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Stress Introduction

:stress.jpg Stress is our body’s reaction to the environment around us. This reaction is often caused by particular events that may be construed as challenging. Physical, mental, and emotional challenges can cause stress. Specific causes of stress are called stressors, and vary from person to person.

Our body reacts to a challenge by secreting hormones that cause a “fight or flight response”. The main hormones are adrenalin and cortisol. They are secreted by the adrenal glands in response to a signal sent from the hypothalamus in the brain. These integral hormones enable humans to act under pressure and to confront a particular challenge. These are the same hormones that enable a zebra to run from a lion, or enable a mother hen to fight for her chicks - hence the term, “fight or flight”.

Adrenalin is the short term or acute hormone secreted in response to stress. It is the same hormone that causes the “adrenalin rush” feeling we get when excited or nervous. Cortisol is more of a long term, or chronic hormone secreted when stressors cause a given reaction for an extended period of time. Long-term secretion of cortisol is associated with depleted energy, decreased effectiveness of the immune system, difficulty concentrating, and even weight gain.

Every person is affected by stress in some way, and certain individuals are better at coping with stress. It is important, however, that every person find their own personal mechanisms to deal with the daily stressors in their own lives, insuring that stress does not overcome them. Persons at every age are affected by stress and is most common for individuals between the ages of 20 and 50. Stress does not discriminate based on gender, nor race. Both women and men experience stress, though the types of challenges that cause stress are different between the sexes.

Stress Symptoms

In acute situations stress may result in an increase in heart and breathing rate, and result in a noticeable increase in blood pressure. Other symptoms can include, sweating, shaking, difficulty talking or a shaky voice.

In chronic stress situations, more serious symptoms are likely to occur. Stress can affect many organ systems. It can cause anxiety, depression, and addictive behaviors. Chronic stress may also be a key contributor to headaches, upset stomach , heart palpitations, chest pain, and skin problems. Stress can also suppress the immune system and cause an increase in the incidence of infections.The development of many other diseases, such as eating disorders, heart disease, stomach ulcers, have all been linked to elevated stress levels as well. [1]

Stress Statistics

  • As many as 66% of Americans say they are likely to seek medical help for their stress.
  • 45% of individuals with a job say that job insecurity increases their stress, while 61% say heavy workloads increase stress.
  • 52% of those who work are more stressed because of work issues than home issues.
  • 73% of Americans say that money issues cause increased stress in their lives.
  • 54% of Americans are concerned about the level and amount of stress in their lives. [2]

Stress Management

It is difficult to treat stress without first removing the cause. For the majority of individuals, the common recommendation is to reduce the amount of stress in his/her life. Once the stressors have been reduced, the goal is then to learn stress management. Because stressors will never be fully avoided, the individual management of stress is key.

In extreme cases where stress has caused other disease in the body, medications can be prescribed to treat those new diseases. However, treating this disease/condition does not treat the underlying cause, or contributing factor of stress. The most rational treatment is applied by being aware of the things which cause stress in your life, and by either avoiding these stressors, or dealing with them through stress management techniques.

Alternative treatment is focused on providing specific nutrients and natural medicines to aid the body in protecting itself against the damage of stress, while also counseling the individual on reducing daily stress and by application of stress management techniques. There are several vitamin and mineral supplements that can help the body cope with stress. In addition, well-studied botanical therapies can also help to balance the body’s reaction to the stress hormones.

Supplements helpful for Stress Treatment


For individuals who are under excessive amounts of stress, a multivitamin is highly recommended. Often times, stress can cause the maldigestion and malabsorption of certain nutrients. It would be appropriate and beneficial to supplement the diet with a multivitamin and mineral supplement.

One study found that supplementation with a multivitamin, in conjunction with probiotics (good bacteria for our guts), resulted in a 40.7% improvement in stress. Individuals also reported a 29% decrease in infection rates, and a 91% decrease in GI complaints. The study concluded that a multivitamin plus probiotics was suitable to reduce the subjective feeling of stress, as well as improve the overall functioning of immune and GI systems. [3]

Another study of a multivitamin with added calcium, magnesium, and zinc, found that anxiety and perceived stress were significantly lower compared to placebo. Participants also reported being less tired and having greater concentration. Fewer somatic (physical) complaints were also registered compared to placebo. [4]

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and enhances immune system function. High doses of vitamin C have been proven effective as a treatment for stress. It has been shown to reduce certain symptoms of stress, such as increased blood pressure and excessive cortisol secretion. Vitamin C was significantly more effective than placebo at reducing the feelings of stress as reported by individuals. [5] In another study, vitamin C was shown to increase the urinary excretion of adrenalin after a stressful situation. [6]

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically serotonin and GABA. It is also known to down regulate cortisol activity. Vitamin B6 has shown significant benefit in treating mood and affective disorders. It can decrease the fight or flight mechanism by decreasing sympathetic nervous system output. It is also effective at decreasing the body’s response to cortisol in the different organ systems. [7]

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 has been shown to be an effective treatment for stress. Although it has not been extensively studied, preliminary results show that levels of B12 in the body are inversely correlated with self-perceived stress. Vitamin B12 supplementation may also be helpful at reducing the symptoms of stress-related conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and mental confusion. [8]


Stress has been shown to increase the oxidative stress in the body. To combat this increase in oxidative stress, antioxidant supplementation is recommended. The most potent antioxidants for combating stress are thought to be Vitamins A, E, and C. [9] It is possible that by reducing the amount of oxidative stress on the tissues, the damage caused by stress and stress hormones can be minimized or reduced. This may be protective against the development of chronic diseases that can often be the end result of chronic stress.


Rhodiola is a botanical medicine that is useful as a treatment for stress. It is known as an adaptogen herb; helping the body to cope with stressful situations by reducing one’s overall stress response. It also functions to help restore the stress response if it is less active. Being an adaptogen, rhodiola also helps to maintain a balance in the hormonal systems that operate in the body.

In study, rhodiola supplementation has resulted in improvements in physical fitness, mental fatigue, and motor function tests (compared to placebo) when administered to students after being in a stressful situation. Its supplementation also resulted in improved cognitive function during and after the test. Students also reported an increase in the subjective feeling of well-being. [10]


[1] The Mayo Clinic. December 2004.

[2] American Psychological Association Help Center. December 2004.

[3] Gruenwald J, Graubaum HJ, Harde A. Effect of a probiotic multivitamin compound on stress and exhaustion. Adv Ther. 2002 May-Jun; 19(3): 141-150.

[4] Carroll, D, Ring C, Suter M, Willemson G. The effects of an oral multivitamin combination with calcium, magnesium, and zinc on psychological well being in healthy young male volunteers: a double blind placebo controlled trial. Psychopharmacology. 2000 Jun; 150(2): 220-225.

[5] Brody S, Preut R, Schommer K, Schurmeyer TH. A randomized controlled trial of high dose ascorbic acid for reduction of blood pressure, cortisol, and subjective response to psychological stress. Psychopharmacology. 2002 Jan 15; 9(3): 319-324.

[6] Kallner A. Influence of vitamin c status on the urinary excretion of catecholamines in stress. Hum Nutr Clin Nutr. 1983 Dec; 37(6): 405-411.

[7] McCarty MF. High dose pyridoxine as an anti-stress strategy. Med Hypotheses. 2000 May; 54(5): 803-807.

[8] Baldewicz TT et al. Cobalamin level is related to self-reported and clinically rated mood and to syndromal depression in bereaved HIV-1 + and HIV-1 – homosexual men. J Psychosom Res. 2000 Feb; 48(2): 177-185.

[9] Moller P, Wallin H, Knudsen LE. Oxidative stress associated with exercise, psychological stress and lifestyle factors. Chem Biol Interact. 1996 Sep 27; 102(1): 17-36.

[10] Spasov AA, Wikman GK, Mandrikov VB, Mironora IA, Neumoin VV. A double blind placebo controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rose SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low dose regimen. Phytomedicine. 2000 Apr; 7(2): 5-89.