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Condition - Stress Solutions

By Dr Mark Atkinson

We are a stressed out nation! A survey over the 2007/2008 period found that 442,000 individuals in Britain believed that they were experiencing work-related stress at a level that was making them ill. What’s more, all of the top diseases identified by the World Health Organization as causing the greatest global disease burden by 2020 have stress as an underlying contributing or complicating factor. They include heart disease, depression, stroke and chronic lung disease.

Stress is also associated with a poorly-functioning immune system, heart disease, bad decision making, strained relationships and poor quality of life. But what exactly is stress? And what nutritional options will help you cope with stress better?

Stress = Unmet Needs

In my own work as an integrated medical doctor, I have found it useful to think of stress as referring to the emotional disease that can be felt in the body when an emotional and / or physical need isn’t being met. Stress is therefore, an invitation to stop, take a breath and then take action to identify your unmet emotional or physical needs. These physical needs include the need for warmth, food, water, exercise, rest, relaxation and sleep. The emotional needs (which are often ignored, but are essential to mental health) include the need for security, giving and receiving wider attention, connection with the wider community, an intimate relationship with at least one other person, autonomy, status, competence, privacy and meaning, and purpose. When these needs aren’t met in a balanced and moderate way, your body will let you know by creating stress. For example, you might be experiencing stress because your blood sugar has dropped too low, or because you are sleep deprived or because you need some rest. At another time, you may experience stress because you haven’t spoken your truth, or maybe you have a tendency to perfectionism and have set yourself an impossible deadline. Stress is, therefore, not the problem. The problem is not responding effectively to the message that stress is trying to communicate!

Nutritional Solutions for Stress

While the key to stress management is to take action to either deal with the situation that is triggering stress or to meet the unmet physical / emotional need or to change the way you think about the situation (all of these are covered in my book The Mind-Body Bible), you can also enhance your stress resilience (ability to withstand stress) with the use of nutritional supplementation. Of particular use are supplements that support the healthy functioning of the adrenal glands. The adrenals are two small pyramid-shaped glands sitting on top of your kidneys. Despite their small size, they are vitally important to your health and wellbeing – they help your body respond to stress, maintain the body’s energy and help regulate the immune system. However, too much ongoing stress can cause an imbalance in the function of the adrenals, and result in adrenal fatigue, a common condition, arising when the adrenal glands are no longer able to meet the demands placed upon them. Adrenal fatigue is commonly present in many of my patients with ongoing stress and can be diagnosed with the help of a saliva test, which can be ordered via a Nutritionist. If you have adrenal fatigue or if you are under stress, here are my nutritional solutions and suggestions for you:

Step One

Take Anti-Stress Nutrients

  1. High Potency Multivitamin-Mineral – Stress increases the nutritional requirements of the body. This, combined with a poor diet, means that it is necessary to supplement your diet with a high quality multi-nutrient formula.
  2. Vitamin C with bioflavonoids (1000mg a day, or less if in food form) - is known to help support adrenal function and is best taken with bioflavonoids, which help recycle the vitamin C, prolonging its effects. The adrenal glands store large quantities of vitamin C, but these stores can be rapidly depleted during times of stress, because the vitamin C is used up making our fight or flight hormones.
  3. Fish Oil (3000mg a day) – Studies on fish oil have shown that it can reduce the severity of the body’s stress response. After three weeks of supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids, study subjects displayed much lower blood levels of stress hormones, in response to mental stress.
  4. Pantothenic acid (500mg a day) -  Pantothenic acid is also known as vitamin B5 and is the most important “anti-stress” B vitamin. About 70% of the body’s pantothenic acid is stored in the adrenal glands where it plays an important role in the production of hormones that help counteract stress and enhance metabolism.
  5. Magnesium (300 - 800mg a day) - Once the adrenals become overworked and stressed, the body’s ability to retain magnesium drops down. For this reason, stressed people often require extra magnesium to maintain inner balance. Magnesium, taken about an hour before bed, helps calm the nervous system and relax the muscles so you get a good night’s sleep.

Step Two

Take an Adaptogen

One of the best ways to increase your body’s natural ability to deal with stress is to take an adaptogen. Adaptogens are herbs that help to restore balance and support energy levels. One of the most commonly used ones is rhodiola, also called Arctic root. It works on an area of the brain, called the hypothalamus, to support your natural ability to deal with toxins and stress. It also helps you to maintain stamina and endurance, as well as maintaining levels of the happy brain chemicals, serotonin and dopamine. This is best used in combination with ashwagandha, also called Indian ginseng, which works more as a nerve support.

Step Three

Relax Your Mind with Nutrients

Many of us go through periods where it’s hard to slow our ‘busy’ mind down. One way to help the relaxation process is to take an amino-acid called l-theanine. Thirty minutes after taking l-theanine, it stimulates the production of alpha brain waves which, in turn, create a state of deep relaxation and mental alertness, without any drowsiness. For added effectiveness, you might also want to use it in combination with lemon balm and passion flower, two herbs that also have a relaxing effect.

Yours in Health,

Dr Mark 

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