Diet for Stress

Symptoms of Stress

Stress can lead to many symptoms and health problems such as: heartburn, acid reflux, fatigue, headaches, migraine, insomnia, high blood pressure, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, impotence, anxiety, depression, memory problems, muscular pain and tension, neck pain, low back pain, eating disorders and skin problems such as eczema.

Stress Diet

When the body is under stress, it requires careful nutritional attention. This is especially true when the body is under long-term stress. For example in people in who have demanding jobs, long standing emotional or domestic problems. Careful nutritional attention and a good diet help to minimize the damaging effects of stress and ensure that the body’s nutrient requirements are met.

Stress tends to deplete the body of certain vital nutrients. Anyone under long-term stress should be very careful to incorporate these into their diet or take supplements. The vitamin B group is largely responsible for smooth running of the nervous system and being water soluble cannot be stored for long in the body tissues. Chronic stress will soon deplete the body of vitamin B. The same applies to vitamin C. Most dietary experts believe that a stressed person has increased daily requirements of perhaps 200mg per day rather than the normal daily requirement of 40mg per day (UK guidelines – more is recommended in the US - 60-95mg).

The minerals zinc and magnesium may need to be supplemented or magnesium and zinc rich foods incorporated into the diet. Zinc helps to strengthen the immune system and magnesium is excreted from the body in greater quantities when the body is under stress.

Best sources of zinc:

Wheatgerm, calves’ liver, poppy seeds, oysters raw, quorn, cocoa powder, all bran, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, seaweed, beefsteak, cashew nuts plain, crab-tinned in brine, corned beef, sesame seeds, parmesan cheese, pecan nuts (shelled), lambs leg (roasted) and sunflower seeds.

Best sources of magnesium:

Cocoa powder, brazil nuts (shelled), sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, instant coffee, pine nuts, cashew nuts –plain, soya mince granules, soya beans, liquorice, hazelnuts and walnuts (shelled), shredded wheat.

It has recently been found that proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) –the most widely prescribed drug for GERD and acid reflux- can deplete magnesium stores in the body. This is an important finding because low magnesium levels can increase the risk of cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heart beats).

Bodies that are depleted of vitamin B, vitamin C and zinc are also at increased risk of getting endless minor infections such as colds, coughs and cold sores. This is because these nutrients help to strengthen the immune system. So many stressed out people complain of getting frequent minor infections and feeling run down.

Stressed people turn to alcohol or smoking – both aggravate the nutritional problems because they also deplete the body of vitamins B and C. Caffeine drinks increase the adrenaline produced at times of stress and so are best avoided.

The better dietary way to help tackle stress related problems is to eat plenty of complex carbohydrates, such as pasta and whole grains. This helps the brain to calm down by aiding the production and release of the calming neurotransmitter serotonin. Recent research also has shown that eating oily fish can block production of the chemical that increases tension when under pressure. Long term stress and the associated high levels of adrenaline can lead to high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and heart disease. High blood pressure and raised cholesterol can be helped by aerobic exercise such as walking, which is also good for relieving stress.