Thursday, January 1, 2015

Supplementing your Relaxation Response

While researching about the body's stress response, the impact sustained cortisol release has on the body and what I can do about it, I came across several nutrients that are important. I also read much about how the American diet is so poor in many of these nutrients because we eat so many processed foods and forgotten the difference clean-eating can have on the body.

I cannot lie, I love food and I have been a mostly processed food connoisseur for many years. But, 2015 is the year I am getting my act together and I am ready to start eating better in order to nourish my body and my mind.

Several of the nutrients our body uses to deal with stress are listed below.


This mineral is important to many of the body's systems. There are a limited number of high quality whole food sources that provide the daily recommended amount of 11mcg of zinc daily. While it is not impossible to get your daily recommended intake of zinc, it is not impossible. However, I think this is one of the nutrients that may be worth supplementation, to ensure you are getting enough for your body to function properly. Furthermore, zinc is not stored in the body, therefore, dietary intake is required. While research on zinc supplementation provides contradictory evidence on its benefits, some studies have shown zinc is necessary in the body's inflammation response, immune system and in the treatment of Alzheimer disease, diabetes and upper respiratory infections.

Vitamin C
This antioxidant has been shown to help reduce cortisol levels after exercise. One study showed that supplementing 800 mg of Vitamin C prior to high intensity interval training helped reduce cortisol levels after the workout.Additional studies showed vitamin C supplementation helped to clear high levels of cortisol quicker than in placebo groups. There is also support that Vitamin C reduces cortisol by diminishing oxidative indicators when it is elevated.Vitamin C supplementation has also been shown to improve the cortisol to testosterone ratio, leading to increased muscle and connective-tissue hypertrophy and enhanced recovery from training. Since Vitamin C also decreases your chances of suffering from a cold or flu infection by 30% (14) and may aid in collagen synthesis, it would be wise to take some extra vitamin C when involved in an intense weight-training program.

Vitamin A
Often used for healthy skin, this vitamin may also reduce cortisol levels.

Folic Acid
Controls the actions and functions of the adrenal glands, which is where cortisol production originates.

Has excellent anti-inflammatory properties. Many people are deficient in magnesium due to declining sustainable farming practices and soil content. Magnesium - Numerous studies have found that the frequent release of adrenaline and cortisol involved in an unresolved stress response is strongly correlated with decreased magnesium.What’s worse? It all works in a vicious cycle: because magnesium is an integral part of nerve conduction and electrolyte balance, low levels can confound sensations of anxiety, sleep disturbance and depression. The body’s hormonal stress response causes an outpouring of magnesium from cells into the blood. The higher the stress level, the greater the magnesium loss. The lower your magnesium level is, initially, the more reactive you will be to stress
 (The higher your level of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol in stressful situations), which causes greater loss of magnesium from cells. This mineral has also been found to help with sleep and anxiety and reduce muscle tension (think Epsom salts) 400 to 800 mg daily may help you in relieving anxiety and stress symptoms.

Omega 3 Fatty Acid
Found primarily in fish and fish oil, these healthy fats have been found to reduce excess production of the inflammatory and stress response, increase the production of serotonin and have a calming effect on the central nervous system.

Fish Oil reduces the production of arachidonic Acid (AA) which stops the excess production of the inflammatory and stress response. It also increases the production of serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter which allows you to adapt to stress more effectively. French studies have shown Fish Oil's ability to lower cortisol levels that have been increased by high mental stress. I don't know about you, but for me, most of my stress is mental, I analyze data all day and when I get home, I feel like I have just completed 8 hours of SAT testing, my brain is wiped. Supplementing just 2,000 mg per day can prevent the excess cortisol production and reverse the bad effects associated with adrenal fatigue.

This vitamin appears to be important in the body's synthesis of Omega 3s, supplementation of this vitamin should be considered when supplementing with Omega 3s.

This amino acid has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and induce relaxation and reduce mental and physical stress. It is commonly found in green tea.

B5 (Pantethine)
According to research, B vitamins, particularly Vitamin B5 (Pantethine), work to reduce excess production of cortisol. This is another ugly little cycle as excess cortisol depletes B vitamins. Highly stressed individuals tend to be deficient in these vitamins which have been shown to directly impact production of serotonin and dopamine production, which are important neurotransmitters in the body's feel good and relaxation responses.. Evidence suggests that B-vitamins are important in the balance and metabolism of Neuro-toxic chemicals that have been linked to anxiety and depression related conditions. B vitamins maintain the adrenal glands and get used up during the “fight or flight” response and when converting food into energy for the body.

Necessary to make GABA and Serotonin

Phosphatidyl Serine
PS is a cortisol blocker that drives nutrients into and remove toxins from your cells. It may be useful in preventing short-term memory loss, age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. One of the best known and most effective ways to lower excess cortisol levels is with the nutrient Phosphatidylserine (PS). Phosphatidylserine is believed to facilitate the repair of the cortisol receptors in the hypothalamus. It is believed that the cortisol receptors get damaged by high cortisol levels, reducing the ability of the hypothalamus to sense and correct high cortisone levels. Because Phosphatidylserine helps repair the feedback control apparatus, it is useful in correcting both high and
low cortisol levels. Phosphatidylserine is also useful for preventing short-term memory loss, age-related dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Derived from soybeans, Phosphatidyl serine (PS) supplementation has been shown to blunt the cortisol response, particularly due to exercise stress. Supplementation with PS has also been shown to prevent muscle soreness, speed recovery, improve wellbeing, enhance endurance and improve performance in the gym. PS seems to only decrease cortisol levels when they are elevated and does not seem to decrease cortisol levels below normal. Supplement with a 600 to 800 mg doses of PS prior to exercise for best results.

Theanine has been studied for its ability to increase sense of relaxation, reduce mental and physical stress and boost mood. It has calming effects, and is used in Japan for these purposes.  Theanine also seems to increase levels of GABA receptors in the brain, another item that may have significant calming effects. The recommended dosage for theanine is 200 mg daily.

This is the most abundant free amino acid in muscle tissue. Another ugly little cycle, too much cortisol is also associated with low levels of glutamine, which seems to counteract the catabolic impact of cortisol. It has also been shown to provide a source of fuel for the small intestine and may enhance the anti-inflammatory response and boost immune function. Finally, it is suspected of assisting in muscle protein turnover and of enhancing glycogen synthesis. Glutamine is a vital nutrient for weight-training athletes. Take 5 grams 3 times daily, including before and after working out.

Due to our diets high in processed food and carbohydrates, many of us suffer from yeast overgrowth, food allergies or sensitivities and other intestinal disturbances. This is where probiotics are important, in normalizing gut bacteria. Stress hormones deplete the natural flora of the intestines, so high stress individuals may do well with probiotic supplementation.

Gelatin Also known for its soothing properties, gelatin can reduce inflammation and aid the digestive system. It is also known to assist with joint pain, hair and skin benefits and there is some evidence it can help reduce stress hormones. Many of us do not eat enough animal bone tissue, so regular supplementation with gelatin can be beneficial.

A hormone which acts as a precursor for many other hormones. DHEA levels decline drastically with age. Many anti-aging physicians and programs advocate DHEA supplementation for individuals over 40 years of age. There is some medical controversy regarding this practice. DHEA can also be used  to alleviate the symptoms of excess cortisol or hyperadaptosis. DHEA can improve glucose tolerance, convert excess body fat to lean muscle mass, alleviate depression, increase energy and decrease pain in chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, decrease joint pain and fatigue in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, improve mental clarity and enhance overall immune function. Typical doses of DHEA are 10 to 25 mg for women, 25 to 100 mg for men, taken in the morning to mimic the body's natural rhythm. Again, as this practice is controversial, it is recommended that you consult a practitioner before supplementation.

Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo Biloba extract is produced from a Chinese tree, it is an herbal supplement that has been used for many years for its antioxidative properties, its ability to reduce stress and as a sedative. I will be
looking at more herbal supplements that aid in supporting the relaxation response in another post soon and look more at this supplement at that time.

Melatonin is produced naturally by the body to induce sleep, using the amino acid tryptophan. However, our body requires darkness to secrete this antioxidizing hormone. Endocrinologists believe this hormone is important for  healthy hair growth, adrenal function and guarding against UV radiation as well as part of our relaxation response. Excess exposure to blue light emitted by our computers, TVs and cell phones is believed to inhibit melatonin production. Personally, I have found melatonin supplementation to help me sleep deeper for longer periods at night and wake feeling rested. In fact, I seem to feel better the day after taking melatonin for sleep than I do when taking prescription sleeping pills. Suggested use is 1-3mg before bedtime.

Valerian Root
Valerian root has a long history of use in treating tension, anxiety and sleep disorders. Personally,
I have used valerian root in my quest to ease my depression and assist with sleep. Melatonin seems to
work better for me, but everyone is different.

Gamma-Aminobutycrc acid (GABA)
A chemical made in the brain, has been used as a supplement to relieve anxiety, improve mood, treat ADHD and reduce symptoms of PMS. It has also been used by some for promotion of lean muscle grown, fat burning, lower blood pressure and relieve pain. It is thought to generally improve mood,
increase exercise tolerance and decrease body fat by blocking certain neurotransmitters in the brain. The recommended dosage for GABA is 200 to 500 mg daily.

St. John’s Wort
This is a plant that was used in the past to treat burns and wounds. Documenting the effectiveness of
the plant can be found from the time of ancient Greece to the modern medicine of today and you can find it also in antidepressants.

It is important to note that I am not a health care provider and you should consult your Doctor or practitioner before starting any new supplements to ensure they do not interfere with any or your current prescribed medications.

Read more about stress and the negative impact it has on your body and other ways to improve your reaction to stress and lessen its impact on your health:

Stress is killing me
Conquering Cortisol
How to Eat the stress away

Supplementing your Stress Response
Decompressing Ancient Medicine


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