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 or stressed, you can feel it throughout your body and sense it in your mood.
But not all signs of stress are obvious.
One insidious way anxiety and stress deplete your body and brain is by draining essential vitamins and minerals just when you need them most.
How Anxiety and Stress Increase Your Need for Vitamins & Minerals
Stress and anxiety increase the need for nutrients in a variety of ways.
First, the production of stress hormones and neurotransmitters consumes a big chunk of your reserves of these nutrients.
Then, because stress largely shuts down the digestive system, fewer nutrients are 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 unhealthy habits that people gravitate to when they’re stressed and anxious — alcohol, caffeine, smoking, sugar, and recreational drugs — deplete nutrients as well.
Numerous prescription drugs deplete vitamins and minerals, including anti-anxiety medications.
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
The B complex vitamins are a group of 8 water-soluble vitamins.
These vitamins are especially important for a healthy brain and central nervous system.
The B vitamins have a reputation for being “anti-stress vitamins” since they help to balance mood and calm the nervous system.
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However, the B vitamins are not relaxants.
In fact, they give most people more energy.
But they can help you improve your general mood and cope better with stress.
Research has shown that B complex vitamins can be especially helpful for 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.
They also reported a reduction in depression, dejection, and mental confusion.
B Vitamins Create Feel-Good Neurotransmitters and Stress Hormones
Some of the B vitamins are required for the production of neurotransmitters essential to the 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 associated with relaxation.
When levels dip low, you may 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.
A low dopamine level will push you to rely on stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and sugar to get through the day, further adding to your stress.
" Many unhealthy habits that people gravitate to when they’re stressed and anxious — alcohol, caffeine, smoking, sugar, and recreational drugs — deplete nutrients as well.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is a necessary cofactor for the production of GABA and acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter of memory and learning.
It also strengthens the immune system, helps regulate blood sugar, and improves the ability to withstand stressful conditions.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) is used in the production of stress hormones, so the body’s supply becomes depleted under stress.
Niacin also suppresses inflammation.
Inflammation shuts down energy production in brain cells, contributing to stress, anxiety, brain fog, mental fatigue, and depression.
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.
So, stressful conditions leave less pantothenic acid available for its other roles in turning food into energy and maintaining a healthy nervous system.
Vitamin B5 is also an essential cofactor required for the synthesis of acetylcholine.
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Top Vitamin B Complex Foods
Below you’ll find a list of the top food sources of each of the 8 B vitamins.
Note that no one food is an excellent source of all of them — a good reason to eat a wide variety of foods.
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
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) — eggs, meat, organ meats, milk, green vegetables
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) — meat, fish, poultry, fish, nuts, legumes, grains
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) — meat, dairy, eggs, mushrooms, avocados, broccoli, potatoes, whole grains
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) — poultry, fish, organ meats, potatoes, starchy vegetables, non-citrus fruits
- Vitamin B7 (biotin) — meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, seeds, nuts
- Vitamin B9 (folate or folic acid) — green leafy vegetables, liver, yeast, black-eyed peas, Brussels sprouts
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) — clams, liver, animal foods of all kinds, nori (seaweed)
Vitamin B Complex Supplements
Eating a well-rounded diet of whole, unprocessed foods is 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.
One of the most common questions about B vitamin supplementation is whether you should take individual B vitamins or a B complex supplement.
B complex vitamins occur together in nature and work synergistically in food.
So, taking a cue from nature, it’s generally recommended that you take all the B vitamins together in a balanced B complex supplement or a high-quality multivitamin formula.
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“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:
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.
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.
B12 deficiency is nothing to be taken lightly.
Deficiency can cause all kinds of psychiatric symptoms including anxiety, depression, panic, memory loss, and hallucinations.
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Eventually it can cause permanent nerve and brain damage.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms (mcg).
When you read a B12 supplement label, you’ll find that it usually contains much more than this.
Because only about 2% of the B12 in supplements is actually absorbed, the “excess” assures that you’re getting close to the RDA.
Vitamin C for Natural Stress Relief
Vitamin C has earned its place as the single most popular vitamin supplement.
This versatile vitamin 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 few people realize the positive effect that vitamin C 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.
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.
It also suppresses the formation of the major stress hormone cortisol.
Those with adequate levels of vitamin C are more resilient to stress; they bounce back faster from stressful situations.
Researchers tested vitamin C’s impact on acute psychological stress by choosing the #1 fear of all, public speaking.
Those given vitamin C had lower cortisol levels and lower blood pressure and also reported feeling less stressed than those who took a placebo.
The study concluded that vitamin C should be considered an essential stress management tool.
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Lastly, vitamin C is an essential cofactor needed to synthesize the mood-boosting neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
When study participants with generalized anxiety disorder took vitamin C supplements, they experienced a significant reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms.
Vitamin C Food Sources
Almost all animals synthesize their own vitamin C, except humans.
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 (hot and bell), 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.
Vitamin C Supplements
Vitamin C supplements are available in a confusing array of forms — natural, synthetic, with or without bioflavonoids, ester-C, liposomal vitamin C — but the most common form is ascorbic acid.
There are many claims that one form is better than another, but research shows that there is no difference in bioavailability between natural and synthetic ascorbic acid.
If you enjoy delving deeply into this sort of thing, you can check out a rundown on the various forms of vitamin C at Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute.
If you like to keep things simple, just take the ascorbic acid form of vitamin C.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is 75 to 90 mg per day.
But this is widely considered extremely low and most studies on vitamin C use much higher amounts.
(But 75-90 mg 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.
The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for vitamin C is now set at 2,000 mg per day.
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.
It’s also been called “nature’s Valium” because it’s so good at combating stress and relaxing you.
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.
Stress causes magnesium to be excreted during urination, thereby depleting body stores.
One way magnesium neutralizes stress is by binding to and stimulating GABA receptors in the brain.
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.
Magnesium not only restricts the release of stress hormones, but also acts as a filter to prevent them from entering the brain.
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 level in the healthy range is one of the best things you can do to become more resilient to stress and anxiety.
Magnesium Food Sources
The top food sources of magnesium read like a shopping list for the health food store — nuts and seeds, soy products, whole grain bread and cereal, spinach, black beans, and avocado.
However, legumes, seeds, and grains paradoxically contain naturally occurring compounds called phytates that inhibit the absorption of minerals, including magnesium.
This is one of the reasons it’s hard to get sufficient magnesium from food alone.
Another reason is that food today is often grown in magnesium-depleted soils.
Also, over 200 medications block magnesium absorption.
Considering that 70% of Americans take one or more prescription medications, this affects a lot of people.
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 to choose from 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 relatively new form of magnesium, magnesium l-threonate, could be particularly helpful for anxiety disorders because it more readily enters the brain.
The RDA for magnesium is 320 mg for women and 420 mg for men.
However, many people benefit from higher amounts.
It’s fairly easy to determine when you’ve taken too much magnesium 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.
Caution: DO NOT take Epsom salts internally.
Magnesium sulfate is a harsh laxative that can have you running to the bathroom.
There are reports of magnesium sulfate taken internally causing memory loss, vomiting, kidney failure, and cardiac arrest.
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.
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.
Along with vitamin B6, zinc is also a cofactor in the production of serotonin.
Zinc enhances the effects of SSRI antidepressants; together, they work better for major depressive disorder than antidepressants alone.
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.
Unfortunately, zinc deficiency is surprisingly common — an estimated 2 billion people are deficient worldwide.
On the other hand, too much zinc can also be problematic.
Zinc intake of 50 mg per day or more can result in copper deficiency.
How Zinc-Copper Balance Affects Stress and Anxiety
Zinc has an inverse functional relationship with the another mineral, copper.
So, it’s not just the absolute amount of zinc you ingest, but the balance between zinc and copper intake (and the zinc-copper ratio of the body’s supplies) that contributes to stress and anxiety.
People who experience anxiety almost always have an elevated level of copper and a low level of zinc.
Excess copper dials up stress by blocking GABA activity.
The copper found in food is generally not a problem since it gets processed by the liver.
But the inorganic copper found in drinking water (from copper pipes), copper cookware, medications, and even multivitamin supplements can cause toxic copper overload.
This copper gets into the bloodstream and crosses the blood-brain barrier to directly enter the brain.
Restoring Zinc-Copper Balance
The foods highest in zinc are also highest in copper — oysters, crab, beef, legumes, and nuts.
So eating zinc-rich foods is not the answer to restoring a healthy zinc-copper balance.
If you suspect that your copper level is high, then taking a zinc supplement is the best way to restore balance.
The rule of thumb for total dietary intake is a zinc to copper ratio of roughly 10 to 1.
Zinc Food Sources
Oysters and other non-fish seafood, such as crab and lobster, are indisputably the best dietary sources of zinc.
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 plant sources (seeds, nuts, legumes) that provide a moderate amount of zinc, keep in mind that the presence of phytates in these foods can interfere with zinc’s absorption.
This is especially true for plant foods that have not been soaked or cooked.
Zinc Supplements for Stress
The RDA for zinc is 8 mg for adult women and 11 mg for men per day.
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 where it compared favorably to zinc citrate and zinc gluconate.
Additionally, other studies suggest that any increased absorption is offset by increased elimination.
So currently, there is no consensus about the form of zinc that is most bioavailable.
Be sure to take any zinc supplement with food so that you don’t get queasy, and don’t exceed the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) of 40 mg daily.
Multivitamin-Mineral Supplements for Stress and Anxiety
You 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 most 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.
People who take a multi have been found to be more resilient to stress than those who don’t.
A multivitamin-mineral supplement can replenish vitamins and minerals depleted by stress and by other nutrient drains such as 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 meeting your vitamin and minerals needs is an excellent first step in getting your anxiety and stress under control.
However, there are many other supplements, such as herbs and amino acids, with calming properties.
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 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, excel at helping your body offset the negative effects of stress.
Eating a diet that includes a wide variety of fruit and vegetables and some animal foods will help ensure that you get enough of these nutrients.
But if you don’t regularly eat as well as you should, consider supplementation.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, start with a high-quality multivitamin-mineral supplement.