Stress – how does it impact on your immune system?
Once again the UK is in a state of flux, the rate of COVID-19 infections is still not under control and may potentially have an impact on job security, the way our children are schooled and whether or not parents have to juggle working from home whilst supporting their children’s education.
Adverse life events being experienced during the coronavirus pandemic may affect the way in which the body responds to stress, significantly altering immune health. Decades of research have clearly established that stress has a negative influence on many aspects of immune function. Responses to infections and tumorous growths, inflammatory mechanisms, wound healing and various other immune challenges may be less effective due to stress1.
As we hurtle towards another potential lockdown, now more than ever it is important to manage stress in order to maintain good, strong immune function. The measures we take now may leave us better equipped to face whatever lies around the corner.
Five top tips for balancing stress
1. Prioritise healthy eating habits
When it comes to stress the brain is where it all kicks off. It is the most complex part of the human body, made up of more than 100 billion nerve cells and is the centre for behaviour, intellect and memory – all the functions you need to get yourself through a day fraught with challenges. As one of your vital organs the brain has immense nutritional needs and consumes a huge amount of energy relative to the rest of the body.
Giving your brain the right fuel is essential for maintaining performance and keeping stress in check. On a daily basis your diet should include a wide range of fresh and natural foods. These help to provide the nutrients your brain and body need, whilst also balancing your blood sugar levels. A good mix of fibre, protein and healthy fats ensures a steady supply of energy to the brain and prevents glucose dips throughout the day that may impact on anxiety and stress levels. Try to include:
Complex carbohydrates: wholegrains and cereals contain carbohydrates which fuel the brain. These foods also provide a good source of B vitamins, which play a key role in nervous system function. In terms of vegetables and fruit, research consistently demonstrates that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables helps benefit the brain and may help to offset stress. Adults who consume three to four servings of fruit and vegetables daily are found to be12% less likely to experience stress compared to those that don’t eat any at all2. What’s more, eating five to seven servings of fruit and vegetables each day is associated with a 14 % lower risk of stress2.
Fruit may be particularly beneficial because of its vitamin C content. The largest store of vitamin C is found in the adrenal glands, which are responsible for producing important stress hormones3 . Sticking to the 5-a-day (or more!) rule is fundamental if you want your brain and adrenal glands to benefit from the multitude of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants this food group contains.
A variety of protein: Good quality protein sources are chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, tofu, beans, quinoa and lentils. These protein foods provide all the amino acids needed for neurotransmitter and hormone production, essential brain chemicals that are responsible for focus, concentration and emotional stability. Nuts and seeds are also a great source of magnesium, a mineral which contributes to normal muscle and psychological function. Relaxed muscles aid sleep and help to ease away anxiety.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids: To further support the brain, you should include oily fish in the diet two to three times a week to gain the benefit of omega 3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, shown to safeguard brain health amongst all age groups3. EFAs are also thought to moderate the effects of psychological and physical stress and anxiety by lowering the release of stress-induced chemicals that normally arise from stressful situation4,5. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you can get your daily omega 3 fix from flax seeds and walnuts.
2. Clean up your act
Drinks: Coffee and cola may have a negative effect on the body during stressful times because of their caffeine content. Stimulants like caffeine may impact the body’s ability to respond to stress adequately. The effects of caffeine cause the adrenal glands to release stress hormones like cortisol which are often already high when under stress.
Added to this, caffeine could also affect the quality of your sleep and deplete magnesium and B vitamin levels, both of which play an important role in energy production and nervous system health.
Sugary processed foods: may provide a short burst of energy but soon after, blood sugar levels can drop suddenly, leading to irritability, mood swings and sugar cravings.
Alcohol: Another problematic stimulant is alcohol which is often used as an emotional crutch during stressful periods but in the long term this too has negative effects on health and well-being. Alcohol triggers the body to release more adrenalin, which impacts on blood sugar levels leading to sleep problems and nervousness.
3. Promote sleep quality to gain energy and brainpower
Sleep is a powerful antidote to stress, helping to support mood, decision-making and concentration. Lack of sleep drains your energy and can make you more irritable and sensitive to negative situations that might not phase you normally. Establish a sleep routine, go to bed and get up at the same time. You need plenty of sleep for the brain to rest and repair itself. Keep TVs, books and electronic gadgets out of the bedroom and invest in some blackout curtains and earplugs for totally uninterrupted restful sleep.
4. Develop a healthy lifestyle
Research evidence consistently shows that exercise has a positive impact on the body’s ability to adapt to stress6. Physical activity produces chemicals in the brain known as endorphins that act as natural painkillers as well as improving sleep which both help to alleviate stress. Another simple explanation for the benefits of exercise may be that it provides a distraction from whatever it is that may be causing stress. Yoga and tai chi are both forms of exercise that are perfect for calming the mind.
Many factors can create barriers to regular exercise: too little time, fatigue and lack of motivation, so it is important to find an exercise routine that not only fits into your day but is also enjoyable. All types of exercise can be beneficial and can be broken up into two 10-15-minute sessions a day if longer bouts are not possible.
The government recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise such as running, sport or climbing stairs7. Physical activity can include:
- Tai chi
- Aerobic classes
- High-intensity training (HIT)
5. Make the most of protective nutrients
To maintain balance during times of stress, specific nutrients are needed by the body. The key nutrients associated with stress management are vitamin C, magnesium, chromium and B vitamins. These can all be gained through a varied and balanced healthy diet. However, there are times when it’s not always possible to achieve perfect balance in the foods we eat, this is when supplements are most beneficial and provide the support needed to give you peace of mind.
Magnesium: often called ‘nature's tranquilliser’, this is partly due to its role as a co-factor for enzymes that synthesise adrenal hormones. Research has shown that magnesium contributes to normal functioning of the nervous system, so during times of stress when the body requires higher than normal amounts of adrenal hormones, magnesium is likely to become depleted8.
Magnesium also contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism, which is important as energy is often the first thing to take a nose-dive when life is stressful, especially as sleepless nights often factor into the equation. Supporting magnesium levels in stressful times with a fast-acting liposomal supplement such as Altrient Magnesium helps restore balance and provides rapid relief from many of the common symptoms associated with stress.
Chromium: a mineral that is required by the body in only tiny amounts, but it has an important role to play during times of stress because of its contribution to the maintenance of normal blood glucose levels. As mentioned earlier keeping blood sugar levels balanced is key because high levels of sugar can trigger hormones that promote stress. Although chromium is only needed in trace amounts it can often be low in the diet. People that increase their levels of chromium find that it helps to ease cravings and positively influence food choices during challenging times.
Rhodiola rosea: a plant extract which has been used for decades as a traditional remedy to enhance the body’s ability to adapt to both physical and behavioural stress. This popular herbal supplement is also thought to help fight fatigue and support cognitive functions during fatigue and in stressful conditions9,10. Results from a study on chronic fatigue sufferers reported that Rhodiola rosea exerted an anti-fatigue effect and influenced other symptoms including, sleeplessness, stress and ability to concentrate11.
B vitamins: vital for stress tolerance as well as being essential to normal nervous system function. Specific B vitamins are also needed for adrenal function and hormone manufacture, so deficiencies in these are often associated with anxiety and nervous disorders. Each B vitamin has a specific function and during times of stress they work extra hard to help you hold it together – physically, emotionally and mentally!
|Contributes to normal psychological function||Biotin, folate, niacin, thiamine, B6 and B12|
|Contributes to normal functioning of the nervous system||Biotin, niacin, riboflavin, B6|
|Contributes to normal mental performance||Pantothenic acid|
|Contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue||Folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, B6, B12|
|Contributes to normal function of the immune system||Folate, B6, B12|
|Contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism||Niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, B6, B12|
|Contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress||Riboflavin|
Supplementing with a high-quality well-absorbed B complex such as Altrient Vitamin B is the ideal solution for stressful times when energy is low and immunity may be under par. Research shows that B vitamins as a group working together are far more effective than individual B vitamins alone.
Vitamin C: the brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, which has the potential to negatively affect many of the brain’s functions including memory, mood, learning and concentration. Several nutrients have the capacity to neutralise these damaging effects and vitamin C is one of the team. Studies show that vitamin C contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress, as well as contributing to normal function of the nervous system and normal psychological function, so it is clear that this is not a vitamin you can do without when it comes to managing stress!
You need a source of vitamin C that can work fast when stress is threatening to overwhelm you. Choosing liposomal vitamin C makes sense because of its superior absorption and uptake in the body. Altrient C liposomes deliver vitamin C rapidly to the blood and to the cells giving you extra support when you need it most.
Why are Altrient supplements superior to other standard oral supplements?
Altrient liposomal supplements are microscopic in size giving them a distinct advantage over standard oral supplements when it comes to crossing cell walls. What’s more their size also makes them less likely to be destroyed by the immune system. These benefits are further enhanced by the phospholipid outer layer that protects the contents from being degraded by digestive juices on route to the target cells and tissues. The remarkable technology responsible for liposomal supplements ensures a product that is highly absorbable, virtually indestructible, fast-acting and much longer-lasting.
Jacqueline Newson BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy
Christian L, Fagundes C, Seiler A (2020). The impact of everyday stressors on the immune system and health. In: Chouker A. (eds) Stress Challenges and Immunity in Space. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-16996-1_6.
Nguyen B et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and psychological distress: cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses based on a large Australian sample. BMJ Open 2017;7: e014201. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-014201.
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Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, Martha A. Belury, Rebecca Andridge, William B. Malarkey, Ronald Glaser. Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2011.07.229
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Jackson E. Stress Relief: The role of exercise in stress management. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. 2013;17,3: 14-19.
GOV.UK. Physical activity guidelines. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/physical-activity-guidelines
M S Seelig (1994) Consequences of magnesium deficiency on the enhancement of stress reactions; preventive and therapeutic implications (a review)., Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 13:5, 429-446, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.1994.10718432
Li Y, Pham V, Bui M, et al. Rhodiola rosea L.: an herb with anti-stress, anti-aging, and immunostimulating properties for cancer chemoprevention. Curr Pharmacol Rep. 2017;3(6):384-395. doi:10.1007/s40495-017-0106-1.
Panossian A, Wikman G. Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress-Protective Activity. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2010;3(1):188-224. Published 2010 Jan 19. doi:10.3390/ph3010188.
Lekomtseva et al. Rhodiola rosea in subjects with prolonged or chronic fatigue symptoms: Results of an open -label clinical trial. Complement. Med. Res. 2017; 24: 46-52.
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