Everyone is stressed in their lives about something or the other. It is, in fact, rare to find someone who is not suffering from stress. The factors that cause stress could be related to job, money, health, relationships, and many other common reasons. Stress can be acute, or it can eventually become chronic, leading to headaches, fatigue, nervousness, upset stomach, and anger, or general irritability. Adequate sleep, regular exercise, and proper nutrition are some of the best ways to combat stress. However, again, most people do not have the time to spare for many of these things. In such a scenario, there are several vitamins and supplements that can prove to be very helpful in combatting stress. Read on to find out about some of the best vitamins and supplements for fighting stress.
7 Best Vitamins and Supplements for Fighting Stress
Perhaps the most important factor in reducing our stress levels is to get sufficient sleep. And that too good quality sleep.
Studies have shown that stress is strongly associated with insomnia, which is a sleeping disorder characterized by difficulties in falling asleep or staying asleep, or sometimes even both.(1)
Getting a good night’s sleep may not always be easy, especially if you are already under stress, which, in turn, ends up worsening the severity of sleep deprivation.(2)
This is where melatonin can help. Melatonin is a hormone present naturally in the body for regulating the body’s circadian rhythm, or the sleep-wake cycle. Levels of melatonin will be high in the evening when it becomes dark in order to promote sleep. It reduces in the morning as it becomes light, and it is time to wake up.
In 2013, the University of São Paulo Medical School in brazil carried out a review of 19 studies in which 1,683 people with primary sleep disorders took part.(3) The sleep disorders in these participants were not caused by any other medical condition. The review found that administering melatonin to the participants reduced the time it took for them to fall asleep, increased the total sleeping time, and also improved the overall quality of sleep, as compared to the administration of a placebo.
A more recent review of 7 studies carried out by the Fourth Military Medical University in China in January 2019 involved 205 participants.(4) The review investigated the effectiveness of melatonin in managing secondary sleep disorders. These types of sleep disorders are caused by another condition, such as depression or stress. The review showed that melatonin indeed decreased the time it took for the participants to fall asleep and also increased the total sleeping time. However, it noted that there was no dramatic change in sleep quality as compared to a placebo.
So even though melatonin is a natural hormone, when you take supplements of melatonin, it does not affect the body’s natural production of the hormone. Melatonin supplements are also non-habit forming.(5)
It is possible to buy melatonin supplements without a prescription, and they are available over the counter in most pharmacies. In some countries, though, they can only be purchased with a prescription. Melatonin supplements are available in various dosages, ranging from 0.3 to 10 milligrams (mg). It is recommended that you begin with the lowest dose available first and then move on to a higher dose if required.(6)
Melatonin supplements can help you fall asleep faster and also helps you remain asleep for a longer time. If you are having trouble sleeping due to stress, then supplementing with melatonin may just be the thing you need.
Rhodiola rosea, or just Rhodiola, is a commonly found herb that is grown in the cold and mountainous parts of Russia and some parts of Asia. The herb has a reputation of being an adaptogen, which is a natural and non-toxic her that helps boost the body’s stress response system, thus increasing the body’s natural resistance to stress.(7)
These adaptogenic properties of this herb are believed to be because of its two potent active ingredients – salidroside and rosavin.(8)
In 2017, an 8-week long study with 100 participants who had symptoms of chronic fatigue, including poor sleep quality, memory impairments, and poor concentration, discovered that taking 400-milligram supplements of Rhodiola extract every day helped improve these symptoms in just one week.(9) The symptoms continued to improve steadily during the rest of the duration of the study.
Another study carried out by the Universitätsklinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie in Austria had 118 participants who had stress-related burnout.(10) The participants were given 400 milligrams of Rhodiola extract every day for a period of 12 weeks. The study found that there are improvements in the associated symptoms of the participants, including a significant decline in exhaustion, anxiety, and irritability.
Rhodiola is readily available as a supplement over the counter, and it is generally very well tolerate and also has a strong safety record.(11)
Another adaptogenic herb that is available in supplement form is ashwagandha or Withania somnifera. The herb is native to India and has been used in Indian Ayurveda for centuries. (12)
Ashwagandha functions in a similar manner to Rhodiola and boosts the body’s resilience to mental and physical stress.(13)
A study carried out by the Murdoch University in Australia on the stress-relieving effects of ashwagandha, the researching team randomly selected 60 people who had mild stress. They were administered 240 milligrams of a standardized ashwagandha extract or a placebo daily for a period of 60 days.(14)
The study found that when compared to the placebo, people taking the ashwagandha supplements had more significant reductions in anxiety, stress, and depression.
Ashwagandha was also associated with a 23 percent decrease in morning levels of the hormone cortisol, which is the primary stress hormone in the body.
Additionally, a review of five studies done by the SUNY Upstate Medical University in New York looked at the effects of ashwagandha on stress and anxiety observed in people who were given supplements with ashwagandha extract. Those who were given the ashwagandha extract fared better on tests measuring levels of anxiety, stress, and fatigue.(15)
The Asha Hospital in Hyderabad, India, also investigated the safety and efficacy of ashwagandha supplements in people suffering from chronic stress. The study found that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha for 60 days was well-tolerated and safe for all participants.(16)
Glycine is an amino acid that your body needs to create proteins. Studies have shown that glycine increases the body’s resistance to stress by encouraging you to get a good night’s sleep due to the calming effect it has on the brain. Glycine also has the ability to lower the core body temperature.(17)(18) A lower core body temperature is believed to promote sleep and also helps you stay asleep throughout the night.
For example, in a study of 15 people who were having poor quality sleep, 3 grams of glycine were administered to them before they went to bed. The participants experienced better sleep quality, reduced fatigue, as well as increased levels of alertness the next day, as compared to the participants who had a placebo.(19)
In another similar study done by the Jikei University School of Medicine in Japan, taking 3 grams of glycine before going to bed showed improved sleep quality, and the participants also performed better on memory recognition tasks.(20)
Additionally, another smaller study also found that giving 3 grams of glycine before bedtime, decreased daytime sleepiness as well as fatigue even after three days of sleep deprivation.(21)
Glycine is a well-tolerated supplement, but if you take 9 grams of glycine on an empty stomach before going to bed, then there have been some reports of minor stomach upset. Taking just 3 grams of glycine, though, is unlikely to cause any type of adverse reaction.(22)
Another amino acid that is also known for reducing stress is L-theanine. It is commonly found in tea leaves.
L-theanine has been widely studied and researched for its ability to promote relaxation and also reduce stress, and that too without having any sedative effects. (23) (24)
The University of Basel in Switzerland reviewed 21 studies that involved nearly 68,000 people. The review found that drinking green tea is linked with improvement in attention and memory while reducing anxiety.(25)
These effects found in green tea were believed to be due to the synergistic effects of l-theanine and caffeine present in tea since each ingredient by itself was found to have a lesser impact. However, some studies have also suggested that l-theanine, by itself, can also benefit in lowering stress.
For example, a study by the Nagoya University in Japan showed that taking 200 mg of l-theanine decreased several measures of stress, including heart rate, while measuring the participants’ response to performing mentally stressful tasks.(26)
Another study done by the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia had 34 participants and studied the effect of drinking a beverage with 200 mg of l-theanine and other nutrients. The study found that while doing a stress task that involved multitasking, participants who took the l-theanine beverage had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol as compared to those who took a placebo.(27)
L-theanine is also well-tolerated by most people, and it is considered to be safe when taken in a dose that ranges between 200 to 600 mg per day in a capsule form.(28)(29)
Piper methysticum (commonly known only as Kava) is a tropical evergreen shrub that is found in the South Pacific islands. The roots of the kava plant have been used for many years by Pacific Islanders for preparing a type of ceremonial beverage known as kava kava, or just kava.(30)
The Kava shrub is rich in active compounds known as kavalactones, which have been researched widely for their stress-reducing properties.
Kavalactones are believed to disrupt the breakdown of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a type of neurotransmitter that reduces the activity of the nervous system. This produces a calming effect on the body and can help alleviate the feelings of stress and anxiety.(31)
A review of 11 studies with 645 participants done by the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom found that kava extract helped relieve anxiety, which is a typical response to stress.(32) The Åbo Akademi University in Turkey also did a similar study and found the same result.(33)
However, another review carried out by the Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Singapore concluded that there is no enough evidence to prove that kava helps relieve anxiety.(34)
You can take kava in the form of tea, powder, liquid form, or even in capsule form. Using kava is considered to be relatively safe if you take it for four to eight weeks. The daily dosage of kava should range from 120 to 280 milligrams.(35)
However, there are some severe side effects, such as live damage linked to kava supplements. This is usually attributed to supplement contamination or the use of less expensive parts of the kava shrub, such as the stems or the leaves, instead of the more expensive and more beneficial roots of the plant.
Therefore, when choosing a kava supplement, it is always better to go with a reputable and trustworthy brand that has had its products tested by professional laboratories.
B Complex Vitamins
Eight B vitamins together make up B complex vitamins. These vitamins are known for their essential role in the body’s metabolism as they help transform the food we eat into usable energy. B complex vitamins are also necessary for maintaining heart and brain health. (36)
There are many foods that are rich in B vitamins, such as legumes, eggs, grains, dairy products, and leafy vegetables.
High doses of these B vitamins have been found to improve the symptoms of stress, including boosting your mood and energy levels. B vitamins do this by lowering the levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the bloodstream.(37)
When there are high levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood, then there is a higher risk of many health conditions, including dementia, colorectal cancer, and heart disease. They also increase your stress levels.(38)(39)(40)
The Swinburne University of Technology in Australia undertook a 12-week study with 60 participants who were suffering from work-related stress. The participants who were taking a supplement of one of the two forms of a vitamin B complex, experienced far lesser work-related stress symptoms, such as anger, fatigue, and depression, as compared to those who took the placebo.(41)
However, there is no evidence to indicate if people who already have low homocysteine levels will also experience the same effects.
There can be many causes of stress, including job, health, money, relationship factors, or even family matters. There are many vitamins and supplements that are known to reduce the levels of stress and the symptoms associated with stress. Ashwagandha, glycine, melatonin, Rhodiola, are just some of them. B complex vitamins, L-theanine, and kava are also known to increase your resistance to the many stressors in your life.
However, before trying out a new supplement, it is always better to check with your doctor, especially if you are already taking some other medications, or if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
If you continue to be stressed, then you can always consider speaking with a therapist or a mental health professional about the possible solutions to stress.
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