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Vitamins for Stress Relief

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Updated August 29, 2012

Vitamins for Stress Relief
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Vitamins are increasingly making the news as we learn more about their effects and importance for health. Because certain vitamins and nutritional supplements can affect mood, vitamins can be a potential tool for stress management in certain situations. It helps to know which vitamins have an impact, and what the effects are.

Recently, I was able to catch up with molecular biologist Brian Dixon, Ph.D., and registered dietician John Bosse, both of whom work for USANA Health Sciences. I asked several questions about how vitamins can affect stress levels, and received some thorough answers that they reached together. The following is the transcript of that interview, conducted exclusively for About.com.

How do each of the vitamins affect the body?

Vitamins help your body perform optimally and multivitamin supplements can help ensure you are also getting the dosages of each mineral that you need. It is important to remember that vitamins and minerals don't work in isolation and consuming too much of one nutrient can have wide-reaching effects and actually become harmful. Also, since many vitamins and minerals work together, if an individual is low on one, body function as a whole is not optimal. Vitamins A, C, and E are powerful antioxidants. Breaking down our food and moving our bodies generates many free radicals which can lead to cumulative damage to our cells. Many environmental exposures also produce significant free radicals, which is normal, but over time, particularly with high exposure, our bodies see the effects of their cellular damage. Antioxidants help us better ward off this damage. The B vitamins, for example thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), and biotin (B7) work primarily by acting as middle-men in helping our bodies: 1) obtain energy from the food we eat or 2) create new substances in the body. Think of b vitamins as working together sort of like workers in an assembly line. The line can still work if some people are missing, but not as effectively. Some of the b vitamins, such as folic acid (B9) and cobalamin (B12), have particularly important roles and are mentioned because their intakes are commonly low. Vitamin B12 and folic acid are important in creating healthy DNA, the genetic material in our cells. They also help keep homocysteine levels in check. Homocysteine is a substance formed during amino acid metabolism of which high levels are associated with heart disease. Vitamin D plays a very important role in bone and immune health. The volume of data on vitamin D is growing rapidly and increasingly research points toward roles in cardiovascular, muscle, and overall health. Vitamin C is also important for collagen formation which is critical to the health of our skin, tendons, and ligaments, while along with vitamin D, vitamin K is beneficial to bone health. Vitamin K is an integral player in blood clotting, preventing excessive bleeding when we have a wound and the collagen promoted by vitamin C helps in forming new tissue to close wounds and strong tissue more resistant to wounds. These are just some of the examples of teamwork between vitamins, remember there is also a great deal of collaboration between vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins D & K working with the mineral calcium to create strong bones.

What vitamins are most helpful for stress relief?

It is important to remember that “stress” can refer the emotional phenomenon of stress or cellular oxidative stress from free-radical formation that we may not feel that is causing stress and damage to our cells. As our bodies are made up of many cells, over time cellular oxidative stress can manifest into damage and conditions that can be seen on the whole body level.

In terms of perceived psychological stress, at least three studies have shown that supplementing with B vitamins, for two to twelve weeks, may enhance subjective mood and stress levels. While these studies were placebo controlled, this is a fairly new area of research that most scientists would not consider conclusive.

For relief from cellular oxidative stress, it may be worth incorporating a good antioxidant supplement into your diet. Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E provide protection that can help reduce free-radical damage. Free-radical formation increases when our bodies are stressed. Although free-radicals are normal by-products of cellular metabolism, free radicals can also result from exposure to pollution, smoking, alcohol consumption, and eating foods high in fat. Adding an antioxidant to your daily supplementation can assist in relief.

Are multivitamins enough? What kind of vitamin regimen is optimal for physical and emotional wellness?

Although multivitamins are a good way to introduce yourself to supplements, they aren’t necessarily going to be enough. If you are not sure if your current vitamin is the best one for you, reference the Nutrisearch Compartive Guide to Nutritional Supplements by Lyle MacWilliam, to see how your vitamin rates against others. Once you have one in mind, you should meet with your physician and a Dietitian to customize your supplementation regime to your individual needs. When it comes to physical wellness, it ultimately depends on the person, how active they are and the environment in which they live. For example, an indoor athlete might need more vitamin D than an athlete who performs outdoors. However, all athletes performing at extreme levels should make sure they are consuming an adequate supply to promote bone, muscle, joint, and immune health. Increasingly research shows that it is very difficult to consume enough vitamin D from the diet and supplementation may be prudent.

Furthermore, extreme endurance athletes and individuals who work in industries that involve high exposure to chemicals and pollutants experience greater oxidative stress and would likely benefit more from antioxidants such as vitamins C and E.

What kind of an effect can vitamins have? Is it comparable to other stress management strategies?

The best approach to handling stress is to maintain a healthy lifestyle that supports optimal health. Vitamins can serve as good compliments for other emotional stress management strategies such as exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, naps, a good night’s sleep, and deep breathing, but are not a substitute. You may notice an increase in your energy level within a short period of beginning supplementation and this could help how you perceive emotional stressors. It is important to remember, however, that it generally takes a few months to build up levels of nutrients in the body that are high enough to experience noticeable results. Emotional stress management techniques usually provide noticeable results sooner. However, in terms of combating chronic oxidative stress, antioxidant supplements immediately begin silently providing many benefits to enhance a health. Ultimately these benefits enhance long-term vigor in ways you can feel and even in those you can’t.

Is it okay to start taking vitamins right away, or should people consult their doctor first?

A supplementation regime should begin with a high quality supplement, such as a multivitamin. However, if you have specific needs or concerns you should always consult a physician before taking any supplement. This is especially recommend if you are pregnant, thinking about becoming pregnant, breast feeding, taking any medications, or otherwise being treated for some disease/condition, to ensure you are taking care of your health needs.

The safety and purity of vitamins is another common concern. It is typically safest to purchase from a company that has been in business for a while and is known for high quality good manufacturing. Don’t be afraid to shop around, not just for price, but to ensure that what you think you are putting in your body is in fact what is in the bottle. For example, if you log onto http://www.nsf.org/certified/dietary/ you can access third party data from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to let you know if the products you are considering taking are pure and free of contaminants. There are even a few companies, such as USANA Health Sciences, that hold FDA registration, which assures you their products are being held to the highest standards for quality and purity.

Function of the human body is an amazing interplay of multiple organs and systems. Proper nutrition provides the fuel and intermediates (vitamins) to allow seamless integration of these systems to produce a vibrant, healthy individual. Unfortunately, there are many environmental exposures, both emotional and physical, that can disrupt our homeostasis, requiring us to take our stress management strategies up a notch. Along with other strategies, vitamins can play a key role in maintaining health and managing daily stress. Supplementation becomes even more critical for the majority of American’s that consume a diet that is inadequate in so many vitamins. However, there are a few important things to understand and consider when choosing a vitamin supplementation regimen, particularly with stress management in mind.

Having read this article you now have a better understanding on the interconnected role vitamins play in the body, a distinction between types of stress, and realistic expectations of vitamin supplementation. Most individuals can benefit from regular multivitamin supplementation to enhance a healthy lifestyle. Benefits of a good supplementation and nutritional program will likely be evident as you age because those who have received optimal nutrients, in the long term, will have much lower risks of developing chronic degenerative diseases. Talk to your physician or nutrition professional for a more specific plan to optimize your health.

More information about Dr. Brian Dixon and John Bosse:

"Brian Dixon, Ph.D. is Director of Product Innovation at USANA Health Sciences. His primary role is to facilitate and manage all clinical studies conducted at USANA. He earned a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology from Oregon State University, where he focused his research on the underlying biochemical mechanisms of the aging process and the therapeutic potential of lipoic acid. “Nutrition has always been close to my heart,” Dr. Dixon says. 'I joined the USANA scientific team for their unyielding and uncompromising edict to produce the highest quality science-based health products in the industry.' "

"John Bosse, MS, RD, LD/N, NSCA-CPT is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer specializing in sports nutrition. Currently, he is USANA's senior scientist of product innovation, he received his master’s degree in Sports Dietetics from the University of Utah and his Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science from Colby- Sawyer College. His extensive professional experience spans from developing meal plans and supplementation protocols for NFL, NHL and NCAA players to researching the affects of creatine on muscle strength to developing group exercise routines for seniors. His research in sports nutrition and science has been presented at national and international conferences and published in journals such as the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. An avid natural bodybuilder and powerlifter, John Bosse has a particular passion for working with strength and power athletes."

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