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Stress Can Cause Nutrient Deficiencies

Enough of the Right Nutrients Can Prevent Stress, and Controlling Stress Can, in Turn, Prevent Nutrient Deficiencies

Author: Deborah Seymour Taylor
Source: Better Nutrition

Enough of the right nutrients can prevent stress, and controlling stress can, in turn, prevent nutrient deficiencies.

Positive thoughts and emotions are the nutrition of the mind. Without a positive attitude, even the simple stresses of daily life can eventually lead to disease. One of the most serious byproducts of stress results from chronic tension in the body. Tension affects not only muscles but organs, restricting circulation and preventing proper nutrient assimilation by the cells, further encouraging breakdown and early aging. Consequently, stress contributes to many common diseases including ulcers, hypertension, arthritis and heart disease.

"What makes one person frightened or anxious or angry may simply amuse another person and perhaps even go unnoticed by a third," said Rudolph Ballentine, M.D. This may be one reason some people seem to remain healthy with few supplemental vitamins and minerals. Mental attitude and habits of thought have a powerful effect on vitamin requirements.

"The more chronically anxious person who tends to interpret events around him as disturbing will, as a result of the more frequent occurrences of those metabolic events that accompany his tense and anxious behavior, use up more of certain nutrients which are involved in his characteristic responses. It will generally be some combination of certain B vitamins and/or vitamin C which are required in most unusual quantities," said Dr. Ballentine.

Unless critical nutrients are quickly replaced, coping mechanisms further break down and emotional problems worsen. "When you're under stress, hormones are released and they in turn increase the speed of many functions and systems of the body," said Laraine C. Abbey, R.N. "With this faster rate, a large amount of nutrients are pushed into the bloodstream and excreted. The body loses nutrients all the time, but when you're pressured you lose more."

The B vitamins are among the most important in preventing long-term damage. "The B vitamins came to be known as antistress nutrients because they are often the first deficiencies to develop during periods of stress," said Michael Rosenbaum, M.D. "Water-soluble nutrients such as the B vitamins, vitamin C, and all of the minerals are generally excreted at a faster rate during periods of stress. Because [they] are not stored to any great extent, deficiencies can develop rather quickly."

Thiamine (B1) and riboflavin (B2) are particularly important due to their role in energy metabolism. Thiamine helps provide energy to nerve cells by converting fuel from carbohydrates into energy in the form of glucose. Since glucose is the only source of energy for the nervous system, adequate amounts of B1 mean steady nerves. A deficiency of thiamine can lead to degeneration of the insulation -- called the myelin sheath -- that protects nerve fibers. As a result, nerves become hypersensitive and irritable and stress heightens.

In a study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, subjects given only half the minimum daily requirement of thiamine, a level frequently found in American diets, became "irritable, depressed, quarrelsome, incooperative and fearful that some misfortune awaited them." The authors concluded that physical and mental efficiency as well as a sense of well-being were maintained when adequate amounts of thiamine were provided daily.

The amount needed varies according to the individual needs of the body, according to Emanuel Cheraskin, M.D., in the Journal of Oral Medicine. "There is no claim that the dosage of vitamin B1 recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board is intended as the `ideal' daily intake for optimal general health. You may need much more depending on your stress level."

Vitamin B2, or riboflavin, helps release energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Riboflavin helps the body produce antistress hormones and is critical to the health of the glandular system, particularly the adrenal glands. The adrenals help control how and where fat is deposited in the body; help regulate the body's sodium/potassium balance, which influences muscular tension; and release hormones crucial to nervous system health.

If you're a vegetarian, it's important to pay extra attention to obtaining adequate amounts of riboflavin, especially if you do not drink milk or eat dairy products, one of the vitamin's richest sources. An excellent source is soybean milk, which can provide extra calcium and riboflavin. Other soy products, including tofu, tempeh and miso also are also excellent sources of riboflavin.

During any type of stress, when enormous amounts of adrenal hormones are required, the need for pantothenic acid, or B5, skyrockets. A lack of it is especially damaging to the adrenal glands, which become enlarged and unable to produce cortisone and other hormones.

"By sparing adrenal hormones, pantothenic acid prevents the adrenal glands from becoming fatigued," said Dr. Ballentine.

The need for vitamin C increases during times of stress. Emotional stress and strain decrease vitamin C levels when one responds to situations by becoming anxious, according to Dr. Ballentine. When one does not become anxious under stress, vitamin C requirements are less. Vitamin C is, consequently, considered useful in preventing stress-related disorders.

Vitamin C is a natural tranquilizer, according to Humphry Osmond, M.D., research psychiatrist at the University of Alabama, and Abram Hoffer, M.D., a British Columbia psychiatrist. They contend that weight for weight, vitamin C is "as active as Haldol," a tranquilizer often prescribed to help people cope with everyday stresses.

An experiment at the U.S. Army Medical Nutrition Laboratories supports their hypothesis. After taking the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), volunteer subjects suffering from marginal deficiencies of vitamin C showed profiles with increased depression and hysteria. In another study of Towers Hospital in Leicester, England, forty male psychiatric patients were given 1 gram of ascorbic acid daily; 40 were given a placebo. Over a six day period, researchers noticed a significant improvement in the depressive, manic and paranoid complexes, with a marked overall improvement in personality functioning. According to researchers, "chronic psychiatric patients would benefit from the administration of ascorbic acid."

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