During an acute stress response, your body undergoes chemical changes that enable you to run from predators or take down prey. It's known as the flight-or-fight response.
Unfortunately, some of those same life-saving chemical reactions used to protect you from danger may also be triggered as a coping response to perceived societal dangers, like dealing with a problem with a coworker or addressing the fear of public speaking. In other words, there are times your body finds it difficult to turn off the stress response.
This chronic stress is one of the biggest challenges faced by U.S. adults. Many report stress has a negative impact on their physical and mental health. In a 2015 survey by the American Psychological Association, results revealed a sizable number felt they were not doing enough to manage their stress levels.
Just half said they engage in stress management activities a few times a month or less and 18% said they never did. Some reported overeating or choosing unhealthy foods in response to stress, while 46% said they lie awake at night because their stress levels were so high.
Robert Sapolsky is a professor at Stanford University. Every year he spends a few weeks in the Kenyan wilderness studying baboons. He discovered those who had higher levels of stressexperienced higher heart rates and blood pressure measurements. The arteries of the baboons under stress were filled with plaque, restricting blood flow to the heart.
This was the first time stress was scientifically linked to deteriorating health in wild primates. As it turns out, stress has the same effect on other primates — for example, us! Fortunately, the damaging effects of stress may be alleviated in part by relaxation, meditation and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).
Another potential trigger for a chronic stress response is suboptimal levels of vitamin D, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids — and there is something we can do about that, too.
Vitamin D Improves Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
Vitamin D, otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin, is really a hormone produced by your body after exposure to UVB rays from the sun. The vitamin plays a significant role in several health conditions in your body. Deficiency in childhood may increase your risk of high blood pressure, and deficiency in adulthood may increase your risk of cancer and all-cause mortality.
Insufficiency and deficiency may lead to a number of other negative health effects, which I cover in my past article, “Top 5 signs of Vitamin D Deficiency.” Vitamin D also has an effect on other daily struggles, including mood and emotional health.
Research published in the Journal of Diabetes Research1 evaluated the effect of vitamin D supplementation on women with Type 2 diabetes who were currently experiencing symptoms of depression. The data revealed a significant decrease in the symptoms of depression and anxiety and an improvement in mental health status with the administration of vitamin D supplementation.
They found the women who had the best response to the supplementation were not taking other medications for mood disorders, such as antidepressants or anxiolytics. Another published study2compared blood results of men and women who suffered from depression to those of a control group.
The researchers found significantly lower levels of calcidiol, a vitamin D analog found in the liver, in those suffering from depression and anxiety than in the control group without mental health conditions.
In an evaluation of the relationship between vitamin D and animal neuronal cells, one research team3 found vitamin D maintains the extracellular mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which may explain the role it plays in neuropsychiatric disorders.
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
A simple math error4 is one reason for the inaccuracies in levels of vitamin D believed to be necessary to maintain good health. The error resulted in underestimation by a factor of 10. If corrected, the official recommendation would become 6000 IUs a day for adults, not 600.
Data published in the Archives of Internal Medicine show 75% of American adults and teens are deficient when a sufficiency level of 30 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) is used. The only way to accurately measure how much vitamin D you need is to have your levels tested, preferably twice a year.
According to Vitamin D Council standards, you are aiming for a level between 60 and 80 ng/mL, with 40 ng/mL being the lowest cutoff for sufficiency.5 In fact, new research in 2018 showed that the optimal levels for cancer prevention are between 60 and 80.6
Magnesium Helps Regulate Neurological Function and Mood
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, playing an important role in the health of nearly every one of your cells. A magnesium deficiency can have a wide range of consequences including constipation, muscle spasms, migraines and high blood pressure.
Sufficient amounts of magnesium can reduce your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and migraines as well as help you sleep better and enjoy greater mental and physical relaxation.
Researchers have found a deficiency in magnesium is associated with the experience of subjective anxiety, and that supplementation may help mediate those symptoms. In a systematic review of research,7 including some unpublished studies, scientists found existing evidence magnesium is beneficial on subjective anxiety in those who are vulnerable to the condition.
As with vitamin D, many Americans are deficient in magnesium, and often unaware of it. Some statistics report the deficiency numbers may be as high as 75% of adult and teenage Americans. Unfortunately, your body uses more magnesium while you're under stress, so a deficiency can create a vicious cycle.
You can counteract this by eating magnesium-rich foods such as Brazil nuts, cashews, dark leafy greens like spinach and swiss chard, avocados and seeds. During particularly stressful times of the year you may want to consider using a supplement, as many of the world's growing soils have become severely depleted.
There is no simple routine blood test to determine your magnesium level so it may be best to get a magnesium red blood cell test to give you a reasonable estimate while tracking and evaluating your symptoms.
Your body requires magnesium for hundreds of biochemical reactions each day. Magnesium also plays a role as a catalyst for serotonin. You’ll discover more about this important mineral and how to optimize your levels in my past article, “Top Reasons to Make Magnesium a Priority.”
Neuroprotective Activity of Omega-3 May Help Anxiety
Your body requires dietary fat to keep your skin, hair and neurological system healthy. Fat helps you absorb certain vitamins and insulates your body to keep you warm. Although it’s harmful to eat too much of one or not enough of other types, without healthy fat your body doesn’t work properly.
Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are essential, meaning you must eat them since your body doesn't make them. The two main types are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Although both are essential, it's also crucial to good health that you eat them in the right ratio.
After fat tissue, the brain has the highest concentration of fat. Also called lipids, omega-6 and omega-3 PUFAs are well represented in the brain. In one literature review8 scientists focused on addressing the question of the impact PUFAs have on anxiety and depression, an area of nutritional neuroscience.
The researchers found evidence to support that a low intake of omega-3 fatty acid is associated with depression and anxiety, including studies of subjects diagnosed with depression or anxiety who presented with low levels of omega-3 and high levels of omega-6.
Using an omega-3 index, a measurement of omega-3 on your red blood cells, researchers have been able to identify a range that may reduce your risk of heart disease. The reduction in inflammatory response associated with higher levels of omega-3 may also reduce symptoms of asthma and reduce your risk of Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and depression.
Vitamin D, Vitamin K-2, Magnesium and Omega-3 Work Together
Your body is a complex organism that relies on what you eat to function at its best. Without a well-balanced intake of vitamins, minerals, fats and other nutrients, your body doesn’t have the tools it needs to function, and disease may result. But, none of these essential nutrients works in a vacuum. In other words, many of them need others to perform their jobs.
For optimal functioning you'll want to ensure you get vitamin D3, vitamin K2 MK-7, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids to protect your brain health and prevent depression and anxiety. GrassrootsHealth is offering a dual test kit to measure your omega-3 and vitamin D3 levels. Participation in this project is giving researchers the opportunity to learn how these two nutrients function together.
I offer this test kit as a convenience since I don't benefit or participate in the research. Proceeds go directly to GrassrootsHealth. However, I believe deficiencies in these nutrients have a significant effect on health, and I’ve encouraged our staff to use the project to determine their best supplementation levels.
The authors of two studies identified interactions between vitamin D and magnesium. The results reveal that low magnesium levels negatively impact your ability to use vitamin D, even when you have adequate levels in your body. By simply consuming optimal amounts of magnesium, you could lower your risk of vitamin D deficiency, thus reducing your dependency on vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin with significant influence over your health. Vitamin K2 works in tandem with vitamin D and magnesium to impact bone and heart health. While it is not integral to boosting your mood, if you are taking a vitamin D3 supplement, it's necessary to include vitamin K2 to reduce the potential for atherosclerosis.
Vitamin D helps improve bone development by increasing your absorption of calcium while vitamin K2 directs the calcium into your skeleton, preventing it from being deposited in the arteries.
A growing body of evidence shows that vitamin D plays a crucial role in disease prevention and maintaining optimal health. There are about 30,000 genes in your body, and vitamin D affects nearly 3,000 of them, as well as vitamin D receptors located throughout your body.
According to one large-scale study, having optimal vitamin D levels can slash your risk of cancer and can help prevent at least 16 different types of cancer, including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, prostate and skin cancers.
Vitamin D from sun exposure also radically decreases your risk of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) and Type 1 diabetes. Sun exposure also helps prevent osteoporosis, which is a significant concern for women in particular.
Magnesium is involved in the regulation of blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, which is important for the prevention of many chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes and heart disease and dementia. It also supports your brain and heart health via other mechanisms.
It supports healthy heart function by relaxing your blood vessels and normalizing blood pressure, for example. Magnesium also has anti-inflammatory activity, support your endothelial function, and the function of your muscles and nerves, including the action of your heart muscle.
Low magnesium has been linked to a higher risk for hypertension, cardiovascular disease, arrhythmias, stroke and sudden cardiac death. According to one scientific review, which included studies dating as far back as 1937, low magnesium actually appears to be the greatest predictor of heart disease, and other recent research shows even subclinical magnesium deficiency can compromise your cardiovascular health.
Meanwhile, recent research suggests high doses (4 grams) of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA may help improve healing after a heart attack. Other benefits of omega-3 fats include prevention of lupus and Parkinson’s disease, decreased anxiety, healthier and stronger bones, as well as fighting fats in the body.
However, you can’t tell by looking in a mirror if you are deficient in vitamin D, magnesium or omega-3s. The only real way to know if you are deficient in these nutrients is to get tested.
The Vitamin D*action Project has truly demonstrated the value measurement can have on public health, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the Magnesium*PLUS Focus Project will have the same impact. As in earlier projects, once the study of a community is completed, all that information can be used to push for public health recommendations that will benefit everyone.
With the data from this project, individuals will be able to see what works for them, and, researchers will be able to demonstrate just to what extent health care costs may be reduced simply by getting people into an optimal range.