For many people, stress levels are higher than ever these days. The modern lifestyle often includes busy days, little time to relax, and access to an overwhelming amount of information, all of which can take a severe mental toll. Thankfully, there are simple ways to combat this stress without adding more work or time to your already busy schedule.
In this blog post, we'll explore some easy ways to upgrade your diet and routine with stress-relieving vitamins, supplements, and gut-brain probiotics. Here’s everything you need to know.
B Vitamins & Stress
While other vitamins also help with stress, B vitamins are some of the most well-studied.
The B vitamins includes eight water-soluble vitamins that are widely recognized to significantly impact brain function. From promoting DNA and RNA synthesis to regulating glucose blood levels, B vitamins are fundamental to keeping your body working as it should. This wide range of effects means that getting enough of the eight essential B vitamins is important for stress.
A comprehensive 2016 review indicates that B vitamins play a key role in breaking down and recycling homocysteine. Our cells synthesize homocysteine from methionine, an essential amino acid, and homocysteine can be converted into cysteine, another amino acid that is important for muscular function, immune response and brain function. However, a build-up of high levels of homocysteine can lead to health hazards associated with the heart, kidneys and brain.
Vitamins B6, folate (B9), and B12 can help keep homocysteine levels in check. This could not only help with stress, but also play a role in decreasing cognitive decline. Experts theorize that this may stem from vitamin B supplementation slowing down gray matter atrophy, while cautioning that more research is needed.
B vitamin supplementation may be beneficial for regulating mood. A later 2019 meta-analysis further supports this, stating that supplementing with B vitamins reduced stress in more than half of the studies examined in the meta-analysis. The studies analyzed different populations of healthy participants, including highly stressed adult employees, nursing home residents, and participants experiencing elevated psychological distress.
B Vitamins from Foods vs. Supplements
Is it better to get your B vitamins from food or supplements? Although the two options may seem like they would show similar results, experts suggest otherwise.
Relying solely on supplements can't compare to the benefits of a well-balanced diet. A complex and varied diet will usually include adequate intake of all eight essential B vitamins, as well as the other micronutrients needed to promote a good mood.
When might a B-complex supplement be a good idea? Some people, such as vegetarians and vegans, aren’t able to get enough vitamin B12 from their diets. Other people might also benefit from B-vitamin supplementation depending on their health conditions, risk factors, and medications they are taking. Consult your health care provider to find out if you need more of any of the B vitamins than your diet can provide.
Even if your diet is mostly good in terms of vitamin balance, supplements can help fill in the gaps. A high-quality B complex vitamin can support healthy brain function without requiring the extra time and energy a change in diet would require.
How Much of the B Vitamins Can I Take?
B vitamins are water-soluble and therefore generally safer at high doses than fat-soluble vitamins. Any excess is flushed out in the urine or sweat. However, experts have established a recommended dietary limit for some of them.
For example, while the adult recommended daily allowance for folate is between 400 and 600 micrograms (depending on pregnancy status), its suggested daily limit is 1000 micrograms (250% of the recommended daily amount (RDA)). Niacin (vitamin B3), which can cause flushing at high doses, has a ceiling of 35 milligrams a day (>200% of the RDA). In contrast, vitamin B6 has a quite high recommended limit of ~7500% of the RDA.
Daily allowances and limits vary according to age, health conditions, and, in the case of folate, on whether or not you’re pregnant. For example, older adults may have a higher allowance of vitamin B12, as they are more prone to B12 deficiency. Similarly, the CDC recommends that people who could become pregnant should consume about 400 micrograms of folate daily, which is somewhat more than others need, and may be difficult to obtain only from the diet depending on your daily calorie needs.
If you’re in doubt about how much of each B vitamin you should take, make sure to check with a doctor or licensed nutritionist. Also, make sure the B vitamin supplement you choose is well-formulated and falls within recommended guidelines.
Stress, Cortisol & Vitamins
Stress is an inevitable part of life, but when it becomes chronic, it can have serious impacts on our health. Stress can lead to an increase in cortisol levels. While cortisol serves a crucial role in our body's stress response, providing the vigilance and energy needed to respond to an acute threat, chronically high levels can lead to a variety of negative consequences. It's been linked to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, poor sleep quality, and increased risk to heart health and mood.
Elevated cortisol levels can also impair memory in healthy people. The connection between chronically high stress and the consequences of high cortisol serves as a reminder of the importance of managing our stress levels for our overall well being.
Can Vitamins & Herbs Help With Cortisol?
Several studies have examined the potential of vitamin C to help lower cortisol levels in response to an acute stressful event - either a psychologically stressful event or a physically stressful event such as an intense workout. Some of them, such as a study by Brody et al.,, suggest that high-dose vitamin C may be able to help cortisol recover down to baseline levels more quickly, but not lower cortisol levels overall.
The author of a recent review explored the impact of herbs on stress, including the effect of cortisol. This review included ashwagandha, rhodiola, and lavender. The author's conclusion was that ashwagandha, rhodiola, passionflower and lavender could be used for reducing cortisol. While this viewpoint is not necessarily accepted by the broader research and clinical community, these herbs might be a low-cost and low-risk alternative to manage perceived stress.
Probiotics & Stress
Probiotics are helpful bacteria that can make our bodies healthier – especially our guts. And as it turns out, they can also have a positive effect on our mental well-being.
A group of researchers suggests some probiotics might help reduce signs of stress and improve our ability to handle stressful situations. One way they might do this is by improving communication between our gut and brain. Our gut and brain talk to each other through a special connection called the gut-brain axis, and it involves our gut bacteria, our central nervous system, and our immune system.
Stress can alter the balance of bacteria in our gut and their impact on the brain and mental health. An unhealthy microbiome may even increase our propensity to stress-eat. Probiotics, however, may have a positive impact on the gut microbiome and may even have beneficial influences on mental health.
Some probiotics can influence the stress hormones of our bodies by interacting with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which controls our stress response. Continuously high stress may dysregulate your HPA axis, leading to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Certain probiotics may help regulate the HPA axis and lower cortisol levels, which can make us feel less stressed.
In one small pilot study, researchers wanted to see if the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum PS128 (PS128) could help IT specialists with high-stress jobs. After eight weeks of taking PS128, the participants reported feeling less stressed at work, with lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as a reported improvement in sleep quality. This suggests that PS128 could help reduce stress and improve mental health for people with demanding jobs.
It's important to remember that more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms by which certain probiotic strains can reduce stress. Probiotics are not a magic cure for stress on their own, but they can be helpful when used alongside other stress management approaches. A daily neurological health probiotic (psychobiotic) along with exercise, mindfulness, and enough sleep, can all contribute to managing stress and keeping our minds healthy.
Creating a Routine to Reduce Stress
Here are some key steps to consider when developing your perfect stress-lowering routine:
1. Start with a Balanced Diet: Opt for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. A varied diet can ensure that your body has all the essential nutrients you need for overall health and stress management.
2. Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can boost cortisol levels, and being stressed out can dehydrate you. Make sure to drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day to keep your body properly hydrated and functioning optimally.
3. Prioritize Sleep: Establish a consistent sleep schedule and aim for 7 or more hours of quality sleep each night. Sufficient rest rejuvenates your mind and body, improving your ability to cope with stress. Consider creating a relaxing bedtime routine, such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation.
4. Exercise Regularly: Engaging in physical activity releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters. Find an exercise routine that you enjoy, whether it's going for a walk, practicing yoga, or participating in a team sport. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.
5. Manage Time Effectively: Prioritize your tasks and create a schedule to help you stay organized and reduce overwhelm. Break larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps to make them feel less daunting. Remember to include regular breaks and moments of relaxation throughout your day.
6. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Incorporate stress reduction techniques into your routine, such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation. These practices may help calm your mind, reduce anxiety, and enhance your overall sense of well-being.
7. Connect with Social Support: Cultivate relationships with supportive friends, family, or a community. Engage in activities that bring you joy and foster a sense of connection and belonging. Having a support network can help alleviate stress and provide a valuable outlet for sharing and processing emotions.
8. Consider Psychobiotics and Vitamins: In consultation with a healthcare professional, you may opt for probiotic supplements that contain specific strains known for their stress-reducing effects. Additionally, B vitamins are associated with stress reduction. However, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the right supplements and dosages for your specific needs.
Remember, creating a stress-lowering routine is a personal journey, and what works for one person may not work for another. Experiment with different strategies and listen to your body to find the combination of activities that brings you the most stress relief. Stay consistent and patient with yourself as you develop and refine your routine, and always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.
Reducing Stress with Vitamins and Probiotics
If you're looking for effective ways to manage stress, consider the power of vitamins and probiotics. Stress can take a toll on our bodies and minds, but what we put in our gut may be able to enhance our overall well-being and offer relief. Ultimately, making small changes to your diet and caring for your gut microbiota, in addition to balancing environmental stressors with healthy behaviors, may make a big difference. What first step can you make today?