Vitamins & Supplements for Stress Relief: Which Ones Work?

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Several vitamins and dietary supplements can help to naturally reduce your stress levels in the short- or long-term. We’ve compiled a list of the best, including what foods they can be found in and what supplement forms to try.

Our bodies can deal with acute (short-term) stress pretty well, such as everyday stressors related to work, relationships, financial strain, or health issues. 

When you’re under increased stress, your body’s stress response produces stress hormones like cortisol. Cortisol helps the body cope by increasing blood sugar levels, boosting energy, and enhancing the ability to deal with stress.

Chronic stress, or long-term stress, is a more significant health risk than the occasional stressful situation. When cortisol levels are high for too long, your nervous system is taxed, leading to negative consequences for our physical and mental health. 

Furthermore, the gut-brain relationship has an interconnected relationship that can effect how you interpret and manage day to day stress. Eating foods rich in probiotics such as Saur Kraut, Kimchi, and taking probiotic supplements could help reduce inflammation, support the natural production of B Vitamins in the gut, and support healthy neurotransmitter production. 

Vitamin B Complex

How it Works

B vitamins help the body manage levels of the amino acid homocysteine and are critical for maintaining proper brain function. Deficiencies in these vitamins are associated with many psychological and mood disorders, including chronic stress, depression, and anxiety.

There are 8 different B vitamins: 

  • thiamine (vitamin B1)
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • niacin (vitamin B3)
  • pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
  • pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
  • biotin (vitamin B7)
  • folic acid (vitamin B9)
  • cobalamin (vitamin B12) 

Food Sources

B vitamins can be found in a variety of foods. Some of these include:

  • Meats
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Dairy products
  • Leafy greens
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Avocados
  • Some fruits and nuts
  • Mushrooms

Supplement Forms

You can find most B vitamins in any B complex supplement. You can also find many B vitamins included in most multivitamin supplements.

If you take folic acid/folate supplements, it’s a good idea to take B vitamins with them.

Talk to your doctor before taking a vitamin B12 supplement, especially if you are a smoker or are at risk of esophageal cancer.

Vitamin C

How it Works

Stress-related depression and anxiety are associated with vitamin C deficiencies. High-dose vitamin C may reduce anxiety and prevent blood pressure spikes caused by stressful situations, especially in women.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals (unstable molecules that can damage cells and lead to inflammation). Vitamin C also helps to boost the immune system, which can help the body better fight off infection and disease.

Food Sources

To get more vitamin C in your diet, eat more:

  • Bell peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • White potatoes
  • Whole citrus fruits (including oranges, kiwi, lemon, and grapefruit)
  • Cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower)

Many people think of orange juice when they hear “vitamin C,” but fruit juices are often filled with unhealthy added sugars (which can worsen stress).

Supplement Forms

Vitamin C supplements can be found as standalone vitamin supplements or part of inclusive multivitamin supplements. 

Liposomal vitamin C supplements are the most bioavailable, meaning your body can absorb them most effectively without side effects. If you can, opt for liposomal vitamin C rather than standard vitamin C.

Vitamin D

How it Works

Vitamin D deficiency plays a role in anxiety, depression, and psychological stress. This nutrient also supports bone health, muscle function, and the immune system. 

Vitamin D is produced in the body when sunlight hits the skin. Many people do not get enough sunlight, putting them at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. In the US, it’s estimated that at least 35% of adults are vitamin D-deficient.

People at the highest risk for vitamin D deficiency include:

  • Nursing home, hospitalized, and long-term care patients
  • Elderly people
  • Darker-skinned people, particularly those living in areas with limited sunlight

Food Sources

The best way to get more vitamin D is by spending time in the sun, especially at midday and without sunscreen. To offset the risk of skin cancer, try spending just 10-15 minutes per day in the sun before applying sunscreen.

You can also get more vitamin D in your diet by eating/drinking:

  • Salmon
  • Swordfish
  • Tuna
  • Sardines
  • Beef liver
  • Vitamin D-fortified milk and orange juice
  • Vitamin D-fortified plants

Supplement Forms

In addition to foods and fortified products, vitamin D can be taken as a standalone supplement, as part of an inclusive multivitamin supplement, or in cod liver oil supplements.

While you can’t overdose on vitamin D from the sun or in food, it’s possible — but very rare — to overdose on vitamin D supplements. Follow your doctor’s orders and dosing instructions when supplementing with vitamin D.

Vitamin E

How it Works

Taking vitamin E may help to offset some of the side effects of chronic stress, such as brain fog due to sleeplessness and elevated corticosterone levels. However, these results are based on animal studies, so vitamin E’s impact on stress in humans is less clear.

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin found in many foods, supplements, and skin products. It is known for its antioxidant properties, like vitamin C, and its ability to help protect the skin from damage.

Vitamin E deficiencies are rare in the United States but can be caused by a diet lacking fruits and vegetables. Other potential causes of deficiencies may be problems with absorption or certain medical conditions.

Food Sources

To maintain healthy levels of vitamin E, consume a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables, such as:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Peanuts (or peanut butter)
  • Almonds
  • Leafy greens (such as beet greens, collard greens, and spinach)
  • Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds
  • Red bell pepper

Supplement Forms

Vitamin E can be found in inclusive multivitamins as well as standalone vitamins. Supplement options include capsules, liquids, and tablets.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

How it Works

Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for optimal brain health and are correlated with lower stress and anxiety levels. 

A 2007 randomized controlled trial found that 1000 mg per day of EPA (a specific omega-3) performed equally well as 20 mg daily of fluoxetine, a pharmaceutical antidepressant. Another double-blinded study in 2012 showed that participants taking omega-3s had a 20% reduction in anxiety levels over 12 weeks.

Omega-3s, predominantly found in fish and seafood, keep cell membranes healthy and protect against chronic inflammation. 

People with poor diets or conditions affecting fat absorption, such as Crohn’s disease, may be prone to deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids.

Food Sources

The richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fish and seafood, including:

  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Herring 
  • Oysters
  • Anchovies
  • Caviar 

For those who wish to avoid fish or animal products, some plant sources are high in omega-3s. However, eating a larger amount of these sources may be necessary to get the same benefits as fish sources. 

Plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Brussels sprouts

Supplement Forms

Some common supplement options for omega-3s are:

  • Fish oil
  • Krill oil 
  • Flaxseed oil

Ashwagandha

How it Works

Ashwagandha can significantly reduce perceived stress levels and improve sleep quality for people with chronic stress. This adaptogenic herb is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine and is also known as Withania somnifera or Indian ginseng.

Adaptogens are a class of herbs that have a “non-specific” impact on the body’s stress response. These herbs have a protective effect on the central nervous system and can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in response to stress. 

Some adaptogens increase “mental work capacity,” meaning you can mentally handle more stress without experiencing fatigue.

Other benefits of ashwagandha include:

  • Reduced inflammation
  • Nervous system protection (at the cellular level)
  • Increased mental function
  • Improved immunity
  • General relaxation

Food Sources

The seeds, roots, and fruit of ashwagandha can all be ingested or used to make herbal products like teas. However, ashwagandha as a food is more challenging to find in the US and throughout North America, which is why most people rely on the supplement form. 

Supplement Forms

Common supplement options for ashwagandha include capsules, tablets, powders, and tinctures. It may also be included in blended herbal supplements. 

Glycine

How it Works

This amino acid is involved in the synthesis of proteins that helps to regulate the body’s metabolism. Glycine may effectively reduce stress and anxiety by inhibiting the release of the stress hormone cortisol and increasing levels of the neurotransmitter GABA. 

GABA is important for regulating the nervous system and causes a calming effect on the brain. It may also help to reduce anxiety and improve sleep.

Food Sources

As an amino acid, glycine can be found in many protein-rich foods, such as:

  • Red meat
  • Pork
  • Poultry (turkey and chicken) 
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts 
  • Canned salmon 
  • Whole grains 
  • Hard cheese 
  • Beans

Supplement Forms

Glycine is often available in powder, capsule, and tablet forms. It can also be found in some supplement products for athletes and weight lifters. 

L-Theanine

How it Works

L-theanine is an amino acid in green tea. It may promote relaxation and reduce stress by increasing levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin in the brain. 

Food Sources

The primary known food source of L-theanine is green tea. However, the amino acid can also be found in black tea and certain types of mushrooms.

Supplement Forms

L-theanine is most commonly found in supplement form as a capsule or tablet. It’s also used as an additive in some energy drinks.

Magnesium

How it Works

Magnesium is a mineral that reduces the side effects of stress. Magnesium supplements can help with stress relief by relaxing the muscles and nerves. It is also involved in energy production and blood pressure regulation.

Food Sources

Magnesium can be found in a wide variety of foods like leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Some of the foods highest in magnesium are:

  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Spinach, boiled
  • Soy products (preferably fermented)
  • Black beans
  • Dark chocolate

Supplement Forms

Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms, including:

  • Magnesium glycinate (magnesium with glycine)
  • Magnesium oxide
  • Magnesium chloride
  • Magnesium citrate
  • Magnesium sulfate
  • Magnesium gluconate 

They may be available as tablets, capsules, and sometimes liquids. 

Rhodiola Rosea

How it Works

Rhodiola rosea is another adaptogenic herb native to Europe and Asia. Rhodiola helps reduce stress by increasing levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 

Rhodiola rosea may interact with certain medications and other serotonergic drugs. Check with a doctor before using it, especially if you are on any medications.

Food Sources

Like ashwagandha, parts of Rhodiola rosea can be eaten raw, cooked, or made into tea. It may be purchased from online retailers several different names. Some other names for rhodiola rosea are golden root, rose root, roseroot, and king’s crown. 

Supplement Forms

Rhodiola supplements are available in tablets, capsules, powders, and liquid extracts. 

Valerian Root

How it Works

Valerian root is an herb used for its sedative and anxiety-reducing properties. It is commonly taken in supplement form but can also be brewed into tea. It works by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps calm the nervous system and improve sleep quality.

Food Sources

Like its herbal counterparts above, valerian root is edible. It can be used in foods or teas and can sometimes be found in health food stores or online retailers.

Supplement Forms

In addition to whole forms, valerian root may be available in tablets, capsules, powders, tinctures, and liquid extracts.

Choosing the Right Stress-Relief Supplements

A good multivitamin may help maintain healthy levels of many of the vitamins crucial to stress management. However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to stress-relief supplements. 

The best way to find the right stress-relieving supplement for you is to consider your specific needs and budget. 

Stress can be impacted by any number of environmental factors. Diet, exercise, and sleep quality are all essential aspects to stress management. Carefully consider these factors when choosing your stress-relief supplement.

Other factors to consider are fluctuating hormone levels and natural predisposition to psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety. Talk to your healthcare provider if you struggle with any of these issues.

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