What is Stress?
Stress generally occurs when external stimuli disturb the dynamic balance of the body’s physiological processes. A specialized signaling network called the HPA axis coordinates the body’s stress response.
Acute stress helps prime the body to respond to immediate, transient threats. Intermittent mild stress, such as exercise, is healthy and promotes positive adaptive changes. Chronic stress, however, causes maladaptive responses and dysregulated HPA axis function. It can contribute to many health problems by disrupting the circadian rhythm, promoting inflammation, altering the microbiome, and causing epigenetic changes.
Natural interventions such as adaptogens, L-theanine, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids may help relieve stress and restore normal HPA axis function.
How Can I Determine If Stress is Affecting My Health?
- Blood tests (including cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone [DHEA], salivary alpha-[α] amylase, and immunoglobulin A [IgA])
- Heart rate variability
What Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Can Help Relieve Stress?
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Meditation and mindfulness
- Maintain good sleep hygiene, sufficient sleep duration, and consistent sleep patterns
- Maintain sex hormone balance
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Eat breakfast regularly
- Minimize caffeine and alcohol intake
Can Medications Help Relieve Stress?
Most cases of stress can be managed with dietary and lifestyle interventions. However, in more severe cases when stress is contributing to other conditions such as anxiety or insomnia, medications may be appropriate for short-term use to temporarily address the stress-related condition(s). It is important to understand that medications do not eliminate stress or the causes of stress, but simply provide temporary relief from some of the symptoms caused by stress.
- Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (eg, Prozac and Zoloft)
- Beta-blockers (eg, propranolol)
- Sedatives such as benzodiazepines (eg, Valium and Klonopin)
What Natural Interventions May Help Relieve Stress?
- B vitamins. B vitamin deficiencies are linked with multiple neuropsychiatric disorders. Supplementation with B vitamins has been shown to relieve stress and support normal HPA axis function.
- Vitamin C. Low intake and circulating levels of vitamin C are correlated with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Increasing vitamin C levels via supplementation has been shown to reduce symptoms.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oil, may help prevent and treat stress, anxiety, and depression.
- L-theanine. L-theanine, an amino acid found in tea, has been shown to reduce perceived stress and physiological markers of the stress response.
- Bioactive milk peptides. Peptides found in milk, such as α-lactalbumin and casein, may support healthy neurological function, improve mood, and promote sleep.
- Probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics and prebiotics can improve the balance of gut bacteria and have a positive impact on stress response. Probiotics may lower stress reactivity and anxiety, and improve mood, memory, and cognition.
- Adaptogens. Adaptogenic herbs help support homeostasis in the body and can be used to relieve fatigue, improve cognitive function and mood, and support the immune system.
- Magnolia and phellodendron. This herbal combination has been found to reduce stress and stress-related weight gain.
- Holy basil. A number of clinical and preclinical studies have demonstrated holy basil’s ability to improve mood and cognition.
- Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha has been shown to relieve stress, improve stress-related eating behaviors, and promote weight loss.
- Lemon balm. Lemon balm has been found to improve mood and cognition and relieve symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.
- Other adaptogens that may help relieve stress include bacopa, saffron, ginseng, rhodiola, cordyceps, and others.
- Other natural interventions may help relieve stress, including phosphatidylserine, L-tryptophan, melatonin, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).