A guide to stress and nutrition

stress and nutrition

Don't get stressed about stress

Stress can be caused by any number of things: job pressures; financial pressures; family issues; relationship issues and other major life changes.

Any of these and more can frazzle your nerves and make you vulnerable to illness. Everyone has stress in their lives. We can all cope with a little bit of stress – it’s when it becomes too much that the problems can begin.

Increased demands
When stress builds, you become more vulnerable to physical illness, behavioural and emotional problems. Stress can place increased demands on the heart, blood vessels, skin, muscles, digestive system and many other parts of the body.

Adrenal glands
Stress of any kind - good or bad - makes the adrenal glands work harder. Their job is to secrete adrenaline – the "fight or flight" hormone that regulates many vital body functions.

Good nutrition
Nutrition can substantially influence your tolerance of and response to stress. While nutrition cannot remove the stresses from your life, it can help to: Increase your tolerance to stress; reduce the adverse effects of stress; and reduce the chance of, or the effects of adrenal exhaustion

Helping yourself cope with stress
By making some changes in your lifestyle, and improving what you eat and drink your body will be able to cope far more efficiently with the demands placed upon it. If we are over-stressed, the adrenal glands become over worked and eventually they become so fatigued that they cannot cope with the demands put upon them. When this occurs, people can become ill and pick up infections. During stress, adrenal levels of pantothenic acid, vitamin C and other essential nutrients are used up at an alarming rate. It is particularly important to ensure optimal intake of these nutrients in order that your body can cope more efficiently.

Good stress food

  • B complex vitamins are great for helping with stress – especially Pantothenic Acid. Good food sources of the B vitamins are yeast extract, green leafy vegetables and wholegrains.
  • Vitamin C is also good for helping the body deal with stresses. Although we can get vitamin C from fresh fruit and vegetables, the amounts are often not enough for optimum health. Therefore a daily supplementation of at least 1000mg of vitamin C per day may be recommended.
  • Zinc is necessary for the production of the adrenal hormones and it is therefore extremely important to ensure optimum levels of zinc are maintained in the body. Zinc is often lacking in today's diets and therefore a zinc supplement could well prove extremely beneficial.
  • Magnesium is involved in the production of the adrenal hormones and therefore helps to reduce the risk of adrenal exhaustion from chronic stress. Magnesium helps relax the nerves.
  • Stress can play havoc with the digestive system by inhibiting digestive enzymes. This can lead to indigestion, bloating, gas, heartburn, constipation or diarrhoea. Supplementing digestive enzymes prior to, or during a meal, can help to eradicate some of the problematic symptoms.

Bad stress food

  • Caffeine is a stimulant and can cause irritability and lead to over stimulation of the adrenal glands so the body is less able to cope with stress. It can prevent the absorption of some essential nutrients - zinc and iron.
  • Alcohol - Excessive intake depletes many vitamins and minerals which can impair the detoxification process of the liver and cause adrenal stimulation. However, moderate amounts of alcohol have been shown to have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular disease.
  • Sugar in excess impairs the function of the adrenal glands and has been linked with suppressing the immune system.
  • Salt - Certain people are sensitive to salt which may result in high blood pressure. If they are stressed this can have major implications on health. In summary, by improving your nutritional intake through the diet and taking supplements to support the body, you are more likely to see the stresses of life as opportunities and challenges rather than problems and threats.

Natural remedies

  • Flower remedies can often help you deal with the emotions related to being stressed: Impatiens can help if you find yourself irritated by the little things; White Chestnut can help with these thoughts that keep going round your mind; and Beech can help if you have become intolerant and critical.
  • Aromatherapy essential oils can be added to baths, massage oil, or infusers. Essential oils that are used for stress, anxiety and nervous tension are: bergamot, cypress, geranium, jasmine, lavender, melissa, neroli, rose, sandalwood and ylangylang. Lavender is the most common and forms the base of many relaxing blends.

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