It would seem there has been a dramatic rise in anxiety and stress levels generally, especially since the pandemic started. Whilst it can be hard to change the way we are feeling, the body’s response to it can be supported.
There are certain nutrients and herbs that are great for working with the stress response, helping to alleviate feelings of anxiety, and encouraging feelings of calm.
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five recommended nutrients and herbs to help calm the body.
Ashwagandha has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years and has much robust research to support its use especially for anxiety.
It is an adaptogenic herb, meaning it supports the body through the stress response and adapts to its needs. Ashwagandha is a gentle, but effective herb and is great for alleviating anxiety, aiding restful sleep, and calming the nervous system generally.
It’s not available in foods, so needs to be taken in supplement form.
As with all nutrients, they perform several roles in the body. Vitamin B6 is responsible for over 100 different enzyme reactions. Crucially B6 is responsible for helping to produce two key neurotransmitters and hormones which help stabilise mood: dopamine, and serotonin. From serotonin, the sleep hormone melatonin is made, so vitamin B6 plays a key role in helping to instil calm.
As with all B vitamins, they’re water soluble and therefore not stored in the body. The good news, however, is that vitamin B6 is found in many different foods including beef liver, tuna, salmon, chickpeas, dark leafy greens, and poultry. This list is by no means exhaustive, so having a varied diet will certainly help to ensure you’re having sufficient vitamin B6.
Officially called Melissa officinalis, lemon balm provides a very gentle sedative and calming effect. It might also help to fight certain bacteria and viruses.
As with many herbs, it has been traditionally used, especially in its native Mediterranean region since at least the 16th century. Today, it’s mainly used as both a sleep aid and digestive tonic and can be taken as a supplement, in a balm or lotion, but frequently as a tea.
Some research seems to show that lemon balm works on the calming brain neurotransmitter GABA, helping alleviate anxiety and mood disorders.
We can’t talk about calming nutrients without a big nod to magnesium. Often referred to as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ magnesium is known to support the stress response in the body and helping calm the central nervous system. Magnesium works in tandem with vitamin B6 in many biochemical reactions within the body, but particularly in producing our calming neurotransmitters.
Interestingly, signs of magnesium deficiency include panic attacks, brain fog, feeling tired but wired, insomnia and lack of concentration; all symptoms we would frequently associate with being stressed. Magnesium also helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
There are a number of different forms of magnesium which can make it confusing when choosing supplements, but the glycinate form is especially great for sleep and anxiety. However, magnesium is frequently deficient in the heavily refined typical western diet but is rich in dark leafy green. So, load up your plate with kale, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Magnesium is also found in beans, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.
The herb passionflower is incredibly effective at bringing calm to the brain and helps lower brain activity generally, which in turn, aids sleep.
A common symptom of anxiety is a nervous stomach and passionflower seems to really help. Indeed, in ancient times it was often use for digestive upsets perhaps before they realised stomach problems were often caused by anxiety.
It’s possible to find some passionflower tea, but it’s much easier to take in supplement form, especially if you’re really on the edge.
Clearly nutrients all work synergistically together so there is no problem with having a wide range in the diet or in supplement form, such as a high-quality multivitamin. When it comes to herbs, it’s always best to try one first to see how it suits you. And always remember that what works for one person, may not work for another, so keep trying the many options available until you find relief from your symptoms.
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