Stress consumes excessive key vitamins and minerals. If you don’t replace them with the right foods and supplements, anxiety and stress can worsen.
When you’re anxious and stressed, you can feel it throughout your body and sense it in your mood.
But not all signs of these conditions are obvious.
One insidious way anxiety and stress affect your body and brain is by depleting essential vitamins and minerals just when you need them most.
How Anxiety and Stress Increase Your Need for Vitamins & Minerals
First, the production of stress hormones and neurotransmitters consumes a big chunk of these nutrients’ reserves.
Then, because stress largely shuts down the digestive system, less of them gets absorbed from the food you eat.
Consequently, your supply of anti-stress vitamins and minerals is decreased … and your tolerance to stress is lowered.
Many bad habits that people gravitate to when they’re stressed and anxious — alcohol, caffeine, smoking, sugar and recreational drugs — deplete nutrients as well.
Unfortunately, many prescription drugs deplete vitamins and minerals.
How can you stop this downward spiral?
Eating a diet rich in the right vitamins and minerals is the first step.
And supplementing with the right nutrients can be important too.
B Complex: The Anti-Stress Vitamins
As a group, the B complex vitamins are especially important for a healthy brain and central nervous system.
However, the B vitamins are not relaxants.
In fact, they give most people more energy.
But they can improve your general mood and make you more resilient to whatever stress you feel.
Research has shown that B complex vitamins can help with on-the-job stress.
When study participants were given a vitamin B complex supplement, they experienced significantly less work-related stress, anxiety, and personal strain. (8)
They also reported a reduction in depression, dejection, and mental confusion.
B Vitamins Create Feel-Good Neurotransmitters and Stress Hormones
An important role of B vitamins is the production of the neurotransmitters essential to your ability to relax and maintain a positive state of mind.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is utilized in the synthesis of the stress hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine.
This means that, when you’re stressed, there is less B6 available to perform its other functions.
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the brain chemical of relaxation.
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When levels dip low, you will find yourself anxious, overstimulated and overwhelmed and you’ll find it hard to turn off your racing mind.
Serotonin is the “happiness molecule.”
Low levels of serotonin are linked to negative thinking, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and seasonal affective disorder.
Dopamine helps you get motivated and stay focused.
Low dopamine will have you relying on stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and sugar to get you through the day, further adding to your stress.
But B6 isn’t the only B vitamin helpful in combating stress.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is sometimes called an anti-stress vitamin because it strengthens the immune system, helps regulate blood sugar, and improves the ability to withstand stressful conditions. (11)
Vitamin B3 (niacin) is used in the production of stress hormones. (12)
It also suppresses inflammation.
Inflammation shuts down energy production in brain cells, contributing to stress, anxiety, brain fog, mental fatigue, and depression. (13)
It’s no coincidence that one of the main causes of chronic inflammation throughout the body is stress.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is critical to the manufacture of stress hormones produced by the adrenal glands.
This leaves less available for its other roles in turning food into energy and maintaining a healthy nervous system. (14)
Vitamin B5 is also an essential cofactor required for the synthesis of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter for memory and learning. (15)
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Top Vitamin B Complex Foods
There are eight B vitamins. Below you’ll find a list of the top food sources of each.
Note that no one food is an excellent source of all of them.
Some B vitamins are well represented in both plants and animal foods, while others are found mainly in plants (such as vitamin B9) or exclusively in animal foods (vitamin B12):
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) — whole grains, meat, fish, legumes, seeds, nuts (16)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) — eggs, meat, organ meats, milk, green vegetables (17)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) — meat, fish, poultry, fish, nuts, legumes, grains (18)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) — meat, dairy, eggs, legumes, mushrooms, avocados, broccoli, sweet potatoes (19)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) — poultry, fish, organ meats, potatoes, starchy vegetables, non-citrus fruits (20)
- Vitamin B7 (biotin) — meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy (21)
- Vitamin B9 (folate or folic acid) — green leafy vegetables, liver, yeast, black-eyed peas, Brussels sprouts (22)
Vitamin B Complex Supplements
Eating a well-rounded diet of whole, unprocessed foods gives you a good start towards getting the B vitamins you need from your diet.
However, if you don’t eat meat or don’t get at least the recommended 9 servings a day of fruits and vegetables, you might be low in one or more of the B vitamins.
With vitamin B supplements, one of the most significant issues is whether you should take individual vitamins or a B complex supplement.
B complex vitamins occur together in nature and work synergistically in food. (25)
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So it’s generally recommended that, taking a cue from nature, you take all the B vitamins together in a balanced B complex supplement or a high-quality multivitamin formula.
“Balanced” means a supplement that contains roughly 100% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or Daily Value (DV) for each vitamin.
This means you want a supplement where the label looks more like this …
… and less like this:
Here are the RDAs or AIs (Adequate Intake) for all eight B vitamins for adults:
(Note: The DV values on the labels above do not coincide with the RDA and AI values below. You can learn why here.)
- Vitamin B1 RDA — 1.1 to 1.2 mg
- Vitamin B2 RDA — 1.1 to 1.3 mg
- Vitamin B3 RDA — 14 to 16 mg
- Vitamin B5 AI — 5 mg
- Vitamin B6 RDA — 1.3 to 1.7 mg
- Vitamin B7 AI — 30 mcg
- Vitamin B9 RDA — 400 mcg
- Vitamin B12 RDA — 2.4 mcg
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
One big exception to the “you only need B complex” rule applies to anyone at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is surprisingly common, particularly among vegetarians and the elderly. (26)
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, are over age 60, or take acid-suppressing or diabetes drugs, you almost certainly could benefit from taking additional B12.
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B12 deficiency is nothing to be taken lightly.
Eventually it can cause permanent nerve and brain damage. (29)
Folic Acid and B12 Supplementation: The Form You Take Matters
Some people have a genetic mutation (the MTHFR gene) that makes it hard to process folate (B9) and vitamin B12.
If you know or suspect that you qualify, look for folate supplements in the methylated folate form (rather than the usual folic acid form of B9).
Look for vitamin B12 supplements in the form of methylcobalamin or adenosylcobalamin (instead of the more common cyanocobalamin). (30)
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Vitamin C for Natural Stress Relief
Vitamin C has earned its place as the single most popular vitamin supplement. (31)
This versatile supplement has shown proven benefits for a wide range of diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
It’s taken mostly to reduce the symptoms and duration of the common cold (although evidence on this is mixed).
But unfortunately, few people realize the positive effect it can have on their mood and brain function.
How Vitamin C Fights Stress
Low levels of vitamin C have been linked to anxiety and depression. (32)
Vitamin C plays several important roles in counteracting stress.
First, vitamin C is required to produce norepinephrine, a chemical that acts as both a stress hormone and a neurotransmitter.
Additionally, vitamin C suppresses the formation of the major stress hormone cortisol.
Those with adequate levels of vitamin C are more resilient to stress and bounce back from stressful situations faster.
Researchers tested vitamin C’s impact on acute psychological stress by choosing the #1 fear of all — public speaking.
The study concluded that vitamin C should be considered an essential stress management tool.
Lastly, vitamin C is an essential cofactor needed for your body to synthesize serotonin. (35)
Serotonin is generally thought of as the mood-boosting brain chemical linked to depression, but it plays a role in anxiety disorders as well. (36)
When study participants with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) were given vitamin C supplements, they experienced a significant reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms.
Vitamin C Food Sources
Weirdly, almost all animals except humans make their own vitamin C.
So we must get it from food or supplements.
The top vitamin C fruit sources are citrus fruits, strawberries, and the tropical fruits pineapple, papaya, and kiwi.
The best vegetable sources are peppers of all kinds (red, green, or yellow bell peppers and hot peppers), tomatoes, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale).
But typically these foods contain less than 100 mg per serving.
So you have to regularly eat a lot of these foods to meet the amounts considered therapeutic, generally 500 to 1,000 mg per day. (37)
Vitamin C Supplements
Vitamin C supplements are available in many forms — natural, synthetic, with or without bioflavonoids, ester-C, liposomal vitamin C — but the most common is ascorbic acid.
There are many claims that one form is better than another, but interestingly, research shows that there is no difference in bioavailability between natural and synthetic ascorbic acid. (38)
If you enjoy delving deeply into this sort of thing, you can check out the comparisons of different forms of vitamin C at Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute.
And if you don’t, it seems that you won’t go wrong with ascorbic acid vitamin C.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is 75 to 90 mg per day. (39)
But this is widely considered extremely low and most studies on vitamin C use much higher amounts.
(But it is the amount needed to prevent scurvy, in case you’re concerned about that.)
If you don’t normally take vitamin C, 400-500 mg per day is a reasonable place to start. (40)
The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for vitamin C is now set at 2,000 mg per day. (41)
While many people take this much and more, starting with large amounts can cause stomach upset or diarrhea.
Magnesium: Natural Anxiety Reliever
Magnesium has been called “the master mineral” for the role it plays in over 600 metabolic functions in the body. (42)
It’s also been called “nature’s Valium” because it’s so good at combating stress and making you feel more relaxed.
There is a direct correlation between low magnesium levels and how easily you get stressed out.
The link between magnesium and anxiety is so strong that researchers can induce anxiety in lab animals at will by depriving them of magnesium. (43)
Stress causes magnesium to be excreted during urination, thereby depleting body stores. (44)
One way magnesium neutralizes stress is by binding to and stimulating GABA receptors in the brain. (45)
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GABA is a major neurotransmitter that slows down overstimulated brain activity.
Typical signs of a low GABA level include being easily overwhelmed and laying awake at night with racing thoughts.
When GABA is low, it becomes impossible to relax.
Low GABA is associated with numerous stress-related disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and irritable bowel syndrome. (46)
Other ways magnesium can alleviate anxiety is by reducing chronic brain inflammation, removing heavy metals from the brain, and stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Keeping your magnesium levels in the healthy range is one of the best things you can do to become more resilient to stress and keep anxiety at bay.
Magnesium Food Sources
This is one of the reasons it’s hard to get enough magnesium from food alone.
Another key reason is that food today is often grown in magnesium-depleted soils. (54)
And lastly, over 200 medications block magnesium absorption.
Considering more than 60% of Americans take a prescription medication, this affects a lot of people. (55)
According to pharmacist Suzy Cohen, author of Drug Muggers: Which Medications Are Robbing Your Body of Essential Nutrients–and Natural Ways to Restore Them, the worst “magnesium muggers” are acid blockers, laxatives, diuretics, and blood pressure medications.
Best Magnesium Supplements for Stress Relief
There are many forms of magnesium supplements available and the one you pick really does matter.
A good general purpose form is magnesium glycinate.
It has a calming effect and is considered one of the best forms for correcting a magnesium deficiency.
There’s evidence that a new form of magnesium, magnesium l-threonate, could be particularly helpful for anxiety disorders because it more readily enters the brain. (56)
The RDA for magnesium is 320 mg for women and 420 mg for men. (57)
However, many people benefit from higher amounts.
It’s fairly easy to determine when you’ve taken too much since it will generally cause loose stools.
If you have trouble sleeping, taking magnesium before you go to bed can help you relax and sleep better.
Another way to de-stress with magnesium is by soaking in a hot tub of magnesium sulfate, commonly known as Epsom salts.
There’s evidence that a measurable amount of magnesium is absorbed through the skin this way. (58)
Caution: DO NOT take Epsom salts internally.
Magnesium sulfate is a harsh laxative that can have you running to the bathroom.
Zinc: For a Healthy Nervous System
Zinc is another mineral required for overall health and mental well-being.
It’s found in the highest concentrations in the brain, especially in the hippocampus. (61)
It plays a vital role in modulating your response to stress.
Zinc is required to synthesize GABA and balance the activity of this calming neurotransmitter. (62)
Along with vitamin B6, zinc is also a cofactor in the production of serotonin. (63)
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In fact, zinc has been used as both a standalone treatment for depression or in conjunction with antidepressants. (64)
It enhances the effects of SSRI antidepressants; together, they work better for major depressive disorder than SSRIs alone. (65)
Zinc deficiency is a well-known factor in central nervous system and mental health disorders.
Low levels of zinc have been linked to anxiety, depression, memory loss, dementia, bipolar disorder, and Alzheimer’s. (66)
Unfortunately, zinc deficiency is surprisingly common — an estimated 2 billion people are deficient worldwide. (67)
How Zinc-Copper Balance Affects Stress and Anxiety
Zinc has an inverse functional relationship with the mineral copper.
So it’s not just the absolute amount of zinc you take in, but the balance between zinc and copper that contributes to stress and anxiety.
People who experience anxiety almost always have an elevated level of copper and a low level of zinc.
The copper found in food is generally not a problem since it is processed by the liver.
But the inorganic copper found in drinking water (from copper pipes), copper cookware, medications, and even multivitamin supplements can cause copper overload. (70)
This copper gets into the bloodstream and crosses the blood-brain barrier to directly enter the brain. (71)
Restoring Zinc-Copper Balance
Problematically, the foods highest in zinc are also highest in copper — oysters, crab, beef, legumes, and nuts. (72)
So eating zinc-rich foods is not the answer to a health zinc-copper balance.
Instead, if you suspect that you have an unhealthy copper level, a zinc supplement is the way to restore balance.
The rule of thumb for total dietary intake is a zinc to copper ratio of roughly 10 to 1. (73)
Zinc Food Sources
Oysters and other non-fish seafood such as crab and lobster are indisputably the best dietary sources of zinc. (74)
One serving of oysters provides a whopping five times the RDA.
Beef, lamb, pork, chicken, cheese, and yogurt are reasonably good sources as well.
And while there are a handful of vegetable sources, such as seeds, nuts, and legumes, that provide a moderate amount of zinc, the presence of phytates in these foods interferes with zinc’s absorption. (75)
Zinc Supplements for Stress
The RDA for zinc is 8 mg for adult women and 11 mg for men per day. (76)
There are many forms of zinc supplements available including zinc orotate, gluconate, acetate, oxide and sulfate.
Zinc picolinate is commonly recommended as the most absorbable form of zinc, but this is based on one small study of 15 people where it compared favorably to zinc citrate and zinc gluconate. (77)
However, other studies suggest that any increased absorption is offset by increased elimination. (78)
Consequently, there is no consensus about the form of zinc that is most bioavailable. (79)
Whatever form of zinc you take though, be sure to take it with food so you don’t get queasy, and don’t exceed the Upper Tolerable Intake Level (UL) of 40 mg daily. (80)
Multivitamin-Mineral Supplements for Stress and Anxiety
You’re may be thinking that you’ll have to take a handful of supplements every day for stress and anxiety relief, but that’s not always necessary.
The simplest way to get started on a regimen of stress-busting vitamins is to take a comprehensive multivitamin-mineral supplement.
With a good multi, you’ll meet the recommended amount of many of the above nutrients.
Research shows that taking a high-quality multivitamin can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression while improving alertness and general well-being. (81)
People who take a multi are better able to cope with stress than those who don’t. (82)
A multivitamin-mineral supplement can replenish vitamins and minerals depleted by stress and other nutrient drains including alcohol, caffeine, smoking, sugar, toxins, and both prescription and recreational drugs.
Other Proven Supplements for Anxiety and Stress
It’s always wise to address the basics first.
That’s why making sure you’re getting your vitamin and minerals needs met is an excellent first step in getting your anxiety and stress under control.
However, there are many other supplements with calming properties you might want to consider that fall under other categories such as herbs or amino acids.
Some proven natural remedies for anxiety include bacopa, ginseng, kava, taurine, tryptophan, and various teas, essential oils, and homeopathic remedies.
Vitamins and Minerals for Anxiety and Stress: Take the Next Step
Virtually all vitamins and minerals are important for your overall health, mental well-being, and your ability to cope with anxiety and stress.
But a few, specifically the B complex vitamins, vitamin C, and the minerals magnesium and zinc, are essential in helping your body offset the negative effects of these conditions.
Eating a diet that includes animal foods and lots of fruit and vegetables will help you get more of these nutrients.
But if you don’t reliably eat as well as you should, consider supplementation.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, start by taking a high-quality multivitamin-mineral supplement.
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