You probably already know that B vitamins are essential for proper nerve transmission, healthy brain cells and converting food into energy for the body, but they’re also needed in higher amounts as your stress levels increase. For example, stress hormones like cortisol can actually rob the body of B vitamins—using them up to support stress responses like muscle tension and increased blood pressure levels instead of nurturing the body. During times of stress, that’s when we need to be even more intentional about getting the nutrients we need, including those all-important B vitamins.
Elizabeth Somer, R.D., a nutritionist from Salem, Oregon, says that it can be a double whammy for the body if the foods we eat during stressful times aren’t nutritious. To reiterate, stress depletes nutrients—including the B vitamins—more quickly. Even a slight vitamin B deficiency resulting from a few days of eating junk foods, says Somer, upsets the nervous system and compounds stress. Foods like organic eggs, organic grassfed beef, bananas, wild-caught fish, avocados, organic chicken and dark green veggies, however, are loaded with B vitamins and are much better for us, adds Somer.
While everyday stress can take its toll, extreme stress can be even more hazardous. Here’s why: approximately 1,400 chemical changes happen as stress hormones use up important nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin A and magnesium. Incidentally, those aren’t the only detrimental effects that stress hormones can have. They can also cause carb cravings by lowering levels of serotonin, the calming hormone, which can lead to an unhealthy weight as well as unhealthy eating patterns.
And just for the record, here’s a rundown on B vitamins and why they're so important:
- B1 helps support a healthy nervous system, mental outlook and mood as well as memory and concentration. It also is essential in converting glucose into energy.
- B2 supports the metabolism of fats and carbs as well as proper cellular processes.
- B3 supports the function of a healthy nervous system and digestive system. It also helps the body release energy from carbs, assisting in healthy blood sugar levels.
- B5 supports a healthy immune system, allowing for a greater capacity to combat stress.
- B6 helps the body make neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which support a healthy immune system and mental outlook.
- B7 supports healthy glucose function and can support a healthy mood, while fighting stress.
- B9 is necessary for energy. The body is unable to produce folic acid on its own, and a shortfall can result in unhealthy mental outlook, plunging energy levels and unhealthy stress levels.
- B12 is often referred to as the “memory vitamin,” because the brain depends on it to support mental clarity, healthy neurological function and to combat stress. It is also important in the creation of the sleep hormone melatonin and the mood hormone serotonin.
Speaking of the B vitamins. . .researchers from the Australian National University found that long-term supplementation—24 months—of daily folic acid and vitamin B12 fought brain stress and unhealthy brain inflammation, while promoting improved cognitive function, especially in immediate and delayed memory performance.
The researchers determined that stress results in unhealthy inflammation to neuron structures in the brain and inhibits electrical and chemical transmissions between nerves required to form new memories and maintain a healthy level of cognitive function. They also noted that the body uses B vitamins, especially folic acid and B12, to fight unhealthy brain inflammation and to ensure proper brain communications. (The entire family of B vitamins has been shown to lower the impact of brain stress and inflammation, however.) Their study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
So, if you’re stressed out, get some relief. Make sure you get enough B vitamins.