lifestyle

Medically Reviewed

Live Your Best Life: Which Vitamins and Supplements Manage Stress

Stress and tension can seem like unwanted side effects of our modern lives. Learn about 4 vitamins & supplements scientifically-proven to manage stress.

Millions of people are living in a state of stress. It’s become normal to accept tension as a consequence of modern living. But constantly feeling stressed, stuck in “fight or flight” mode, can take a toll on your health. The more overwhelming that life gets, the easier it is to justify coping mechanisms that can further contribute to health challenges.

The good news is that even with everyday busyness, stress doesn’t have to be a defining factor of your life. Nothing replaces the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Your body needs nourishing food, hydration, regular physical activity, and plenty of good-quality sleep. When you want to bolster your efforts to be proactive with tension and stress, some nutrients and dietary supplements may help support these healthy goals. In this article, we’ll explore the evidence behind 18 vitamins and supplements and their impact on how the body handles stress.

Unchecked stress can take years off your life

Scientists have been studying the impact of stress on many areas of life, and the results are pretty consistent: it’s not great for longevity, well-being, or happiness. Diet alone can’t prevent stress, but researchers have found that stressed individuals don’t eat as healthfully. Over time, a diet that contains fewer nutrients can impact health in other ways that extend beyond stress, which can have even more direct effects on health. People who are stressed aren’t as physically active either, even though exercise can help improve how people handle stressful situations.

We can’t entirely get rid of stress, but having healthy ways to cope is essential to reduce how much stress takes a toll on health.

18 vitamins & supplements for healthy stress management

Your body needs nutrients to fuel virtually everything, including the cellular processes that create the neurotransmitters and hormones that manage the stress response. Vitamins and other supplements can play a role in supporting these physical processes, although not all of them are clearly understood or backed by the same level of evidence.

Here’s what we know about 18 of the most frequently used supplements for healthy stress management:

1. Vitamin B complex

B vitamins are a group of water-soluble nutrients that play important roles in energy metabolism, DNA health, nervous system balance, and more. They’re important for helping the body cells effectively communicate with each other. Several B vitamins contribute enzymes or crucial metabolic support for the body systems that regulate mood, energy, reproduction, physical balance, and stress response.

A meta-analysis of 12 studies found that supplementing with B-complex vitamins helped with overall stress, especially in those who were deficient or were experiencing more stress-related mood effects. In a 3-month study of 60 people, B vitamin supplementation helped to support a better response to work-related stress and tension.

Plenty of foods contain B vitamins, but plant-based diets are typically low in specific nutrients like vitamin B12. People who have digestive challenges may not absorb B vitamins efficiently, even if they eat enough of them. Dietary supplements are often recommended by healthcare providers to support a balanced intake. B-complex contains the group of B vitamins together, and most B vitamins are also found in multivitamins or prenatal supplements. Even though B vitamins are not stored in the body, it’s a good idea to check with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplements.

2. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an important antioxidant nutrient that helps to protect the body’s cells from oxidative stress. While it’s a necessary vitamin, on its own vitamin C does not directly address stress. It is, however, associated with vitality and general good health, which do help the body respond to stressful situations.

A randomized controlled trial of 214 healthy adults found that vitamin C supplements helped support attention, focus, and motivation at work. These qualities can make it easier to address a busy life, but on their own, don’t reduce stress. Another randomized controlled trial of 42 high school students compared 500 mg of vitamin C to placebo. The vitamin C group experienced more resilience, which supported better stress responses. A diet rich in vitamin C promotes a healthy mood and resilience to stress, even if C is not, in itself, stress-reducing.

There are plenty of food sources of vitamin C. Orange juice and citrus fruits are some of the most popular, but bell peppers have even more vitamin C per serving. Broccoli, strawberries, and Brussels sprouts are also abundant sources. Vitamin C supplements can also support daily intake when needed.



3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an important fat-soluble nutrient for a healthy immune system, but it also plays a role in a balanced stress response. A study found that taking vitamin D supplements was associated with a better response to stress. The group who received no vitamin D experienced a more prolonged negative effect after stressful situations compared to the group who took vitamin D.

Other research has found that when vitamin D is paired with either probiotics or omega-3 fatty acids, it supports a healthy outlook, resilience, and a balanced stress response. However, these effects were only noted in people whose vitamin D levels were too low and who had other hormone challenges. Before taking vitamin D supplements, always check with your healthcare provider and get your levels tested.

4. Magnesium

Magnesium is an important mineral for bone health and muscular wellness, but it is also linked to stress in what is known as “the vicious circle concept.” Magnesium deficiency or inadequate intake has been linked to stress-related symptoms. But the vicious circle comes into play when, as research has found, stress itself leads to magnesium losses, further lowering the net level of magnesium in the body. Magnesium is also associated with healthy sleep support. If you’re not getting enough high-quality sleep, it’s a lot harder to be resilient in stressful situations.

Magnesium is found in many foods, though in many cases these are foods we don’t get enough of, including . pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts, and black beans. You can also take magnesium supplements, but check with your doctor first.

5. Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that is needed for a variety of things, from immune system balance to sense of smell. It’s also related to mood and resilience. In a 12-week double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study of 125 people, zinc, vitamin D, a combination of the two, or a placebo were compared for their effects on mood and perception of stress. Zinc, with or without vitamin D, was effective at supporting healthy mood responses compared with placebo. A systematic review of studies that looked at mineral supplements found that zinc was associated with healthy cognitive and emotional function.

Zinc is found in many foods, including beef, oysters, pumpkin seeds, pork, turkey, and cheese. It’s also commonly included in multivitamins, prenatal vitamins, and standalone zinc supplements.

6. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen with a long history of use in the tradition of Ayurveda. Ashwagandha helps the body to respond to stressful stimuli by supporting resilience and feelings of calm. In a small study of stressed, but healthy, adults, ashwagandha performed better than placebo at supporting a statistically significant reduction in anxious feelings and reductions of morning cortisol measurements. Since cortisol is considered the “stress” hormone, this can indicate that it helps modulate the body’s stress management network, including the brain and adrenal glands.

It may even be able to balance cortisol in the context of other stressors, like supporting physical health parameters in people who are also overwhelmed with life, although more research is needed to confirm the results. Ashwagandha supplements have also been found to reduce perceptions of stress compared to a placebo.

A study of 64 people with long-term stress found that after 60 days, the ashwagandha group experienced a 44% reduction in perceived stress compared to only 5.5% in the placebo group. Likewise, the ashwagandha group had significant improvements in a general health questionnaire, with improvements in areas relating to sleep, tension, and mood-related wellness. The placebo group only had minor changes and even decreases in general wellness. Other studies have found that ashwagandha may support sleep quality and sleep time, which plays a role in how well a person can adapt to circumstances, including stress.

Ashwagandha can be taken as a dietary supplement and is generally safe, but check with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements.

7. Rhodiola

Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb that supports resilience, energy, mood, and healthy immune and oxidation responses. Even though rhodiola has been associated with healthy stress responses, researchers have not fully figured out how or why it works. There are theories that it supports communication at a cellular level and that it also supports systemic balance in the face of stress or challenges. In a small study of 80 mildly stressed people, half of the participants received Rhodiola and the other half received no intervention. This was not a placebo-controlled, blinded study, although researchers believe that the benefits noted from Rhodiola—self-reported improvements in anger, stress, anxious feelings, and low mood—were not due to a placebo effect because they gradually had symptom improvement over the 2-week study period. Larger, blinded, and longer studies are needed.

An exploratory study of 118 adults experiencing symptoms of burnout found that Rhodiola was impactful on quality of life as early as one week and ongoing throughout the 12-week study period. There was no placebo group, randomization, blinding, so while the effects of the study noted improvements in stress and burnout, higher-quality clinical trials need to be done to see if the effect can be replicated with blinding and control groups.

Rhodiola can be taken as an herbal supplement, but check with your medical provider before starting it or other new supplements.

8. Valerian Root

Valerian root is an herbal supplement that is typically used for healthy relaxation and sleep support. Its name comes from the Latin word, valere, which means to be strong or well. The words “valor” and “value” are also derived from the same root word. Valerian root is thought to work by interacting with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that helps calm the brain by blocking excitatory signals.

High-quality sleep is essential for health. This is especially true when you’re facing stressful circumstances, yet stress can lead to problems falling or staying asleep. A systematic review of 16 studies, including information from 1,093 people, found that valerian root could support sleep quality without causing unwanted side effects. The studies in the review had some lower quality evidence, but overall, valerian root is promising as natural support for stress. More studies are needed to confirm the data.

9. Bacopa

Bacopa monnieri is an herb that is commonly used in Ayurveda. It is believed to support healthy cognition, stress resilience, mood, and general well-being by interacting with dopamine and serotonin, though much of the information gathered thus far comes from preliminary studies. A small double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study of 17 healthy adults found that bacopa was able to support positive mood, cortisol balance, and overall adaptogenic effects in the context of stressful cognitive challenges. Larger studies are needed to replicate the results.

10. L-Theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid that is found in various types of tea, typically in less than 50 mg per serving. It is also available as a dietary supplement, with average serving sizes of 100-200 mg. Theanine has been associated with healthy stress responses, including supporting mental well-being and positive outlook. In a study that had adults perform stressful tasks, theanine was found to support healthy responses, resilience, and cognition.

Another study of 34 healthy adults investigated multitasking and cognitive stress and how theanine performed compared to a placebo. The study was double-blind and placebo-controlled, and it found that people who took theanine had better stress responses compared to the placebo group. Even three hours after the stressful event, cortisol in those who took theanine was balanced compared to the placebo group.

11. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an herb thought to help with calmness and relaxation. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 80 people, lemon balm supported better feelings of calm and sleep quality under stressful circumstances compared to a placebo.

Another study of 20 healthy people found that lemon balm supported healthy cognition, mood, and feelings of calm, although it did decrease the speed at which timed tasks could be performed. Lemon balm is typically paired with valerian root or other herbal sleep support, yet on its own, it may have inhibitory effects on neurotransmitters that make you feel awake.

Other research in young adults experiencing stressful conditions found that lemon balm was associated with resilience and healthy tension responses. Lemon balm has the potential to interact with other supplements or medications, so always check with your doctor before starting to take it.

12. Amino acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are 20 different amino acids that are used to make proteins throughout the body. Amino acids are used to make hormones, neurotransmitters, and other signaling molecules. They play an important role in system balance, including how the body is able to cope with and respond to stressful situations. The best way to ensure that your body has enough amino acids is to consume a healthy amount of protein. Protein types contain differing amounts of amino acids, so dietary variety is important.

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 59 adults found that after 12 weeks, amino acid intake led to a better perception of quality of life and overall stress response compared to the placebo group. Even if you consume plenty of protein, your digestive system requires plenty of enzymes and stomach acid to properly break down proteins for use. Stress can affect digestion, which can lead to poorer nutrient absorption.

While you can get plenty of amino acids from foods, including on a plant-based diet, you can help your body’s ability to use them by supporting healthy digestion. Chew your food thoroughly and eat in as much of a relaxed state as possible. You can also consider taking digestive enzymes with meals.

13. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that the brain produces to help regulate the circadian rhythm. Many factors can affect how much the brain makes melatonin: shift work, bright light exposure later in the day, genetics, and even cortisol from stress can affect melatonin synthesis. If the internal body clock becomes dysregulated, this can affect how well the body can cope with stress. Sleep is an important factor in resilience and quality of life.

Studies have found that melatonin supplements work the same way that the brain’s version works. Supplements can help support sleep onset, and in some cases, may even help with quality of rest. A review of 7 studies considered how melatonin supplements impacted sleep affected by mood-related issues. Melatonin supported faster time to sleep, but did not affect sleep quality when compared to a placebo. Since reduced sleep time can have a direct impact on mood, melatonin supports the body’s stress response by helping with healthy sleep onset, which could lead to more sleep time. The downside is that melatonin may not work for everyone, and supplements can vary widely in their concentration. Always ask your healthcare provider before taking any supplements, especially those designed to support sleep.

14. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fats are essential for many aspects of health. While many studies have looked at whether they can affect mood, the evidence is low. Omega-3s are essential for healthy cell communication, immune system responses, and energy distribution, each of which can directly affect how the body manages the stress response. Some research has found a link between omega-3s, resilience, and easing tension by supporting a healthy cortisol response. Other studies have not been able to repeat those results.

Omega-3s are found in salmon and other coldwater fatty fish, as well as fish oil supplements. For people who follow plant-based diets, vegan omega-3s are available, sourced from algae.

15. Probiotics

Probiotics have received a lot of buzz for gut health support, and the microbiome does have a direct connection between the brain and nervous system. A review of evidence found that probiotics may have a beneficial effect for resilience and tension relief, although more studies are needed to know how these good bacteria impact long-term versus short-term periods of stress.

A meta-analysis of 10 trials concluded that probiotics are able to support a healthy outlook and resilience when paired with traditional mood-balancing approaches. More research is needed to know how probiotics affect specific outcomes and scenarios, although the current knowledge is positive.

Probiotics can come from fermented foods, like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi. There are also many types of probiotic supplements available. Prebiotic foods and supplements also support a dynamic gut microbiota by nourishing the good gut bacteria. You can support a healthy microbiome by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The more diverse your dietary choices are, the better your microbial diversity. Before taking probiotic supplements, check with your healthcare provider. While they’re generally safe, in some cases, they may be contraindicated.

16. Holy basil

Holy basil, also known as Tulsi, is an Ayurvedic adaptogen herb. A study of 100 people compared the effects of holy basil to placebo for eight weeks. Those who took holy basil had buffered stress responses and healthy cortisol balance, as well as objective and subjective improvements to stress. The placebo group did not have the same results. Holy basil may even support healthy sleep, but more research is needed to fully understand how sleep is impacted.

Another study found that holy basil helped to support healthy stress responses, although the evidence was lower quality. Overall, more research is needed to understand how holy basil affects the stress response in both the short and long term.

17. Ginseng

Panax ginseng is one type of ginseng reputed to support healthy stress and mood responses. It is believed to enhance processes that regulate calm in the body, but research results have been mixed, with some studies finding no benefits for regulating stress. Another study did find that after four weeks of taking it, Panax ginseng was able to support a healthy perception of well-being.

Overall, ginseng works by supporting the HPA axis (which includes the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands), the neuroendocrine network that regulates the body’s stress response. While it’s possible that ginseng can support balance in the body’s stress modulation network, more studies are needed from human clinical trials to fully understand both short and long term effects.

18. Cordyceps

Cordyceps is a type of mushroom used as a supplement in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Many claims have been made about how cordyceps can support healthy aging, energy, immune system wellness, and testosterone balance—but most of these have not been backed by scientific studies.

What we do know is that the bioactive components found in cordyceps have the potential to support a healthy outlook and mental well-being, but human studies have not been done to test this theory. Cordyceps may also support healthy energy and resilience, but this comes from preclinical research and still needs to be tested in full-scale studies.

Cordyceps can interact with some medications and other herbs or supplements, so consult your doctor before starting to take this or other supplements. People who have any immune conditions should not take cordyceps, unless directed by a healthcare provider, because the active ingredients can impact how immune cells communicate.

Curated stress management packs

If you are looking to support a healthy stress response system, it may feel overwhelming to pick and choose supplements. Care/of has combined research and convenience with a “stress-less” vitamin pack: your daily supplements for healthy stress support, digestive wellness, and essential fatty acids in one convenient pouch.

Other Ways to Naturally Overcome Stress

The best way to support your body’s resilience is to focus on your baseline everyday needs: nutritious food, hydration, sleep, and exercise. Having a proactive plan for how to handle stress when it comes your way is also important. Consider the following:

  • Focus on the moment: Mindfulness and meditation, especially when they incorporate periods of focused, deep breathing, can help your body stay balanced even under periods of stress.

  • Get outdoors: Nature exposure, natural sunlight, and fresh air are all beneficial for helping a tense body to unwind. Even just looking at nature through a window or in photos can enhance the parasympathetic nervous system’s ability to help restore internal calm. You can also bring plants indoors or cultivate other ways to engage with fresh air, sunlight, and the soothing presence of greenery.

  • Disconnect from technology: Smartphones, the internet, and social media can all be beneficial, but they can also fuel stress (or be the sole cause of it). If you don’t regularly take breaks from screens or being constantly connected, unplugging for a set amount of time can help to soothe tension or create space in your mind. This is especially true for leaving work at the office and not engaging in work-related messaging during non-work time.

The Bottom Line

Everyone handles stress differently. What triggers stress for someone may not bother you. But when you want to support resilience and enhance your body’s ability to manage stressors when they do show up, you need a broad spectrum approach. A healthy diet and lifestyle are essential, but some vitamins and supplements may also help your body to manage tension in a healthy way.

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