Let's be honest, it's been a rather stressful couple of years for the entire planet.
Not to mention that the day to day life that most of us are living in the 21st century is far from stress free. There seems to always be more to do and less time to do it, leaving many individuals feeling constantly overwhelmed.
Stressors involve not just emotional factors but also mental, physical, and chemical. It's not just our busy lifestyles that are making us feel more stressed, but our bodies are also taking a hit from unhealthy eating patterns, chemical and toxin exposure, and spending most of our days indoors under florescent lighting.
Stressors are of course personal to each individual and may be related to factors such as finances, relationships, work and career, and health.
Anything that causes strain on the body and that knocks the body out of balance is considered a stressor. When the body can no longer cope with the effects of chronic stress this can seriously threaten overall homeostasis and damage health (1).
Though the body is designed to handle acute bouts of stress, it was never designed to handle the type of chronic stress that has become all too common in the past two decades.
The good news? Each one of us can take action to change how stress affects us and support our bodies to become more resilient and less affected by stressors thrown our way.
Stress is known as the leading cause of doctor's visits which is why it's important to take stress management seriously in order to maintain good health and avoid health complications later on.
Tackling stress will take a combination of lifestyle practices, nutrition, and mindset shifts, however supplementation can be used as a supporting tool for the underlying foundations that should not be overlooked such as getting sufficient and quality sleep, exercising, eating a healthy and balanced diet, and including rest and play into your daily life.
Our top 4 natural supplements to combat stress
A traditional Ayurvedic adaptogenic herb, ashwagandha is used to enhance the body's resilience to both mental and physical stress as well as general wellbeing.
Adaptogens have been used in Traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for thousands of years. These herbs work on a systemic level and can benefit the body in many ways by helping the body adapt to all kinds of stressors and supporting equilibrium in the human body.
Ashwagandha is referred to as a restorative tonic as it has been shown to possess many mechanisms of action including anti-stress, blood sugar regulating, neuroprotective, anxiolytic, and anti-inflammatory effects (2).
A 60 day study investigated the stress relieving effects of ashwagandha among stressed and healthy adults and found significant reductions in morning cortisol levels and anxiety scores among the participants (3).
Adaptogens like ashwagandha can provide relief fairly quickly however they are most effective when used long term as they typically produce gradual effects over time. Breaks are recommended every few months in order for the herbs to take the most effect in your system. Though generally recognized as safe, if you are on medications or have any pre-existing health conditions consult with your health care provider first before supplementation to avoid any potential interactions.
Well known for its calming effects, magnesium is an essential mineral that is involved in many important body functions including maintaining healthy brain function, producing energy, regulating blood sugar, nerve function, and blood pressure regulation.
Low magnesium status has been associated with increased stress and research suggests that stress can actually increase magnesium loss from the body (4).
As stress levels increase, the body's demand for magnesium will also rise.
As a result a magnesium deficiency can increase the body’s susceptibility to stress, resulting in a vicious cycle and a classic case of the chicken or the egg, which came first?
Though magnesium can be found in a variety of foods often times it is not enough to meet demands. What's more, the content of magnesium found in foods may not be as high as before due to soil depletion and loss of nutrients.
Many factors can result in increased magnesium loss including high stress, caffeine, sugar, alcohol, heavy exercise, diuretics, gastrointestinal disorders, and certain medications.
Low magnesium has also been associated with disrupted sleep patterns, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and migraines (5).
Adding a magnesium supplement can help to reduce stress hormone levels and improve regeneration processes by supporting sleep, reducing inflammation, and increasing inhibitory neurotransmitters like GABA so you can feel more relaxed and become more resilient (6).
The form magnesium glycinate is often recommended for stress in particular because of the amino acid, glycine that is attached to the mineral. Glycine is a calming amino acid that can help to calm the brain, reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.
The B vitamins play many important roles in the body including the stress response (7). How so?
The nervous system is dependant on a variety of B vitamins in order to function at its optimal state.
The adrenal glands depend on B vitamins which act as cofactors for the many enzymatic reactions needed to cope during periods of stress and facilitate recovery (8).
B vitamins are also involved in the production of neurotransmitters as well as generating energy inside the cell (9). These vitamins are utilized to transform the food we eat into usable energy for the body. Supplementation can help to improve energy levels and support the body cope better under stressful situations.
Supplementation of the B vitamins may also help to benefit mood and improve symptoms of anxiety and even depression (10). Research has found that the addition of a quality B Complex may help individuals with depression to improve their mood symptoms and quality of life (11)
What's more, low levels of B vitamins have been associated with higher levels of inflammation and increased homocysteine levels (12). Higher levels of homocysteine are associated with increased stress but also chronic conditions such as heart disease, neurological disease, and dementia (13).
As the B vitamins are water-soluble, any excess is generally excreted in urine. This means that reaching toxicity levels is more rare and that consistent consumption is required. A B complex supplement can help you to boost your B vitamin status by acquiring all 8 of the B vitamins in one formula.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant vitamin that may play a therapeutic role in combatting neuropsychological disorders such as anxiety and depression (14).
Vitamin C deficiency is said to be widely related to stress-related diseases (15).
Several studies demonstrate that including vitamin C supplementation can produce anti-depressant effects and improve mood (16).
The adrenals love vitamin C! These glands contain the highest amount of vitamin C in the body and rely on this vitamin in order to produce stress hormones, especially during times of stress. The more cortisol you produce the more your body will require vitamin C. This means that being stressed out can reduce your vitamin C stores. If you are experiencing a lot of stress, it's probably not a bad idea to increase your intake of this vitamin.
Vitamin C is utilized quickly by the body and as a water soluble vitamin it will need to be replenished regularly especially during times of stress (17). A diet rich in vitamin C foods as well as vitamin C supplementation can help to maintain adequate levels of this nutrient.
Supplements can help to improve the stress response as well as mental health conditions associated with increased stress. We are all faced with significant stressors throughout our lives and periods of particularly high stress where we need to support our bodies more, not less. It's important to provide the body with the nutrients it requires in order to properly recover. This always starts with the foundations of diet and lifestyle, however supplementation can provide additional benefits and support so you can reduce the impact that stress has on you and bounce back more quickly.