Vitamins For Stress

  • Amy Murtagh Postgraduate Degree, Science Communication and Public Engagement, The University of Edinburgh, UK

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Overview

It is widely known that stress can greatly impact our health - you might have even experienced its effects yourself. Stress can be defined as a stimulus that evokes a biological response, which, depending on how long it lasts, can be either acute (short-term) or chronic (consistent over a long time). 

Stress can impact your health in different ways and affect different parts of the body. Some general symptoms include: 

  • Headache 
  • Fatigue 
  • Sleep problems 
  • Anxiety 
  • Irritability 
  • Overeating or undereating 

Furthermore, stress can contribute to the development of health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and can lead to atrophy and alteration of the structure and size of different parts of the brain.1 

Therefore, it is important to learn how to manage stress and there are many ways to do this, including the use of vitamins. Vitamins are a group of organic compounds essential for the normal functioning of our organism. 

Humans require six types of vitamins:2

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D 
  • Vitamin E 
  • Vitamin K 
  • B-vitamins

Key vitamins for stress management

Vitamins can help you manage your stress and reduce the harm it causes to your body. There are different vitamins, and each of them acts through a different mechanism. 

B-vitamins (B-complex)

There are different B vitamins, and these include:2

  • B1 (thiamine) 
  • B2 (riboflavin)
  • B3 (niacin),
  • B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • B6 
  • B9 (folate)
  • B12 

B vitamins functions include energy production and can be useful to reduce fatigue (one of the symptoms of stress). They also help to regulate mood and support the nervous system.2,3

When dealing with chronic stress, your levels of B vitamins such as vitamin B6 decrease significantly, however, it is relatively easy to increase your B vitamins levels with supplements and/or a healthy, balanced diet.4

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C is useful for managing stress as it can help to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels.5

Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress and its hypersecretion. Increased cortisol levels have been associated with mental health disorders such as major depressive disorder. Too much cortisol can also do structural damage to the brain - for example, enhanced neuronal death in the hippocampus (memory centre) and shrinkage (atrophy) of other brain regions such as the prefrontal cortex (cognitive and emotional centre).6

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency has been suggested to be connected with an increased risk of stress, anxiety, and emotional disorders. Increasing vitamin D levels can help you manage stress and its symptoms due to its effect on brain neurotransmitters that regulate mood and contribute to stress management.7

Food sources of vitamins for stress

Vitamins B, C, and D have several properties that can help manage stress, and while you can find them in supplement form, it is important to find food sources of these vitamins. 

Sources of B-vitamins

B-group vitamins can be found in different foods such as bananas, beans, meats, and whole grains. 

Specific food sources of vitamin B6 include:

  • Pork  
  • Chicken 
  • Turkey 
  • Peanuts  
  • Soya beans 
  • Oats  
  • Milk 

Additionally, sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Meat  
  • Fish 
  • Cheese 
  • Eggs 
  • Milk 

Sources of vitamin C

Most commonly, people tend to associate sources of vitamin C with citrus fruits such as oranges. However, there are many other food sources of this vitamin, including:

  • Peppers 
  • Strawberries 
  • Broccoli 
  • Potatoes  
  • Blackcurrants 
  • Brussel sprouts 

Sources of vitamin D

The main sources of vitamin D are:

  • Oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel and sardines)
  • Liver 
  • Red meat (e.g. beef, pork, and lamb)
  • Egg yolks 

However, even in these foods, the amount of vitamin D is low (sardines only have 1.2 micrograms and liver only 1.0 micrograms of vitamin D). Thus, it is important to sunbathe as the sun is the most important source of vitamin D.

Supplements for stress relief

Supplements may be used to support the body during times of stress as well as to treat nutritional imbalances (which can also be triggered by stress hormones that stimulate the depletion of some vitamins and minerals). 

Even though supplements can be really useful for stress relief, they should not replace a healthy and balanced diet, which should supply you with normal, healthy levels of vitamins. The NHS states that most people do not need to take vitamin supplements as they can get all the vitamins they need just by having a balanced and healthy diet. 

However, getting enough vitamin D just from your diet can be quite difficult. Thus, when there is less sunlight (during winter and autumn), it can be recommended to take some vitamin D supplements to avoid stress, which, as mentioned, has been linked to vitamin D deficiency.

If you are suffering from stress, vitamin supplementation might be recommended, along with a balanced diet, to ensure your vitamin levels don’t deplete due to any stress hormone imbalance. Apart from vitamin D supplementation, the most common supplements are probably those of vitamin B6 and vitamin C, which can be useful even for managing stress symptoms such as blood pressure.8

Potential risks and interactions

Like all medicines, vitamin supplements can be associated with potential harm (for example, adverse reactions and drug interactions), and each vitamin can be linked to different adverse effects.

Vitamin B3 

Moderate to high doses of vitamin B3 have been associated with peripheral vasodilation (dilated blood vessels at the skin surface), leading to skin flushing and hypotension

Vitamin B6 

High doses of vitamin B6 have been associated with negative effects on the nervous system, for example, sensory peripheral neuropathies.

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C supplements have been linked to kidney stones (heightened risk with a history of kidney stones). Vitamin C can also interact with and reduce the effect of anti-cancer drugs such as methotrexate (a chemotherapy agent and immune-system suppressant) and cisplatin

Vitamin D 

Very high doses of vitamin D can lead to hypercalcaemia (which can cause seizures, coma and even death).9

Therefore, it is extremely important to follow the instructions on the supplement container and the advice of your doctor before adding any new vitamin or mineral supplements in addition to your regular diet. It is especially important to consult if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or take any prescribed medications before using over-the-counter supplements. 

When should I see a doctor?

Most people feel stressed at some point. However, stress can widely affect how you feel physically and mentally and even affect how you behave. If you are struggling to cope with stress, seeing a doctor or a mental health professional could be useful as they may be able to suggest other pharmacological and/or psychological approaches to help you.

Summary

Coping with stress can be challenging mainly due to its symptoms, which can affect you both physically and mentally. Luckily, there are different psychological and pharmacological treatments available to manage stress, including the administration of B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin D. In most cases, vitamin levels can be increased just by having a balanced and healthy diet, as there are many food sources of these vitamins. However, vitamin supplementation might be needed to maximise the effects of these vitamins (considering your doctor's advice). 

References

  1. Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J [Internet]. 2017 Jul 21 [cited 2024 Jan 12];16:1057–72. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/
  2. Kennedy DO. B vitamins and the brain: mechanisms, dose and efficacy—a review. Nutrients [Internet]. 2016 Jan 28 [cited 2024 Jan 12];8(2):68. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772032/
  3. Calderón‐Ospina CA, Nava‐Mesa MO. B Vitamins in the nervous system: Current knowledge of the biochemical modes of action and synergies of thiamine, pyridoxine, and cobalamin. CNS Neurosci Ther [Internet]. 2019 Sep 6 [cited 2024 Jan 12];26(1):5–13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6930825/
  4. Stough C, Simpson T, Lomas J, McPhee G, Billings C, Myers S, et al. Reducing occupational stress with a B-vitamin focussed intervention: a randomized clinical trial: study protocol. Nutr J [Internet]. 2014 Dec 22 [cited 2024 Jan 12];13:122. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290459/
  5. Peters EM, Anderson R, Nieman DC, Fickl H, Jogessar V. Vitamin C supplementation attenuates the increases in circulating cortisol, adrenaline and anti-inflammatory polypeptides following ultramarathon running. Int J Sports Med [Internet]. 2001 Oct [cited 2024 Jan 12];22(7):537–43. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11590482/ 
  6. Lucassen PJ, Pruessner J, Sousa N, Almeida OFX, Van Dam AM, Rajkowska G, et al. Neuropathology of stress. Acta Neuropathol [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2024 Jan 12];127(1):109–35. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3889685/
  7. Quraishi SA, Camargo CA. Vitamin D in acute stress and critical illness. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care [Internet]. 2012 Nov [cited 2024 Jan 12];15(6):625–34. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3751798/
  8. McCabe D, Lisy K, Lockwood C, Colbeck M. The impact of essential fatty acid, B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc supplementation on stress levels in women: a systematic review. JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep [Internet]. 2017 Feb [cited 2024 Jan 12];15(2):402–53. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28178022/#:~:text=Magnesium%20and%20vitamin%20B6%20may,pressure%20in%20response%20to%20stress.
  9. Moses G. The safety of commonly used vitamins and minerals. Aust Prescr [Internet]. 2021 Aug [cited 2024 Jan 12];44(4):119–23. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8377299/

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Susana Nuevo Bonastre

Bachelor of Pharmacology – BSc, University of Manchester

Susana is a pharmacologist with strong organizational and communication skills and a special interest in medical writing. For her final year at the University of Manchester, she did a project in science communication, for which she developed an e-learning resource to increase awareness of Major Depressive Disorder. Susana is currently finishing a taught Master’s in neuroscience and psychology of mental health at King’s College. Susana has experience as a mentor and as a medical writer at Klarity Health and, even though she is specially interested in mental health and psychopharmacology, she has also written articles related to nutrition and different diseases.

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