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Nutrients Depleted When You Are Stressed (and What to do About It)

iStock-1209944788It is almost an understatement to say that 2020 has been a stressful year. A pandemic, financial worries, and an inflammatory political drama have all significantly increased the stress we are dealing with every day. You might find yourself emotionally and physically exhausted by these demands.

Although your brain may definitely need a break, your body is probably depleted as well. Mental and emotional stress deplete many of the critical nutrients your body needs to function at its best, even if you have a perfect diet. If you are feeling particularly drained, increasing your intake of specific vitamins and minerals can help.

Nutrients Depleted When You Are Stressed

During times of stress, your body is doing its best to maintain homeostasis or balance. It is trying to work efficiently, while attempting to reduce the effects of stress. This means it uses greater quantities of specific nutrients to stay in balance. 

Here are a few of the key nutrients that may end up depleted during times of stress:

Magnesium. Magnesium is involved in over 300 chemical reactions in the body. One of these is helping increase your level of a neurotransmitter called GABA, that plays a role in managing stress and anxiety. Magnesium deficiency has also been linked to depressed mood and increased stress. During periods of physical or mental strain your body uses up magnesium to try to combat the negative emotions, depleting this important nutrient. 

B-vitamins. Although the 8 B-vitamins play a variety of roles in the body, they are essential to producing certain neurotransmitters that help with mood and stress management. They are also required for a properly functioning nervous system. B-vitamins are water soluble, which means your body doesn’t store them. Therefore, once they are used up, you must replenish them with food or supplements.

Iron. Iron’s primary role in the body is in the red blood cells that help carry oxygen. A lack of iron causes fatigue, shortness of breath, and thinning hair. Excessive stress has been shown to deplete iron levels. Women, children, and vegetarians are particularly at risk for iron depletion caused by stress.

Vitamin C. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant that helps mitigate the effects of free radical damage and oxidative stress. When cortisol, the stress hormone, is high vitamin C is depleted. This puts you at greater risk of illness and long-term damage caused by oxidative stress.

Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a bit different from the other vitamins, in that the primary source is the sun. Most foods are not a significant source of vitamin D. During periods of acute stress, vitamin D stores are used up. Additionally, most people when extremely stressed out or ill, are not spending a lot of time outdoors, depleting vitamin D further. Vitamin D deficiency increases your risk of illness from viral infections.

Zinc. Zinc is an important mineral for immunity and mood. Low zinc levels have been linked to an increased risk of depression. Stress depletes zinc, increasing inflammation and risk of illness. 

Eating for Stress Management

To help replete your body of lost nutrients, it is important to focus on foods high in stress-busting vitamins and minerals. Here are a few that should be included in your diet daily:

  • Leafy green vegetables- high in iron, magnesium
  • Whole grains- high in magnesium, B-vitamins
  • Nuts- high in magnesium, zinc
  • Citrus- high in vitamin C, needed to absorb iron
  • Dark chocolate (70% cacao or more)- high in iron, magnesium
  • Lean red meat- high in magnesium, B-vitamins, iron, zinc
  • Daily sunshine- vitamin D

A well-balanced diet can help replenish lost nutrients during times of stress. But, it is also important to avoid certain foods when trying to manage your stress. 

Alcohol and high sugar foods only deplete your body of critical nutrients. Although eating sweets or drinking can make you feel better in the short term, in the long run, they only tax your body more and leave you even more stressed. If you are going through a period of high stress, the best thing you can do is to focus on a healthy well balanced diet and avoid drowning your sorrows in alcohol or sweets.

Tips for Managing Stress

Stress management isn’t just about eating healthy, although diet can definitely play a role. Actively engaging in activities to reduce stress can help you keep it at bay, no matter what is happening around you. Adequate sleep, spending time in nature, exercise, and active relaxation are all important ways to reduce your stress.

Although these activities can help, reducing stress is about slowing down. This involves taking the time to plan and eat healthy meals, enjoy physical movement, and being present. When you slow down, your body is able to properly digest the healthy food you provide it and find the nutrients it needs, allowing it to operate at its best.

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