Essential nutrients to protect against stress

Although stress is sometimes regarded as a new phenomenon that is peculiar to the late twentieth century, it is likely that human life has always been stressful. In the past, pressures such as simply getting enough to eat, keeping warm, looking after your family, coping with natural disasters and predatory animals all contributed to the stress of daily life.

The stress response

A modern problem is undoubtedly the sedentary lifestyle that means the extra hormones, particularly adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisone, which are produced by the body in times of stress and used up by the muscles during exercise, remain in circulation.

Symptoms include headache, backache, indigestion, altered bowel and bladder action, palpitations, sighing and air hunger. The immune system is impaired and illnesses such as infection, heart disease and, possibly, cancer, can result. When stressed, the body uses up nutrients more quickly, so increased amounts are needed. The body also produces more free radicals. These are the unstable substances that can cause tissue damage, but can be neutralized if sufficient antioxidant minerals and vitamins are present.

An eating plan for stressful times

Food is, of course, the fuel that keeps you going, but heavy meals can also slow you down. Foods commonly regarded as stimulants, such as coffee, alcohol and sugary snacks, can cause wide fluctuation in blood-sugar levels. This can result in a complete slump just when you want to be alert and clear thinking. Skipped meals can result in poor nutritional intake and lead to illness.

These problems can be avoided if you top up your energy with frequent nutritious snacks by:

• Keeping a supply of seeds and nuts to hand • Avoiding biscuits, cakes and chocolate and taking healthy snacks to work, such as fruit, celery, carrot or other salad vegetables • Choosing small portions of food that are low in fat and sugar when you have time for a full meal • Drinking water frequently as thirst can make you feel hungry when you are not

The business traveller

LIQUORICE has a soothing action which may help at times of stress.

RELAXING HERBS, such as those found in various herbal teas, can be used to encourage restful sleep.

Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when available.

Gone are the days when business executives could spend several days travelling and arrive already adapted to a new time zone. Flying causes a sudden disruption to body rhythms, as well as exposing the traveller to ozone and radiation at high altitudes, very dry and imperfectly scrubbed and recycled air, and food that is not always very nutritious or appetizing.

The effects of these stresses can be minimized if you keep to the eating plan suggested on here, drink plenty of water and take extra vitamin C and B-vitamins. If you are prone to constipation, it can be helpful to take a mild laxative as a preventive instead of waiting until you arc uncomfortable. Moderate exercise, a sauna and a massage can all help you to relax and adjust to the new time zone.

The stress busters

VITAMIN C is needed in greater amounts during stressful times, and should be taken several times each day as it is lost in the urine.

THE B-VITAMINS are all needed in greater amounts, ideally taken at several meals or snacks. Vitamin B5 is particularly important for the adrenal glands.

VITAMINS A, E, BETA-CAROTENE, ZINC, SELENIUM, COPPER AND MANGANESE are the major anti-oxidant nutrients needed to neutralize free radicals.

POTASSIUM, MAGNESIUM AND CALCIUM help the body's response to the stress hormones. They help to relax muscles and maintain the normal rhythm of the heart.

CHROMIUM can help to overcome sugar cravings, and thus helps to avoid snacking on nutritionally poor sugary foods..

To avoid dietary imbalance, mineral and vitamin supplements should not be taken in large doses, except with professional guidance.

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