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nutrition and stress

There are many natural nutrients available to help us better manage the physical and symptomatic effects due to excessive stress.
■ BY Dr LEow ChEE SENg, rEgIoNAL DIrECTor of hUMAN BEhAvIoUr ACADEMY AND Dr MAzLAN B ABA, SENIor LECTUrEr, EDUCATIoN fACULTY, UNIvErSITY PUTrA MALAYSIA

WHile nOt all stress is bad – like the adrenaline

rush which helps us to meet deadlines – there’s no denying the negative impact of acute, chronic and intense stress on our bodies and health. The overall results of chronic stress can be quite unpleasant, from both the emotional and physical perspectives, possibly even impairing one’s ability to function and even harming one’s health or well-being. Excessive stress can cause – among others – anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, stomach problems, sweating, heart rate increase, rapid breathing, shortness of breath and irritability. If the stress level is not controlled, it could also lead to several medical problems such as asthma, chronic fatigue, erectile dysfunction, male infertility, fibromyalgia, hypertension, immune system dysfunction, peptic ulcers, impaired wound healing, rheumatoid arthritis, indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome. Combined with the mood disorder, such medical complications due to stress will lead to a worsening workplace performance and relationship problems.
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NUTrITIoNS AND STrESS

There is no medication to completely address stress. whatever medicines are available today only help to reduce the complications that are derived from the stress like insomnia and anxiety. The common prescription includes sleeping aids containing diphenhydramine and doxylamine – aimed at reducing stress-induced insomnia. for stress-related anxiety, benzodiazepines lorazepam, alprazolam, clonazepam and diazepam may be prescribed. Medical management of stress includes sharing how to cope with stressful scenarios and to encourage the patient has a healthy diet, getting enough exercise and sufficient sleep. At the same time, patients are also encouraged to meet up with a professional counsellor if they find themselves not being able to handle the stress by themselves.

CliniCal management

acid) and flaxseed make wonderful sources of fibre that contribute to hormone function. A clinical study conducted among post-menopausal women focusing on the elevated blood pressure due to stress found that adding 30g of freshly ground flaxseed daily to diets is able to reduce the blood pressure elevating effect of mental stress. however, the study also found flaxseed has no significant effect on blood level control.

Then, there is tyrosine – a natural amino acid that helps in stress management. Tyrosine is used by our bodies to generate adrenal stress hormones and neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in our brain). Clinical research shows the level of neurotransmitters reduces when we are under stress. Tyrosine supplements reverse the decline and improve mental performance during physically stressful conditions. Another useful nutrient is ascorbic acid or vitamin C – as it helps reduce the level of stress-related hormones and other related substances in our bloodstream.

nutritional therapy

It is also possible to reduce the negative effects of unwanted stress through proper nutrition. for example, alpha-linolenic acids (an omega-3 fatty

dietry Changes

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A controlled study found that vitamin C intake of 1,000mg to 1,500mg daily reduces stress hormone levels when coupled with intense exercise. Clinical studies also found several stress-related hormone levels can be controlled with 2,000mg daily dosage of vitamin C during the week before and after surgery. A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids and low dietary intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DhA) further contribute to poor stress responses. A clinical study found that intake of 1.5g to 1.8g of DhA is able to prevent aggressiveness among students during their final examinations. Several daily supplements are also commonly used in stress control and common dosages include 15mg of vitamin B1, 15mg of vitamin B2, 50mg of vitamin B3, 10mg of vitamin B6, 500mg of vitamin C, 23mg of pantothenic acid, 400mcg of folic acid, 500mcg of biotin, 100mg of calcium, 100mg of magnesium and 100mg of zinc. Studies have found such nutrient supplements resulted in significantly less anxiety and perceived stress when measured after a month. however, other stressrelated symptoms did not improve. Since stress has an impact on the balance of intestinal bacteria that affects our digestion, it is a good idea to get some probiotic supplement to address the consequent indigestion.

The more popular herbs that help in stress reduction include the rhodiola, Asian ginseng, Siberian ginseng and ashwagandha. All these herbs are members of ‘controversial’ category known as adaotogens – which are said to be able to increase the body’s resistance towards stress, and to generally enhance physical and mental functions. Notably, a clinical study found that daily intake of 170mg rhidiola extract is able to prevent any decline in a set of mental performance during the first two weeks. In a double blind study of military cadets performing 24-hour duties found that 360mg to 555mg of rhodiola extract consumption reduced mental fatigue, as measured by performance tasks. Asian ginseng can enhance the feeling of wellbeing in elderly people with age-associated memory impairment. Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha have the same impact for stress reduction, including chronic psychological stress. however, no controlled research has been done to explore these effects in humans. There is also a branch of healing that focuses on thoughts and emotions on physical health, known as mind-body medicine. Many techniques used in such a healing system – such as biofeedback, relaxation training, laugh therapy, yoga, meditation, breathing and imaginary exercises – are able to prevent or manage health problems relating to stress, according to preliminary and controlled research.

figthing stress with herbs

“Such aS biofeedback, relaxation training, laugh therapy, yoga, meditation, breathing and imaginary exerciSeS – are able to prevent or manage health problemS relating to StreSS, according to preliminary and controlled reSearch.”

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