For most of us who are over stressed on a daily basis, we must realize that quality nutrition is imperative to maintain our health and help our metabolism and biochemistry function optimally. The hormone cortisol increases with stress and steals from numerous other hormones and biochemical pathways to deplete vitamins and minerals.
It is also important to realize that even if you are diligent in eating the rainbow diet, decreasing all grains, and eating good fats and protein, that you still require supplementation with vitamins, minerals, and sometimes herbs to be optimally healthy or to help you heal from an illness.
The focus of this blog is on the top supplements to help put a DENT in your stress and balance your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems:
- B Complex Vitamins:
One of the top categories of vitamins used as co-factors in many biochemical reactions are B Complex Vitamins. In chemistry, co-factors are not one of the reactants that react with each other to create a new product; instead a co-factor is something that can increase or promote a particular reaction to occur, or can even block a reaction from happening all together.
For Example, Stress increases production of cortisol and the metabolism or detoxification of cortisol uses a great deal of B vitamins. So a person who is overstressed is typically deficient in B complex vitamins. B Complex Vitamins also decrease the hypersecretion of cortisol, so whichever way you look at it B Complex vitamins are necessary to decrease the over production of cortisol and to aid in the break down and elimination of cortisol.
Appropriate levels of magnesium are essential for nerve conduction in all types of nerves. Our nerves are responsible for our ability to move, effect how we deal with stress and also impact via our central nervous system how we think, how we feel and our moods. So, optimizing nerve conduction is imperative, and magnesium supplementation with 200 to 600mg daily comes to the top of the list for people suffering with anxiety, depression, insomnia, or stress.
One concern with magnesium; however, is it can cause loose stools or diarrhea at high doses. The least bowel irritating and most absorbable form of magnesium is magnesium glycinate. And a good rule of thumb with any supplement or prescription medicine is to start low and increase slowly as tolerated. So, starting at a dose of 100 or 200mg daily of magnesium glycinate and increasing over time to bowel tolerance is a good place to start.
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are important because they are involved with the detoxification process or breakdown of chemicals. When the body needs to break down chemicals that it has created itself, such as cortisol, it typically takes two steps. The first step in the detoxification pathway removes something from a toxin or chemical and actually makes the toxin or chemical oxidized, which is a more reactive and dangerous form. Antioxidant vitamins like vitamin C bind to the oxidized chemicals and anti-oxidize or neutralize them while they await the second step in the detoxification pathway. Therefore, vitamin C can help detoxify and neutralize the byproducts of cortisol as it is being broken down and processed for elimination from the body.
Vitamin C also affects hormone balance in women. Vitamin C increases a woman’s production and secretion of progesterone. Progesterone is a hormone in women that can help balance or improve anxiety and depression. It also stabilizes emotions and promotes better sleep.
- Fish Oil:
The Omega 3 Fatty Acids are necessary for the optimal health of the membranes of all cells. This includes the cells of all of the hormonal glands, whether that be the cells of the adrenal gland, the thyroid gland, the ovaries, or the testes. Fish oil has been shown to replenish hormone stores as well as gland reserves.
Another benefit of fish oil and the Omega 3 fatty acids it contains is that it is anti-inflammatory. Inflammation in our system that is chronic leads to increased systemic stress, which is an underlying cause of many chronic disease processes. So, fish oil at 2,000 to 4,000mg daily can help decrease inflammatory stress and improve hormone glandular function.
Fish oil may be dangerous to take if you are on a blood thinner because fish oil may enhance the effects of this type of medication. Always talk with your physician about all of your supplements and medications to avoid dangerous interactions.
The stress hormone cortisol is normally secreted in a circadian rhythm. This means it is highest during a certain time of the day and lowest at another. Cortisol is normally highest when we first get up in the morning. It rises to awaken us and stimulate us for our day. It is normally lowest during the night when we are sleeping. Actually, the best treatment for those faced with chronic stress is to sleep 8 to 9 hours per night because this lowers the cortisol levels and replenishes the body and mind.
Melatonin is a hormone that counteracts or balances cortisol. The circadian rhythm of melatonin is normally highest at night while we are sleeping and lowest during the day. This is why melatonin is recommended to people with insomnia. But, it also can help balance or regulate a person’s cortisol levels and decrease stress. Low dose melatonin at 3mg is typically sufficient. Take this one or two hours prior to bedtime if you have trouble falling asleep or right at bedtime if you have trouble staying asleep.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb used in Ayurvedic medicine. Adaptogenic herbs can help our system adapt to certain stressors. There have been over 200 studies that have shown Ashwaghanda improves cortisol levels, insulin sensitivity and naturally balances hormones.
The adrenal glands and their production of cortisol typically function in one of 3 ways:
- Normal: The Adrenal glands secrete cortisol in response to a stressful situation and the levels drop once the stress is over.
- Adapting: the adrenal gland may also adapt to high levels of ongoing stress by over producing cortisol, thus keeping someone in a sustained hyper vigilant state.
- Exhaustion: the adrenal gland may become exhausted and unable to secrete enough cortisol to keep up with a person’s stress level.
Ashwagandha is a unique herb in that it is recommended in all 3 of these states. The recommended dose is 500mg once or twice daily.