Supplements That May Help Ease Chronic Stress
In my opinion, chronic stress is the No. 1 health problem in the
United States today. In our modern society, everyone is under some
level of stress. Chronic stress is a major risk factor in almost all
illnesses, especially high blood pressure, heart disease and
diabetes. Can select dietary supplements help the stress response?
Recent medical research from Germany suggests that fish oil and
phosphatidylserine may help.
Stress initiates an important biological response commonly called
the "fight or flight" reaction in response to a threatening event.
Adrenaline is released enhancing strength and speed. There is an
increase in blood pressure, increased release of neurotransmitters
and heightened awareness. Once the stress event is over, there is an
increase in cortisol and other compounds designed to calm the mind
and body. All mammals exhibit these reactions to acute stress.
However, we are not built to handle chronic stress.
The same chemicals that serve us well in an acute, stressful
situation, if released chronically, increase the risk of high blood
pressure, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Some simple dietary
supplements, like fish oil and PS may blunt the release of chronic
There are three oils that seem to be very important for chronic
stress. Two are fish oils, eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic
acid and one is found in cell membranes, phosphatidylserine.
Research has suggested that EPA, DHA and PS may help memory,
athletic performance and recovery (more for PS than EPA and DHA) and
attention deficit disorder.
For people under chronic stress, these oils may harmonize or
balance the release of stress hormones, like adrenaline and
cortisol. Dietary sources of EPA and DHA are pretty limited --
primarily fish. PS is found in meat, but is concentrated in the
brain, liver and kidneys. Brain, liver and kidneys are not common
foods in the typical American diet. The easiest source for EPA, DHA
and PS are dietary supplements.
Are EPA, DHA and PS beneficial for people under chronic stress?
According to a recent medical study from Germany, the answer is yes.
This study, published this year in the medical journal Nutritional
Research was a blinded, placebo controlled study involving 60 male
volunteers. Half received a supplement containing EPA, DHA and PS
and half received a placebo. Both groups underwent a mental stress
test at the beginning and end of the study.
The results were informative. Those men who had a high stress
response at the beginning of the test and then took EPA, DHA and PS
for 12 weeks had a significantly reduced response to stress by the
end of the study. The data suggests that select dietary supplements
can help reduce the damaging effects of chronic stress.
Now, there are no supplements or medications that can permanently
alleviate the effects of chronic stress. That comes from lifestyle
changes -- basically taking serious time to relax and enjoy life.
However, nature is always bountiful and has provided compounds that
can lower the effects of chronic stress.
* Patrick B. Massey, M.D., Ph.D is medical director for
complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers
Hospital Network. His website is alt-med.org.
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