Vitamins Help You Manage Stress

Stress is practically unavoidable in our western culture. It triggers a hormonal pathway and cascade that places excess demands on the body’s nutrient and vitamin stores over and above of what is required for normal function. Almost every cell and metabolic pathway in our body requires nutrients, vitamins and minerals to act as co-factors. Co-factors are molecules that act like keys that open each step that leads to the production of essential cell components such as energy or the formation of essential proteins. This article highlights 4 key non-herbal factors that are essential to the body for dealing with stress.

Essential Vitamin C

Also known as ascorbic acid, this vitamin is one of the most well-known and widely used vitamins for the promotion of health. In the 1920s, Albert von Szent Györgyi discovered that vitamin C is the factor that was able to prevent and cure scurvy. He later went on to win the prestigious Noble Prize for his research on the function of vitamin C in human metabolism.1 Vitamin C plays a pivotal role in activating enzymes that produce collagen, a key structural protein in blood vessels, skin and other tissues. Its also is required for the activation of neurotransmitters and carnitine for energy production. This is why the symptoms of scurvy are fatigue, neurological dysfunction, and, more commonly, bleeding gums and easy bruising due to blood vessel fragility.1 In addition, vitamin C has a broad spectrum antioxidant function with the ability to protect cell structures and DNA from free radical damage.1 This makes it particularly important in situations of increased stress since there often is an increased amount of free radical damage, cellular repair, energy production and formation of important neurotransmitters. Vitamin C also has the ability to regenerate and optimize other key antioxidants such as vitamin E.2

The adrenal gland has the highest concentration of vitamin C in the body. Here it is used as a cofactor for the production of epinephrine and steroid hormones. During times of stress the demand for the production of these hormones increases, so the body naturally has a higher demand for vitamin C. It also plays a key role in the formation of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and brain function.3 One randomized, placebo controlled trial looked at 120 healthy adults and whether vitamin C supplementation had any effect on their ability to handle stress. The results showed that those people who took 3g of vitamin C daily had a lower blood pressure reading, their cortisol levels recovered quicker, and they felt less “stressed.”3

Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables. While traditionally oranges have been considered highest in vitamin C, actually red bell peppers have higher levels. Its absorption is relatively efficient at 70-90% for low doses (like those found in fruits).2 Any excess vitamin C that is not absorbed in the digestive tract is excreted. This prevents the possibility for overdose through oral ingestion. Humans are one of the few mammals that are not able to produce vitamin C. We rely on dietary or supplemental intake to maintain stores. Guinea pigs and other primates also do not have the ability to produce vitamin C. This is why they have so often been used in research studies as models of human metabolism. While scurvy rarely occurs anymore, many people with low dietary intakes of fruits and vegetables have suboptimal levels of vitamin C. This can limit the body’s ability to respond adequately to stress.

Vitamin B5 and Cellular Function

This vitamin is considered a key factor in supporting adrenal function. It has long been known that adrenal function is compromised if deficient in B5.4 Pantothenic acid (B5) is the standard form that the majority of supplements use, however the body does convert pantothenic acid to the active form called Pantethine using a very energy-intense process. Pantethine is so essential to cellular function because it is the active part of coenzyme A, a key compound that plays a role in numerous metabolic processes.4 Coenzyme A is a key player in the formation of fatty acids (from cholesterol), cellular energy production, liver detoxification and adrenal hormone formation.

Since the formation of Pantethine takes up a lot of the body’s resources,
its production is strictly controlled to prevent the body from using excess energy in making this compound. This highlights the importance of supplementing with the Panthethine form since it bypasses this built-in metabolic gate and supplies the required part for coenzyme A activity without using extra energy.4

The adrenal glands require coenzyme A for the synthesis of the powerful hormones through which the body adapts to stress. Stress can therefore seriously deplete the body of vitamin B5, and in-turn, supplemental B5
can help correct this stress-induced deficiency.

There is evidence that the administration of Pantethine in several experimental animal models appears to enhance adrenal cortex function.5-7 This would translate to a more balanced secretion of hormones such as cortisol, which is required for the body’s stress response. A human study using Pantethine showed a lower rise in urinary cortisol metabolites after simulating a stressful situation which suggests that Pantethine can down-regulate hypersecretion of cortisol.8

The evidence suggests that Pantethine is not only required by the adrenal gland to properly function, it can balance excessive or inadequate cortisol production.5-8 It is also important to note that while the dosage of Pantethine shown to be effective for lowering LDL cholesterol is 300mg three times daily. Other studies have used 10g of pantothenic acid to reduce the impact of stress on the immune system. The dosing studies show that the effective amount to counteract the negative effects of stress is not achievable through a simple multivitamin and that higher doses of B5 are both effective and safe.

Tyrosine for Decreasing the Effects of Stress

L- tyrosine is a non -essential amino acid that is found in protein sources such as yogurt, fish, oats, cheeses and poultry. It is a key building block for the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are neurotransmitters that play a key role in cognitive and central nervous system function.9 It’s also the precursor for the formation of thyroxine, a thyroid hormone. Research supports tyrosine’s ability to help in the management of stress arising from physical or psychological origins, including lack of sleep and multitasking. Many of the studies have been conducted in military personnel that were exposed to extreme physical and mental stress. Since dopamine and norepinephrine are essential for a strong response to stressful situations, supplying tyrosine will increase their production and prevent deficiency.9

Two key areas where tyrosine supplementation has shown benefits are in sleep deprivation and multitasking. One study looked at a group of marines that had not slept for 24 hours and found that one dose of tyrosine improved memory and brain function for up to 3 hours the next day.10 Interestingly, the ability to remember tasks was improved after just one dose. The same results were found even when the subjects were further stressed by cold temperatures. In another study, subjects found their ability to handle multiple tasks and maintain memory was improved after tyrosine supplementation earlier that same day.11 There does not seem to be an effect on cortisol and blood pressure but short and rapid effects on mental focus and function were noted.11 Another group that also found benefit from tyrosine supplementation were adults with transient attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).12 Since dopamine and norepinephrine are both required for calm and focused cognitive function, those people with ADHD can benefit from extra supplemental tyrosine.

An important note about tyrosine is that benefits were found after just one dose, so supplementation is effective in a short time period. In fact there is actually some evidence that longer-term use can build a tolerance to the benefits of tyrosine. The studies also used a very large dose that was based on body weight so a prudent approach to tyrosine supplementation would be to start increasing the daily dose by one capsule until a desired effect is achieved. Dosages over 15 g were found to be effective and safe by some participants.10,11 Maximal absorption of tyrosine is achieved when taking it away from food. A good time to take tyrosine is first thing in the morning before eating breakfast. The effect on mental function and increased focus can be similar to that of caffeine.

Biological Processes Require Magnesium

Magnesium is involved in over 300 biochemical processes in the body. One of its most important functions is that it plays a key role in producing energy. This makes it vitally important for all cellular functions and processes, especially the ability to maintain function in times of stress. Over 70% of our enzymes require magnesium to function.13 This includes the activation of B-vitamins and formation of neurotransmitters and hormones. Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythms regular, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong. The problem with this essential mineral is that most people do not have sufficient levels for optimal health. A gradual depletion of nutrients from our soils has left many vegetables with lower levels of magnesium. In addition, various common medications, such as proton pump inhibitors and furosemide, further deplete magnesium levels. Unfortunately, stress is also a very powerful factor that leads to magnesium depletion.13 When a person is under stress one of the first signs they experience is tense muscles, especially in the neck and shoulders. In muscle tissue and blood vessels, magnesium causes relaxation while calcium levels increase muscle tone. Adequate levels of magnesium are required to offset stress related muscle hypertonicity. A number of studies have shown that deficient levels of magnesium decrease resistance to stress-related changes in blood pressure or heart rhythm. It seems that adequate magnesium levels are protective against increased risk of cardiovascular damage.13,14

In affluent societies, severe dietary magnesium deficiency is uncommon, but chronic stress, poor diet and other factors deplete body stores to suboptimal ranges. This can be a contributing factor in a very wide range of common diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, insomnia and chronic pain. Even though assessing magnesium deficiency is difficult because red blood cell stores do not reflect the levels found in tissues, it would be a wise strategy to increase magnesium intake in times of stress. As a supplement, magnesium is most commonly found in small amounts in multivitamins and in certain over the counter laxatives. These are not good sources to replete tissue levels. Forms such as magnesium oxide have a strong laxative effect and are very poorly absorbed. The best supplemental sources of magnesium with the highest rates of absorption are those that are joined with amino acids such as glycine, taurine, or malate. To offset the negative effects of stress and prevent disease, consider a daily supplemental dose of magnesium. Like tyrosine and vitamin C, the right amount of magnesium for each person can vary. A gradual daily increase in dosage until reaching a point of loosened stools, is an effective way to reach your optimal level. Supplemental sources of vitamins and minerals can support the body in coping with stress. However, there are also other things you can do to help yourself be healthier, feel better and be less stressed. Try out additional stress busting tips listed on page 15.

What You Need to Know

In times of stress the body’s need for essential minerals is greatly increased. The excess production of hormones and neurotransmitters require extra amounts of vitamin C, vitamin B5, tyrosine and magnesium. Combined with a balanced diet, active lifestyle, adaptogenic herbs and a high potency multivitamin or B-complex, and the aforementioned nutrients can have a potent effect in helping the body deal with stressful situations.

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