Natural stress relief – four top vitamins to help you cope better

Natural stress relief – four top vitamins to help you cope better

Author -  Ingrid Pilz, Naturopath

Naturopath Ingrid Pilz suggests four top vitamins.

Stress: it’s not all in your mind

Although it’s easy to think of stress as “just a state of mind”, the reality is a little more complicated. Yes, of course stress is partly mental. It starts the moment you experience a situation that your mind tells you is too much for you to cope with.

But just because stress starts in your mind, doesn’t mean it stays there. As soon as you get that “just can’t cope” feeling, a chain of natural physical responses cascades its way through your body. Each response helps you to either fight off whatever’s stressing you, or get as far as away from it as possible.

So blood gets channelled away from your central core and out into your muscles where you can use it “fight or flee”. Your heart beats faster and you breathe more shallowly. You produce more of the hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, that make you feel alert and energised. And meanwhile, non-essential functions like digestion temporarily shut down.

Why good nutrition can help you cope better with stress

All these stress responses are ideal if the stressor you’re facing is something immediate, physical and unusual (like an angry wild animal, for example). But for most of us today, stressors are a little more subtle. They tend to be more mental or emotional – deadlines at work, arguments with friend, or ongoing family issues. And we seem to have to deal with them day after day after day – not just every once in a while. All of which means that our bodies’ automatic responses to stress can end up playing havoc with the nutrient levels in our bodies. This can be because:

  • We’re too stressed to be hungry. Or, stress makes us hungry, but we crave empty-calorie comfort food with lots of energy and few actual nutrients.
  • The stress response shuts down our digestive system for a while. That means that even though we might eat well, we don’t end up absorbing all the nutrients from our food.
  • Each of our individual physical stress responses requires energy and specific nutrients to produce. The more stress we respond to, the quicker we chew through our nutrient stores. 
  • Some of the stress responses can actually leach important nutrients from our bodies, or interfere with our ability to produce them from other nutrients.

So really, it’s no wonder that ongoing stress can leave our bodies feeling worse for wear! That’s why we need to know which nutrients our stress responses use up, and make sure we get more of them in our diets.

Four top stress relief vitamins

There are a whole raft of important stress response nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and amino acids. Entire books could – and have been – written about them all. But this is a short article, so we’re going to concentrate on the four top vitamins, which are:

  • Vitamin C: often thought of as being all about immunity, Vitamin C has many other important functions in your body. It plays a role in creating cortisol, and it’s a powerful water-soluble antioxidant that helps your body neutralise the free radicals that stress can create. You can find Vitamin C in raw fruit and vegetables like citrus fruit, tomatoes, peppers, kiwifruit and blackcurrants.
  • Vitamin E: an important fat-soluble antioxidant, that, like Vitamin C, helps your body to fight free radical damage. Research suggests it may have other stress-relieving effects as well, but scientists don’t fully understand exactly how yet. You can find Vitamin E in foods like nuts, cabbage, lettuce and some kinds of oils.
  • Vitamin B3 (also called Niacin or Nicotinamide): one of the all-important B-complex vitamins. Your body uses Vitamin B3 to help it create an important mood-stabilising brain chemical called serotonin. Balanced, even serotonin levels help you to feel as though you can cope better with the stresses life throws your way. You can find Vitamin B3 in high-protein foods like meat, eggs, fish and milk; as well as some vegetables and nuts.
  • Vitamin B5 (also called Pantothenic acid): a key nutrient that your adrenal glands use to help them create adrenaline. That means that the more frequently you feel stressed, the more Vitamin B5 your body uses up. You can find Vitamin B5 in most wholegrain cereals, peas, beans, lentils and high-protein foods.