nutrition and stress There are many natural nutrients available to help us better manage the physical and symptomatic effects due to excessive stress. ■ ■ By Dr Leow Chee Seng, Regional Director of Human Behaviour Academy and Dr Mazlan B aba, Senior Lectu rer, Education Faculty, University Putra Malaysia While not all stress is bad – like the adrenaline rush which helps us to meet deadlines – there’s no denying the negative impact of acute, chronic and intense stress on our bodies and health. The overall results of chronic stress can be quite unpleasant, from both the emotional and physical perspectives, possibly even impairing one’s ability to function and even harming one’s health or well-being. Excessive stress can cause – among others – anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, stomach problems, sweating, heart rate increase, rapid breathing, shortness of breath and irritability. If the stress level is not controlled, it could also lead to several medical problems such as asthma, chronic fatigue, erectile dysfunction, male infertility, fibromyalgia, hypertension, immune system dysfunction, peptic ulcers, impaired wound healing, rheumatoid arthritis, indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome. Combined with the mood disorder, such medical complications due to stress will lead to a worsening workplace performance and relationship problems. MAY/JUNE 2012 • OH! | 29
nut r iti o ns and st r ess Clinical management acid) and flaxseed make wonderful sources of fibreThere is no medication to completely address stress. that contribute to hormone function.Whatever medicines are available today only help toreduce the complications that are derived from the A clinical study conducted among post-menopausalstress like insomnia and anxiety. women focusing on the elevated blood pressure due to stress found that adding 30g of freshly groundThe common prescription includes sleeping aids flaxseed daily to diets is able to reduce the bloodcontaining diphenhydramine and doxylamine – pressure elevating effect of mental stress.aimed at reducing stress-induced insomnia. Forstress-related anxiety, benzodiazepines lorazepam, However, the study also found flaxseed has noalprazolam, clonazepam and diazepam may be significant effect on blood level control.prescribed. nutritional therapyMedical management of stress includes sharing how Then, there is tyrosine – a natural amino acid thatto cope with stressful scenarios and to encourage the helps in stress management.patient has a healthy diet, getting enough exerciseand sufficient sleep. Tyrosine is used by our bodies to generate adrenal stress hormones and neurotransmitters (chemicalAt the same time, patients are also encouraged to messengers in our brain). Clinical research showsmeet up with a professional counsellor if they find the level of neurotransmitters reduces when wethemselves not being able to handle the stress by are under stress. Tyrosine supplements reverse thethemselves. decline and improve mental performance during physically stressful conditions. dietry changesIt is also possible to reduce the negative effects Another useful nutrient is ascorbic acid or vitaminof unwanted stress through proper nutrition. For C – as it helps reduce the level of stress-relatedexample, alpha-linolenic acids (an omega-3 fatty hormones and other related substances in our bloodstream.30 | MAY/JUNE 2012 • OH!
A controlled study found that vitamin C intake of figthing stress with herbs1,000mg to 1,500mg daily reduces stress hormone The more popular herbs that help in stress reductionlevels when coupled with intense exercise. Clinical include the rhodiola, Asian ginseng, Siberian ginsengstudies also found several stress-related hormone and ashwagandha. All these herbs are memberslevels can be controlled with 2,000mg daily dosage of ‘controversial’ category known as adaotogensof vitamin C during the week before and after – which are said to be able to increase the body’ssurgery. resistance towards stress, and to generally enhance physical and mental functions.A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids and low dietaryintake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) further Notably, a clinical study found that daily intake ofcontribute to poor stress responses. A clinical 170mg rhidiola extract is able to prevent any declinestudy found that intake of 1.5g to 1.8g of DHA is able in a set of mental performance during the first twoto prevent aggressiveness among students during weeks. In a double blind study of military cadetstheir final examinations. performing 24-hour duties found that 360mg to 555mg of rhodiola extract consumption reducedSeveral daily supplements are also commonly used mental fatigue, as measured by performance tasks.in stress control and common dosages include15mg of vitamin B1, 15mg of vitamin B2, 50mg Asian ginseng can enhance the feeling of well-of vitamin B3, 10mg being in elderly people withof vitamin B6, 500mg “Such as age-associated memoryof vitamin C, 23mg of impairment. Siberianpantothenic acid, 400mcg biofeedback, ginseng, ashwagandhaof folic acid, 500mcg of relaxation training, have the same impact forbiotin, 100mg of calcium, stress reduction, including100mg of magnesium laugh therapy, chronic psychological stress.and 100mg of zinc. yoga, meditation, However, no controlled breathing and research has been doneStudies have found such to explore these effects innutrient supplements imaginary exercises humans.resulted in significantly – are able toless anxiety and There is also a branch ofperceived stress when prevent or manage healing that focuses onmeasured after a month. health problems thoughts and emotions onHowever, other stress-related symptoms did not relating to stress, physical health, known as mind-body medicine. Manyimprove. according to techniques used in such preliminary and a healing system – suchSince stress has an as biofeedback, relaxationimpact on the balance of controlled training, laugh therapy, yoga,intestinal bacteria that research.” meditation, breathing andaffects our digestion, it is imaginary exercises – are ablea good idea to get some to prevent or manage healthprobiotic supplement to problems relating to stress,address the consequent according to preliminary andindigestion. controlled research. MAY/JUNE 2012 • OH! | 31