What you don't know about stress and micronutrients
It's easy to attribute feeling stressed out to external factors like work, relationship problems, or family life. As a result, the link between stress and micronutrient status is often overlooked.
Stress and nutrient deficiencies have a bidirectional relationship - stress can cause micronutrient deficiencies and existing deficiencies can exacerbate stress. Because the two go hand in hand, it's important to understand how stress impacts the nutritional status of your body and learn what you can do to mitigate this effect.
First, let's go over how stress can cause micronutrient deficiencies.
Stress and nutritional deficiencies
In times of stress, your sympathetic nervous system, or "fight or flight" response, is the dominating system.
It's responsible for inducing the stress response, which can cause side effects like increased blood pressure and heart rate, digestive problems, trouble sleeping and concentrating, and feeling tense or irritable -- to name a few.
When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it can influence nutrient status by depleting nutrients, altering digestive activity, and changing eating behaviors .
Stress puts our bodies into overdrive - immediately increasing blood pressure and heart rate to pump extra blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the muscles and vital organs. This is helpful in an acute stress situation, but with chronic stress it quickly depletes vitamins and minerals, especially magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C, and iron .
In addition, vitamins (namely vitamin C) are needed to formulate stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline which also causes them to deplete quicker.
Altering digestive activity
Another way stress impacts nutrient status is by altering digestive activity. During the stress response, the adrenal glands release cortisol, also known as the "stress hormone". Cortisol turns off digestion, reproduction, and growth systems so the body can focus on the stress response .
With digestion put on the back burner, the body may quickly try to get rid of food in the digestive tract (causing diarrhea) or it may slow digestion (leading to constipation). Either way, nutrient absorption is impaired.
New research shows stress lowers gastric secretions, lowering the amount of stomach acid present to break down food . This would further impair digestion and decrease the amount of nutrients absorbed.
Changing eating behaviors
Another main way stress can impact nutritional status is by changing our eating behaviors.
Making unhealthier food choices
Food cravings for sweet and high-fat foods are common when stressed. These food items are typically lower in nutrients than the foods one might normally eat. One study actually found that after consuming food high in sugar and fat, the stress response and associated emotions lowered.
Additionally, increased alcohol and caffeine consumption is more common. Both beverages dehydrate the body and can lead to excretion of vitamins and minerals.
Irregular eating patterns
Eating patterns can also be affected by stress. The initial surges of the hormone epinephrine, secreted in response to stress, can decrease appetite. This can lead to skipping meals, which may cause you to miss out on nutrients.
Additionally, cortisol taps into protein stores and causes glucose, our body's primary source of fuel, to flood into the bloodstream. For a short-term stressor, this is helpful because muscles and vital organs have quick fuel at their disposal. But continually elevated cortisol levels lead to continually elevated blood glucose and high blood sugar.
High blood sugar is linked with diabetes, visceral fat accumulation (which is fat that forms around organs), insulin resistance, and other serious health effects.
Micronutrient status and stress levels
Now that we know how stress can affect micronutrient levels, let's look at the role different nutrients have on the stress response.
The nutrients most heavily involved are magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, and zinc.
The link between magnesium status and stress is well established.
The "magnesium and stress vicious circle concept" refers to a popular idea that stress increases magnesium loss and magnesium deficiency enhances susceptibility to stress . It does this by inhibiting adrenaline, supporting neurotransmitter synthesis, and interacting with the HPA axis.
Magnesium plays a key role in regulating epinephrine (adrenaline). This is because magnesium can inhibit a class of chemicals called "catecholamines". Epinephrine (adrenaline), a key stress hormone, is classified as a catecholamine.
Supporting neurotransmitter synthesis
Magnesium supports the production of GABA, an important neurotransmitter thought to regulate stress and anxiety. It also plays a role in serotonin and dopamine activity, which impacts your mental health.
Magnesium has also been shown to affect the HPA axis . The HPA axis, comprised of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands, is responsible for sustaining the stress response. It secretes corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which triggers the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH then triggers the release of cortisol.
In clinical studies, magnesium restrictions have been shown to increase the activity of CRH and ACTH - leading to increased signaling of cortisol.
To further support its role in stress response, multiple studies examining psychological stress and anxiety commonly find low magnesium status in participants .
Vitamin B is the name for a class of eight water-soluble vitamins known for their vital role in energy production. Since they're water-soluble, they're excreted out daily via urine, so they're important to replenish every day.
In regards to the stress response, B6 is especially important. Evidence suggests chronic stress depletes vitamin B6 while supplementation with it can reduce stress levels . One reason for this may be B6's role in homocysteine regulation.
Homocysteine, a pro-inflammatory amino acid, is converted into methionine, an amino acid needed for protein synthesis, by vitamin B6. If homocysteine is not sufficiently converted to methionine, it starts to accumulate in the blood. High levels are linked to oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage- both of which lead to fatigue and additional stress on the body.
Not only that, B6 is essential in producing certain neurotransmitters that help with mood and stress management.
Vitamin C is a potent source of antioxidants secreted by the body during times of stress. Thus, it can become depleted quickly when physically ill or mentally stressed out. And since it's a water-soluble vitamin (meaning it's not stored in the body), daily intake is important.
Vitamin C deficiency is widely associated with stress related conditions. Both human and animal studies show a deficiency in vitamin C causes the body to secrete cortisol , which further stimulates a stress response.
Vitamin D is made by the body using UV (sun) light to convert cholesterol into vitamin D. Because many people's primary source is the sun and the majority of modern life is lived indoors, it's one of the most prevalent vitamin deficiencies.
One way vitamin D and stress are associated is because vitamin D and cortisol share the same receptor. So when you're stressed and cortisol is high, vitamin D cannot be utilized. High cortisol coupled with inhibited vitamin D uptake can worsen stress levels.
Vitamin D is also important for the nervous system because it plays a "neuroprotective" role in the brain- an increasing amount of data links vitamin D deficiency with stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms .
Stressful situations can alter iron concentration in the body. A well-known example of this was a study conducted on Navy Seal trainees. After 5 days of physical and psychological stress, blood iron concentrations decreased by 44% .
This may be because excessive stress hinders the production of hydrochloric acid (HCl), which is the acid in the stomach that breaks down food. Without enough HCl, iron absorption is impaired.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral important for wound healing, immune function, and DNA synthesis. It's also important in stress management: it helps mitigate the effects of stress by inhibiting the secretion of cortisol.
Many studies show chronic stress exposure depletes zinc stores in the blood . This leads to zinc deficiency, which has been shown to increase cortisol and pro-inflammatory signaling.
Here's a real-life example demonstrating the importance of micronutrients on overall well-being and stress management.
Following a traumatic earthquake in the UK, researchers began a 4-week study on 91 earthquake survivors, testing the effects of micronutrient supplementation on their distress levels.
Results showed stress, trauma, anxiety, and depression markedly improved across the 3 groups of earthquake survivors who took daily doses of micronutrients. The control group that didn't take a vitamin and mineral supplement showed little improvement .
How to improve micronutrient status
Here are some simple ways to improve your nutrient status in the face of chronic stress.
- Try to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.
- Eat a healthy diet of mostly whole foods. This will deliver essential nutrients to your body and mitigate blood sugar swings that occur easily when stressed.
- Try exercising- it helps both physical and mental health and lowers stress levels.
- Nutrient testing- knowing your baseline levels of micronutrients is key. This will show any nutrient deficiencies that are impacting your health.
- Incorporate vitamin supplements. This is a simple way to prevent nutrient deficiencies/replenish nutrients depleted by stress.
With science proving how stress impacts micronutrient status, knowing the levels of nutrients in your body is key to optimizing your health. Rootine considers your unique DNA, blood, and lifestyle data when formulating your micronutrient formula.
The blood mineral and blood vitamin test shows your body's current levels of 12+ nutrients and inflammation markers and uses the data to customize a multivitamin dose for you. Your precision multivitamin includes all the nutrients listed above to support a healthy stress response.
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