I recently offered some nutrition tips for kids as they prepare for the new academic year. However, September is not only ‘back to school’ for kids, but it can also mean ‘back to the daily grind’ for busy parents and teachers too. The return to work after a summer break can be quite stressful for many. Fortunately a few nutritional strategies may help to cushion the blow.
A recent Health and Safety Executive report states that stress is one of the most common types of work-related illness, with teachers, healthcare workers and social workers most commonly affected (1).
There are in fact numerous nutritional strategies that can help support stressed workers. For example, choosing foods and adopting eating patterns to keep blood sugar levels stable can help to manage mood and anxiety levels. Below is a quick guide to some of the most effective nutritional strategies for dealing with work-related stress.
Foods to include:
Including protein with each meal will go a long way towards helping your body cope with the demands of work stresses. In fact, starting your day with a protein-rich breakfast such as eggs or yoghurt can actually help control your blood sugar levels for the rest of the day, helping to keep you mood and energy levels more stable.
Keeping healthy snacks at hand – fruit, nuts or even protein shakes are easy to store at the office – will also help to manage your blood sugar levels as well as providing nutrients such as zinc and vitamin C which are in great demand at times of stress.
Finally, keep hydrated with plenty of water, herbal teas and decaffeinated teas throughout the day. Dehydration can affect mood and concentration, making it more difficult to cope with the everyday demands of the office.
Foods to avoid:
Alcohol is used by many as a stress reliever, and a couple of glasses of wine in the evening seems harmless enough after a hard day at work. Unfortunately, alcohol can in fact deplete levels of vitamins and minerals that are needed in times of stress, and over time it alters levels of stress hormones such as cortisol (2).
Caffeine is a stimulant and can cause irritability. Many office workers habitually turn to caffeine for a mid-afternoon boost when energy is flagging. Unfortunately stimulants such as caffeine place additional pressure on the adrenal glands, important bodily organs which we rely on in times of stress.
Sugar can impair the function of out ‘stress buffers’, the adrenal glands. Eating sugary foods means that the adrenals must work harder to keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Nutrients for stress: B, C and Omega-3
Nutritional therapists often recommend B Vitamins alongside Vitamin C in order to help the body to cope with stress. In fact a recent study has found that a simple B Vitamin supplement may provide welcome relief to stressed workers (3).
The study was a double-blind, placebo controlled trial. To determine whether a high dose B vitamin supplement could improve mood and psychological wellbeing linked with chronic work stress, researchers supplemented 60 men and women with a high dose B Vitamin or placebo for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, those who had taken the B Vitamins reported significantly lower levels of stress symptoms such as depressed mood, confusion and personal strain.
The B vitamins are needed in higher amounts when the body is under stress, as the adrenal glands require these nutrients to function effectively. B vitamins are also involved in the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and acetylcholine which help to ward off feelings of anxiety.
A recent review of functional foods in the management of psychological stress concluded that the most promising nutritional intervention in relieving stress is high dose Vitamin C with omega-3 fish oils (4). Well-controlled human trials have found that high dose sustained-release vitamin C can lower the effect of stress on blood pressure and improve recovery time after stressful periods (5). Omega-3 supplementation has also been found in several human studies to lower the stress response and decrease levels of stress hormones (6,7).
Many of us have suffered with work-related stress at one time or another, and this type of ongoing stress has a serious effect on wellbeing and quality of life. Returning to long days at the office after the summer holidays can be a daunting prospect for the best of us. Choosing the correct nutrition might just help make that transition a little easier.
Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC
1. HSE (2011) Stress and Psychological Disorders. www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/index.htm
2. Badrick et al (2008) The Relationship between Alcohol Consumption and Cortisol Secretion in an Aging Cohort. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 March; 93(3): 750–757.
3. Stough C et al (2011) The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress. Hum Psychopharmacol 26:7 470-476
4.Hamer et al (2005) The role of functional foods in the psychobiology of health and disease. Nutr Res Rev 18, 77–88.
5. Brody et al (2002) A randomized controlled trial of high dose ascorbic acid for reduction of blood pressure, cortisol, and subjective responses to psychological stress. Psychopharmacology 159, 319–324.
5. Sawazaki et al (1999) The effect of docosahexaenoic acid on plasma catecholamine concentrations and glucose tolerance during long-lasting psychological stress: a double-blind placebo-controlled study. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology (Tokyo) 45, 655–665.
7. Delarue et al (2003) Fish oil prevents the adrenal activation elicited
by mental stress in healthy men. Diab & Metab 29,289–295.