Stress Wearing You Down?
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
It’s been a stressful year, no doubt. And for many, it keeps getting harder and harder to bounce back after a stress response. This is because stress depletes your body of valuable vitamins and minerals.
Some nutrients, like the B vitamins, are especially impacted by your body’s stress response. Stress rapidly diminishes B vitamins in the body, yet B vitamins are crucial in returning to normal after a stress response.
B vitamins are also essential in ensuring brain health and functioning. If you’ve had a stressful couple of months, you’re probably lacking in this critical nutrient.
**Further information about testing for B vitamin deficiencies can be found here**
Stress & Nutrients:
When your body begins to respond to stress, it emphasizes short-term survival by prioritizing “more important” organs and redirecting important nutrients to those locations. The heart, lungs, and muscles will receive magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamin C in favor of other, less vital organs. Further, vitamin B12 and B5 will be redirected and allocated for the adrenal glands where they are used to produce stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol. B vitamins are some of the first to be depleted after a stress response.
As your body enters short-term survival mode, your digestion process will be impacted. Digested food will cease to be important and your body will immediately try to remove it or halt the digestion process altogether. This is why many people experience “nervous poops” or constipation when they are stressed. When digestion is altered due to stress, you stop absorbing nutrients and quickly remove digested food as waste products. Stress also weakens gastric secretions, causing undigested food to enter the intestines. Once food reaches the intestines, nutrient absorption is no longer readily achieved. This can also increase uncomfortable bloating and an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria.
This is especially problematic for water-soluble B vitamins, as your body already cannot store them for long periods of time. B vitamins are essential in supporting the nervous system and assisting your body in nutrient absorption. Vitamin B6 also facilitates the production of feel-good hormones like serotonin which eases stress response and can help you cope in times of stress. Your body needs vitamin B to recover from a stressful situation. But when stress halts nutrient absorption, and because you cannot store vitamin B, you no longer have access to these vital vitamins. This creates a vicious cycle for people with chronic stress.
Vitamin B 101:
There are 8 B vitamins that perform a variety of roles throughout the body. B vitamins are required for a properly functioning immune system. They are essential in producing certain neurotransmitters that relate to mood and stress management. Beyond neurotransmitter production, B vitamins are also vital in many other important components of brain health. Such components include energy production, DNA/RNA synthesis & repair, genomic and non-genomic methylation, and the synthesis of many neurochemicals and signaling molecules. B vitamins are so essential to brain health and function that your brain has transport mechanisms dedicated to transporting B vitamins across the blood-brain barrier.
When B vitamins enter the brain, their levels are tightly regulated by various homeostatic mechanisms. All B vitamins have high turnover rates, ranging from 8-100% per day, so your body must have a constant influx to ensure proper functioning.
The B vitamins most vital to brain health include:
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)- B1 is necessary for the synthesis of fatty acids, steroids, nucleic acids, neurotransmitters, and other essential bioactive compounds for brain health. B1 also contributes to the function and structure of cellular membranes like neurons.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine, Pyridoxal, Pyridoxamine)- B6 is vital in the synthesis of several neurotransmitters. Deficiencies in B6 can lead to disordered behavior, sleep, and cardiovascular function. B6 also has an impact on immune function and gene transcription/expression and is important in brain glucose function.
Vitamin B9 (Folate) & B12 (Cobolamin)- B9 and B12 are inextricably linked in their complementary roles in the methionine and folate cycles. A B12 deficiency will lead to a B9 deficiency and vice versa. B9 and B12 are essential in DNA stability and repair, gene expression/transcription, neurotransmitter synthesis, and in supporting overall brain health.
While these four B vitamins are especially important for brain function, deficiencies in all eight B vitamins are associated with neurological and psychiatric symptoms. For example, when someone is deficient in B6, the symptoms are all neurological. B6 deficiency is linked to depression, cognitive decline, and dementia. B12 deficiencies are often demonstrated in neurological symptoms too. B vitamins are so vital for brain health that over 33% of psychiatric admissions have been found to have vitamin B deficiencies.
Other signs of Vitamin B deficiencies include:
Loss of balance or motor problems
Tingling or numbness in hands, feet, or legs
Loss of taste and smell
Vitamin B and Stress Recovery:
When you become deficient in B vitamins, your body can no longer regulate the production of cortisol. When cortisol levels are too high, you experience long-term symptoms of stress, such as a flushed face, mood changes, fatigue, and acne. Without proper vitamin B supplementation, your cortisol levels will not return to normal and your stress response will continue.
Vitamin B's essential role in stress levels has led some researchers to question if vitamin B supplementation could decrease overall stress. Multiple studies have demonstrated that vitamin B is useful in decreasing stress:
One study found participants who took a vitamin B complex for 33 days reported significant improvements in stress, general health, and vigor.
Another study found participants who took a B complex for 60 days experienced lower personal strain and less confusion and dejected mood.
An Australian study found that those who took a Vitamin B compound for 30-90 days experienced a 30% decrease in stress levels.
Replenishing Vitamin B:
Because your body cannot make B vitamins, you must ensure your diet provides sufficient amounts of the vitamin. Foods high in B vitamins include:
Liver and other organ meats
Milk and Yogurt
Oysters, Mussels, and Clams
Chicken and Turkey
As demonstrated above, B vitamins are present in many foods commonly found in a healthy and balanced diet. The Mediterranean Diet embodies many of these foods, making it the best, structured diet to ensure you’re getting enough B vitamins.
Groups of people especially at risk of deficiencies in B vitamins include:
Vegetarians and vegans
People with celiac or Crohn’s disease
People who have had weight loss surgery
People who use heartburn related prescription drugs
People with autoimmune disorders
People who smoke
People who abuse alcohol
People with gut and digestion issues
People with constant and ongoing stress
Supplementing Vitamin B:
Vitamin B supplements are also available. But you should be cautious in where and how you purchase your B vitamin supplements. While many B vitamin supplements promise high content, you cannot believe everything you read on the label. Over-the-counter supplements have been found to contain low-quality vitamins and minerals, misleading ingredient lists, and are sometimes so packed with multivitamins that they cannot even be absorbed by the body.
Only a trusted health practitioner can guarantee the highest quality, medical-grade supplements. Medical-grade supplements are held to the same standards as pharmaceutical drugs and are the only way to ensure you are receiving the proper nutrients to optimize your biochemistry. Pharmaceutical grade supplements must meet several requirements; including- they must absorb into the body within 45 minutes, all raw ingredients must pass a purity test, and every ingredient is listed on the label.
You can only get medical-grade supplements from medical practitioners. Pharmaceutical-grade supplements contain much higher quality vitamins and minerals that will have a much stronger impact on your biochemistry- for better or worse. You should not be taking medical-grade supplements without the recommendation of a Doctor to ensure no harm will be done to your body. Medical-grade supplements must be taken with the same precaution as other drugs.
At the Johnson Center, we only advocate and recommended the highest quality B vitamin supplements to our patients. Many of the supplements are used by Dr. Johnson herself. We would never recommend a supplement we don't trust! If you're interested in ordering supplements through the Johnson Center, contact us!
The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!