As the song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Yes, the holiday season is once again upon us, and many might be singing, or grumbling, along with the music but with slightly different lyrics. Something more to the tune of “It’s the most stressful time of the year!” Holidays and stress seem to go hand in hand these days when we are under pressure to get home and hearth ready for guests and family celebrations. Shopping, planning decorating, baking, celebrating and traveling all take their toll on physical and mental health, as well as our checkbooks. Stress not only increases appetite by raising cortisol and insulin levels, it can also negatively affect our food preferences and sleep patterns. In fact, it’s not just the abundance of holiday sweets that tempt us to overindulge. Studies have shown that physical or emotional distress appears to influence our food choices, increasing the likelihood of consuming foods high in sugar, fat or both.
During the holidays we tend to exercise less, guzzle more alcohol and often mindlessly devour plenty of delicious but not so healthy foods, often leading to stress-related holiday weight gain. The more we are exposed to stressors, the more intense and frequent the body’s physiological reactions become, leaving us constantly on edge and influencing the quality and quantity of food consumption. When not properly managed even short-term stress can lead to negative psychological and physical responses. These can include agitation, irritability, muscle tension, disturbed sleep, anxiousness, mood swings, lack of focus, appetite fluctuations, food cravings, poor digestion, increased heart rate, higher blood pressure levels and more. Over time stress can become chronic, which can seriously harm health and wellbeing. Long-term conditions including depression and type 2 diabetes, as well as cardiovascular and bowel issues may result.
Chronic stress can weaken the immune response, leaving one more susceptible to illness or infections. Stress creates demands for more energy, oxygen, and vitamin and mineral metabolic cofactors. While stress is a complex phenomenon and each individual has a unique level of tolerance, those who consume a healthy balanced diet are often more able to cope with stressful situations, aiding better physical and emotional health. Stress depletes certain vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and zinc. As stress and diet are inextricably linked, a nutritious diet can provide powerful stress-reducing benefits that aid brain functioning, lower blood pressure, support immune function and reduce the levels of stress hormones.
- Healthy serotonin levels are key to stress management. Whole grains will help to enhance serotonin, a neurotransmitter that boosts mood, happiness and relaxation. Low levels of serotonin are linked to anxiety and depression as well as poor quality sleep. Plus, complex carbs help to stabilize blood sugar levels, balancing out highs and lows.
- The brain requires essential fatty acids for the formation of healthy nerve cells. Omega-3 fatty acids help to moderate the effects of physiological and physical stress by aiding more balanced cortisol levels under stressful conditions. DHA, an essential component of brain cell membranes, supports stress reduction by turning on the genes that produce serotonin.
- Proteins, specifically the amino acids tryptophan, phenylalanine, tyrosine and theanine, are all vital to neurotransmitter production. Tryptophan works synergistically with niacin, magnesium and vitamin B6 to synthesize serotonin. Along with the vitamin C required to metabolize phenylalanine and tyrosine, these nutrients promote alertness and help increase antidepressant neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Theanine has the ability to reduce mental and physical stress, improve cognition and boost mood. Theanine also helps to reduce stress and anxiety by relaxing the mind without inducing drowsiness.
- Stress depletes vitamin C levels in the body, reducing the body’s resistance to illness and increasing the likelihood of further stress. When vitamin C intake is increased, the harmful effects of stress hormones are reduced, and the body’s ability to cope with the stress response improves.
- B-complex vitamins help to maintain proper blood glucose levels and help to keep energy and mood stable. Vitamin B5, known as the anti-stress vitamin, helps support adrenal function, improving coping mechanisms. B vitamins are necessary for proper nervous system function and maintenance. Deficiencies increase the risk of developing stress-related symptoms of irritability, low energy and depression.
- Magnesium is needed for numerous tasks including muscle function, fatty acid formation and heartbeat regulation. Magnesium increases GABA, which encourages relaxation and restful sleep and plays a key role in modulating the body’s stress response. Magnesium deficiency is associated with heightened stress and anxiety.
- An adequate amount of calcium in proper balance with magnesium is key to a healthy stress response. Together they help to nourish the nervous system, helping to prevent anxiety, restlessness and irritability. Important for mood regulation and stress reduction, calcium works closely vitamin D, potassium and magnesium to maximize its nutritional benefits and calming effects.
Professional Supplement Center offers these and other high quality supplements in support of overall healthy function:
Cal/Mag (malate) 2:1 by Pure Encapsulations®: This hypoallergenic formulation combines di-calcium malate and di-magnesium malate, fully chelated minerals, for dual support of healthy bone metabolism as well as numerous biological functions. Gluten free, Non-GMO formulation.
B Spectrum by Professional Supplement Center®: ON SALE B Spectrum provides the entire spectrum of activated, bioavailable B vitamins in support of adrenal, neurological and stress-related functions. Free of wheat, gluten, corn, yeast, soy, dairy, animal products, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and artificial colors, sweeteners, and preservatives. Non-GMO formulation.
Whey Protein Unflavored by Jarrow Formulas®: This natural glutamine-rich, ultra-filtered whey protein concentrate provides 18 g of rBST-free protein including 4 g of BCAA’s per serving. Whey protein provides a natural source of all essential and non-essential amino acids. Gluten, wheat, egg, shellfish, fish, peanut, tree nut and artificial flavor and sweetener free.
How stress can make us overeat. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/how-stress-can-make-us-overeat
Nutrient and Stress Management. https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/nutrient-and-stress-management-2155-9600-1000528.php?aid=76425&view=mobile
Beating Stress Through Nutrition. https://psychcentral.com/lib/beating-stress-through-nutrition/