Healthy Living Magazine

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Many of us have heard about various impacts of stress on our health, in one way or another, such as the wear and tear on our adrenal system, or links with high blood pressure and disease. But how often do we relate it to our nutrient levels?

According to research, our nutritional needs change when we’re under stress. Our body needs more nutrients during these times and may become temporarily deficient in one or more areas.

How stress impacts our nutrient levels

Dr. Pamela Frank, licensed naturopathic practitioner in Toronto, indicates that under stress our body reorganizes its priorities. She says, “Blood flow is directed away from the digestive tract, [and] nutrients are normally absorbed through the wall of the intestine and into the blood stream, so reduced blood flow means reduced
nutrient absorption.” And inflammation in the intestines resulting from stress can also interfere with nutrient absorption.

Stress also causes an increase of demands on our bodies, using up reserves, and compromises our ability to cope with it. For instance, our adrenal glands, otherwise known as a primary stress organ, requires large amounts of vitamins B-5 and C during stress, and if we’re already low in these it can result in a deficiency.

Bottom line is that no nutrient is immune from stress. Frank says, “Any nutrient can become depleted due to malabsorption, especially with chronic stress.” However, some are more vulnerable than others. Frank adds, “Stress increases the demand for certain vitamins and minerals which can then lead to depletion of these – vitamin C, B5, B6, magnesium, zinc and potassium.”

And ironically, in our attempts at easing the emotional strain with comfort food, we can make the situation worse. For example, increasing foods containing high sugar causes a blood sugar imbalance, impacting things such as mood swings and fatigue – things that increase our stress levels and nutritional needs further. Fortunately, we can help our bodies cope with the nutritional demands placed upon it during stress.

How to maintain your nutrient reserves during stress

In addition to reducing your stress, and using relaxation methods, such as deep breathing, yoga or tai chi, Frank suggests, “supporting the specific vitamins and minerals needed under stress: vitamin C, B5, B6, magnesium, zinc and potassium.”

  • Fruits and orange and dark green vegetables are rich in stress reducing vitamins such as B, C, and iron.
  • Citrus fruit, berries and peppers are good vitamin C sources.
  • Seeds, nuts, and fish are rich in B vitamins and magnesium.
  • Oysters, brab, beef, lamb and pumpkin seeds are good sources of zinc.
  • Salmon, mackeral and herring are rich in omega 3 fatty acids that boost the nervous and immune systems—both of which are also depleted during stress.
  • Bananas, avacados and green leaf vegetables contain potassium. And Frank emphasizes, “we do not supplement potassium as too much is dangerous for the heart and the amount available in a supplement is far less than you can get by eating the preceding foods.”

Research also indicates that reducing caffeine, dietary fat and alcohol increases your body’s ability to deal with stress.

Coping with stress is a balancing act between demands and resources. The more we ensure our resources are in place, the more prepared we’ll be to deal with stressful situations, and the greater our ability will be to bounce back physically.

Cheryl Patterson has a B.A. in Psychology and has researched the area of stress for over ten years. For more on Cheryl visit www.cherylpatterson.ca.

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