The following content was originally published on Metagenics by Michael Stanclift, ND.
We can deal with stress in many ways. My colleagues and I use a variety of lifestyle techniques and herbs to help patients manage their stress, but today I want to share some of my “go-tos” and why they are among my favorites. When it comes to ease of use, minimal side effects, and fast results, I like to use magnesium, vitamin B6, and green tea for my patients with occasional stress, and here’s why.
Magnesium is a surprisingly common deficiency, and the symptoms of magnesium deficiency overlap with stress. Feeling nervous, fatigued, irritable, weak, tense muscles, upset stomach, and/or headaches? That’s possibly a magnesium deficiency. What’s interesting about magnesium is that being stressed over a long period can deplete it, so it becomes a downward spiral. Magnesium is important for our body to make and use serotonin, that neurotransmitter that’s associated with feeling content and happy. Magnesium also has actions involving GABA, a calming neurotransmitter—lots of other substances (such as alcohol) act on GABA receptors in our brain. I haven’t ever seen anyone’s judgment seriously impaired by taking magnesium, but in some people, at the right dose (myself included) they appeared to have that happy one-drink kind of buzz… Not bad for a mineral. Supplementing magnesium can decrease cortisol levels, improve heart rate variability (a measure of how well you “rest and digest”), and in one study provided up to 45% relief from stress from those with the highest baseline levels.1 Next, let’s meet magnesium’s buddy, vitamin B6.
I call vitamin B6 magnesium’s buddy because it helps magnesium get into our cells. In fact, adding B6 to magnesium for stress relief can improve the effect by up to 24% compared to magnesium alone. B6 is also important for stress relief because it’s involved in our brain’s ability to make neurotransmitters that influence our moods like serotonin, norepinephrine (noradrenalin), dopamine, and GABA. A very simplified view of these neurotransmitters is to say serotonin is associated with satisfaction; norepinephrine is about excitement; dopamine relates to motivation, rewards, and movement; and GABA is related to feelings of relaxation. So it follows that vitamin B6’s being involved with these neurotransmitters would have an impact on our moods. In fact, a study of women over 40 years old in Japan revealed those with low vitamin B6 intake reported significantly worse moods than those getting higher B6 levels.
Lastly, I really like using green tea to help with stress. I drink it regularly, even use it in supplement form, and have turned many patients onto it. Green tea can help with stress because it can take the place of another caffeinated drink, such as coffee. Because it has some caffeine, it can provide that energy boost we’re looking for, but the other components in green tea bring along benefits as well. Green tea is famous for also having the hard-to-pronounce epigallocatechin-3 gallate (EGCG) and l-theanine. EGCG is a fantastic and versatile antioxidant with a number of health benefits and can improve cognition and neuropsychology. EGCG has calming effects and can increase relaxing (alpha/beta) and focused (theta) brain waves. L-theanine, an amino acid found in high amounts in green tea, can reduce the spike in blood pressure seen from stress. A randomized placebo-controlled trial giving pure l-theanine to healthy middle-aged participants showed improvements in sleep measures and verbal fluency, a psychological test that challenges multiple functions of our brains. A study comparing standard and reduced-caffeine green tea found the reduced-caffeine version produced greater stress reduction and better sleep quality—no real surprise for regular caffeine drinkers.
Although there are a number of tools I have used with patients to help with stress, these are my favorite “first lines” to use because they’re gentle yet powerful, patients tolerate them well, they tend to work quickly, and patients can stay on them long-term, if needed. Also, these have pretty wide dosage windows, meaning we can dial in the dose for the patient and the situation. Sensitive folks can take low doses, and others can take four times as much and still tolerate it well, without impairments or losing their mental sharpness. Magnesium, B6, and green tea can be used separately, but I often use them in combination for the best results.
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