Food fixes for stress
Periods of stress use up nutrients more quickly as our whole systems - eg, energy, brain responses, hormones, immunity - are all working at a higher and faster rate. So we can become depleted in the nutrients we need.
Stress uses up B vitamins quickly and we can feel fatigue, poor concentration, low mood and suffer sleep issues as a result.
Bump up: B vitamins are found in a varied daily diet of whole foods with plenty of vegetables (especially green leafy veg), nuts, seeds, whole grains, and foods that also provide quality protein and healthy fats such as eggs and oily fish.
Supplement: B complex or a good quality multivitamin and mineral to support you when you're under stress.
We use up massive amounts of the mineral magnesium in the stress response. Our ability to calm muscles and brain after stress relies on this 'calming mineral' and a vicious cycle can be set up when stress depletes it and our coping capacity is diminished. Low levels of magnesium are associated with symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, insomnia, depression and muscle pains.
Bump up: leafy veg, nuts and seeds.
Supplement: 300-600mg a day of magnesium citrate.
Vitamin C is needed for the production of the anti-stress hormones that bring us down from high stress and, as it works in the immune system, to produce collagen for healing. You may notice stress-related immune symptoms like poor recovery from illness, skin issues or bleeding gums when levels become depleted.
Bump up: Fresh vegetables and fruit
Supplement: 1000-2000g vitamin C, a day. If you find this level affecting your tum, scale back and build up gently.
zinc is very important for many of the enzyme systems in the body, and for the production of hormones. It is used for immunity and all healing and replication (such as fertility and sexual health) so these systems can suffer when levels are depleted. It is easily used up by stress and this can show up as white spots on our nails.
Bump up: Zinc-rich animal foods such as meat, fish and eggs are more bio-available than plant foods such as nuts, seeds and rye - zinc binds to plant fibre which reduces its absorption.
Supplement: Vegetarians or vegans may want to consider a supplement of about 15-20mg a day.
Omega 3 oils are a type of essential fats that we need for brain, heart and immune function - to name a few. They are incorporated into all cell membranes and have anti-inflammatory properties, so help us cope with the effects of stress. Research shows that supplementing omega 3 oils may help reduce the negative blood sugar effects of stress, and reduce the anxiety associated with psychological stress as well as mood and concentration.
Bump up: Oily fish (mackerel, sardine, trout, salmon or fish or krill oil) or in plant forms in nuts, flax, pumpkin seeds).
Supplement: Omega 3 oils in their direct forms - DHA and EPA - are in oily fish but we need to convert plant forms several times to become DHA and EPA. Vegetarians and vegans are advised to take a direct algae DHA form.
One key mood nutrient that is bound up with the fats in our bodies is vitamin D. It is often called the 'sunshine nutrient' and we produce this fat-soluble antioxidant in our bodies, signalled by sunlight on our skin. However, the stress hormone cortisol affects our ability to uptake vitamin D into cells to use. It is crucial for mental health, and also bone mineralisation and immunity.
Bump up: Natural light exposure. We can obtain some vitamin D from food, with high amounts found in mackerel, salmon, trout, herring and moderate amounts in eggs.
Supplement: 2,000-10,000IUs a day of the D3 form is safe, 2,000 is common in high-strength supplements.
Charlotte Watts is an award-winning nutritional therapist and yoga teacher, and author of The De-Stress Effect (Hay House, 2015); charlottewattshealth.com