Home Health Stress Management: Supplements, Dietary Changes & Herbs

Stress Management: Supplements, Dietary Changes & Herbs

Dr Leow and Dr Maznah Baba looks into the different ways we can address stress, from supplements to clinical management.

Stress Management

While not all stress is bad – like the adrenaline rush which helps us to meet deadlines – there’s no denying the negative impact of acute, chronic and intense stress on our bodies and health.

The overall results of chronic stress can be quite unpleasant, both emotionally and physically, and can affect your ability to function, while also harming your health and well-being.

Excessive stress can cause:

  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • stomach problems
  • sweating
  • heart rate increase
  • rapid breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • irritability

Uncontrolled stress can lead to medical problems like:

  • asthma
  • chronic fatigue
  • erectile dysfunction
  • male infertility
  • fibromyalgia (long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues)
  • hypertension
  • immune system dysfunction
  • peptic ulcers (defect in the lining of the stomach)
  • impaired wound healing
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • indigestion
  • irritable bowel syndrome

Combined with the mood disorder, such medical complications due to stress will eventually lead to worsening workplace performance and relationship problems.

Clinical Management of Stress

There is no medication to completely address stress. Whatever medicines are available today only help to reduce the complications that stress causes, like insomnia and anxiety.

The common prescription includes sleeping aids containing diphenhydramine and doxylamine – aimed at reducing stress-induced insomnia. For stress-related anxiety, benzodiazepines lorazepam, alprazolam, clonazepam and diazepam may be prescribed.

Medical management of stress includes sharing how to cope with stressful scenarios and to ensure the patient has a healthy diet, getting enough exercise and sufficient sleep.

At the same time, patients are also encouraged to meet up with a professional counsellor if they find themselves not being able to handle the stress by themselves.

Dietary Changes to Manage Stress

Proper nutrition can also help with the negative impact of stress. For example, alpha-linolenic acids (an omega-3 fatty acid) and flaxseed make wonderful sources of fibre that contribute to hormone function.

A clinical study conducted among post-menopausal women focusing on the elevated blood pressure due to stress found that adding 30g of freshly ground flaxseed daily to diets is able to reduce the blood pressure elevating effect of mental stress.

However, the study also found flaxseed has no significant effect on blood level control.

Nutritional Stress Therapy

There is tyrosine – a natural amino acid that helps in stress management.

Tyrosine is used by our bodies to generate adrenal stress hormones and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in our brain). Clinical research shows the level of neurotransmitters reduces when we are under stress. Tyrosine supplements reverse the decline and improve mental performance when you are physically stressed.

Another useful nutrient is ascorbic acid or vitamin C – as it helps reduce the level of stress-related hormones and other related substances in our bloodstream.

A controlled study found that vitamin C intake of 1,000mg to 1,500mg daily reduces stress hormone levels when coupled with intense exercise. Clinical studies also found several stress-related hormone levels can be controlled with 2,000mg daily dosage of vitamin C during the week before and after surgery.

A lack of omega-3 fatty acids and low dietary intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) also lead to poor stress responses. A clinical study found that intake of 1.5g to 1.8g of DHA is able to prevent aggressiveness among students during their final examinations.

Several daily supplements are also commonly used in stress control and common dosages include:

  • 15mg of vitamin B1
  • 15mg of vitamin B2
  • 50mg of vitamin B3
  • 10mg of vitamin B6
  • 500mg of vitamin C
  • 23mg of pantothenic acid
  • 400mcg of folic acid
  • 500mcg of biotin
  • 100mg of calcium
  • 100mg of magnesium
  • 100mg of zinc

Studies have found such nutrient supplements resulted in significantly less anxiety and perceived stress when measured after a month.

However, other stress- related symptoms did not improve.

Since stress affects the balance of intestinal bacteria that affects our digestion, it is a good idea to get some probiotic supplement to address the consequent indigestion.

Fighting Stress with Herbs

Popular herbs that help in stress reduction include:

  • rhodiola
    A clinical study found that daily intake of 170mg rhidiola extract is able to prevent any decline in a set of mental performance during the first two weeks. In a double blind study of military cadets performing 24-hour duties found that 360mg to 555mg of rhodiola extract consumption reduced mental fatigue, as measured by performance tasks.
  • Asian ginseng
    Enhances the feeling of well-being in elderly people with age-associated memory impairment.
  • Siberian ginseng
    Helps with stress reduction, especially chronic psychological stress
  • ashwagandha
    Helps with stress reduction, especially chronic psychological stress

All these herbs are members of ‘controversial’ category known as adaotogens – which are said to be able to increase the body’s resistance towards stress, and to generally enhance physical and mental functions. However, no controlled research has been done to explore these effects in humans.

Mind-Body Medicine for Stress

There is also a branch of healing that focuses on thoughts and emotions on physical health, known as mind-body medicine. Many techniques used in such a healing system – such as biofeedback, relaxation training, laugh therapy, yoga, meditation, breathing and imaginary exercises – are able to prevent or manage health problems relating to stress, according to preliminary and controlled research.

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How else do you handle stress? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Edited by: The HealthWorks Team
Written by: Dr Leow Chee Seng, Regional Director of Human Behaviour Academy and Dr Maznah Baba, senior lecturer, Education Faculty of University Putra Malaysia.
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