Ongoing stress has become something many of us live with as we try to find a balance between work, relationships, rest, and recreation. As we look to improve our health and happiness, it is no wonder that a key focus is to take a look at this balance, and see where we can reduce our stress. We might try prioritising our demands and saying "no" more often, bringing a meditation practice into our everyday life, or establishing a good sleep routine.
Despite our best efforts though, sometimes we experience events that are out of our control and result in trauma or heightened stress over a long period of time.
In February 2011 a major earthquake struck in Christchurch, NZ, and 185 people lost their lives. Hundreds of people were displaced, some unable to rebuild their homes, as the land had become unstable. Residents suffered a multitude of aftershocks in the months following.
People in the community did what they could to help each other, and Canterbury University researchers decided to see if there was a way to help residents by reducing the effects of the stress they were dealing with. Based on the triage theory by Ames and McCann¹ ², they conducted a study to see if micronutrients could increase people's resilience in the face of the stress, and reduce their risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder³.
Ninety-one adults who were experiencing high anxiety and stress 2-3 months after the major earthquake were randomly assigned to one of three groups:
- High-dose multivitamin/mineral supplement
- Lower dose multivitamin/mineral supplement*
- Berocca (B vitamins)
They completed questionnaires on stress, anxiety, depression, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress at the beginning of the study and once a week for the next four weeks during the intervention. A fourth non-randomised group from the community did not take any supplements but completed the same questionnaires before and after the intervention.
The three supplement groups all showed vast improvements in symptoms over the four weeks. After the intervention period ended, the higher dose group had significantly greater self-rated improvement in mood, anxiety, and energy than the Berocca group. The difference in anxiety was particularly great, with 52% of those taking the high-dose supplement rating their anxiety levels as "much" to "very much" improved compared to only 17% of those taking Berocca.
The treatment group results were then compared against the control group that had not taken supplements. At the beginning of the study, 65% of the treatment group participants had symptoms of probable PTSD, and by the end of the intervention this had reduced to only 19%. The control group had 44% of people indicating likely PTSD at the start of the study and by the end this had barely changed, at 48%.
These findings were replicated by another study following the devastating floods in Alberta, Canada, in June 2013⁴. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: broad multivitamin/mineral supplement, B vitamin complex, or Vitamin D. Over six weeks, participants in all groups showed significant improvement in their depression, anxiety, and stress. The multivitamin/mineral group and the B vitamin groups had significantly greater reductions in symptoms compared to the vitamin D group.
In light of these findings it is worth considering whether our brains are getting the nutrients they need during times of increased stress.
Vitamins and minerals play a critical role in brain health. Our brains require dozens of micronutrients to be present in sufficient amounts to create and metabolize brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. According to McCann and Ames, ¹ ² the stress response imposes high nutritional needs, which can take precedence over other biological needs in order to help us survive.
If you feel chronically stressed, consider:
Is your brain getting everything it needs for you to thrive?
1. Ames B.N. (2006). Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U S A; 21;103(47):17589-94.
2. McCann J.C. & Ames B.N. (2009). Vitamin K, an example of triage theory: is micronutrient inadequacy linked to diseases of aging?Americal Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 90(4):889-907.
3. Rucklidge et al (2012). Shaken but unstirred? Effects of micronutrients on stress and trauma after an earthquake: RCT evidence comparing formulas and doses. Human Psychopharmacology Clinical & Experimental; 27(5):440-54.
4. Kaplan B.J., Rucklidge J.J., Romijn A.R., Dolph M. (2015). A randomised trial of nutrient supplements to minimise psychological stress after a natural disaster. Psychiatry Research; 228(3):373-9.