What the science says
Stress is a tricky subject—there are so many factors involved. Often when we’re chronically stressed, it’s a sign that something is out of balance in our lives and needs to be addressed, such as pressure at work or saying “yes” to too many requests for help with family. Tackling stress involves a multipronged approach that typically involves re-examining commitments and priorities, in addition to sleep, diet, exercise, and self-care. Counselling can also be helpful. Luckily, there are also several supplements that are thought to help. As always, speak with your health care practitioner before visiting your health food store and trying a new supplement, as not every product is right for every person.
The “sunshine vitamin” shines again—this time for mental health, including stress. In a new meta-analysis, researchers found that vitamin D supplementation had positive effects on depression and sleep, as well as other health biomarkers, in those with psychiatric disorders.
A second 2019 study investigated the link between the combination of vitamin D and probiotic supplements and mental health, hormonal, inflammatory, and oxidative stress parameters in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Participants supplemented with a combination of vitamin D and probiotics or a placebo for 12 weeks. Mental health parameters such as depression, anxiety, and stress significantly improved in the supplement group.
Speaking of probiotics, gut health appears to play a huge role in stress. Scientists are still learning about the “gut-brain connection,” but research is promising. For example, a 2019 systematic review that examined 21 articles involving 1,503 subjects concluded that anxiety symptoms may be treatable by regulating intestinal microbiota. Another 2019 study found that “probiotics did affect a psychological variable associated with susceptibility to depression.”
Probiotic supplements, in addition to eating fermented foods, can be a great way to boost the quantity and diversity of healthy bacteria in your gut. Eating fibre-rich foods or taking fibre supplements can also help support your gut microbiome.
A staple at many well-stocked natural health retailers, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and L-theanine supplements are often used to help decrease stress and promote relaxation. A 2019 Korean study investigated the role of a combination GABA/L-theanine supplement in mice and found it helped improve sleep time and sleep quality. The researchers concluded, “GABA/L-theanine mixture has a positive synergistic effect on sleep quality and duration as compared to the GABA or L-theanine alone.”
The power of scent is well known, and many people practise aromatherapy for stress relief. This can include using essential oil rollers or diffusers. A few recent studies on the subject focus on anxiety and sleep quality in kidney dialysis patients, aromatherapy massage for stress levels among surgical nurses, and stress and sleep for women during the postpartum period.
Please note that aromatherapy is not safe for everyone, and it’s important to choose good quality essential oils. While there are many different varieties available, one that is ever-popular for stress is lavender oil.