, the empty calories of candy bars, and other trans-fat laden junk foods, caffeinated beverages, or alcohol.