Anti-Stress Nutritional Program

  • Type of Stress

  • Common Stress Factors
  • Various Therapies for Stress

  • Anti-Stress Nutrient Program

  • In the future, stress may come to be seen as the primary contributing cause of most disease. Research continues to link stress to more and more symptoms and diseases, both acute and chronic. Stress is inevitable in today’s world and, of course, we need a certain amount to function. The key is to be able to manage our level of stress.

    What is stress? It is our reaction to our external environment as well as our inner thoughts and feelings. Stress in essence is our body’s natural response to dangers, the “fight or flight” mechanisms—the body’s preparedness to do battle or flee from danger. This response involves a complex biochemical-hormonal process, which we will discuss shortly.

    Stress in today’s world is mainly a result of continuous high demands that are imposed on us by work, family, and lifestyle, or that we impose upon ourselves through our desire to accomplish. Mild stress acts as a useful motivation for activity and productivity. But when the stresses in our life are too extreme or too many, this may result in all kinds of problems. Some people consistently overreact to their day-to-day life. However, most of us might be overwhelmed only when we have an increased intensity or number of stresses, such as excessive demands all at once leading to a continuous feeling of not having enough time or energy to do what we feel we must do. Others respond stressfully to intense emotional experiences, personal changes, extreme weather, or overexposure to electronic stimuli, all of which can weaken us.

    Stress can generate many symptoms and diseases, mediated by changes in immune function, hormonal response, and biochemical reactions, which then influence body functions in our digestive tract and our cardiovascular, neurological, or musculoskeletal systems. A wide variety of problems such as headache, backache, and infection, even heart disease or cancer in the long-term, may result.

    Our brain and pituitary gland respond to stress by releasing adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This stimulates our adrenals to increase production of the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Other hormones that affect metabolism and water balance may also be released. Epinephrine and norepinephrine, known as the adrenalines or catecholamines, are the main stimuli to the stress response. They stimulate the heart, increase blood pressure and heart rate, and constrict certain blood vessels to increase blood flow to the muscles and brain and to decrease it to the digestive tract and internal organs, preparing us for the “battle” with the “danger,” wherever it is. Adrenaline also raises blood sugar, as it stimulates the liver to produce and release more glucose (and cholesterol) into the blood so our cells will have the energy we need. All of this results in an increased rate of metabolism. Stress experienced around the time of eating thus diverts the energy needed for efficient digestion.

    During times of increased stress and greater demand, our body’s nutrients are used more rapidly to meet the increased biochemical needs of metabolism, so we require increased amounts of many of these nutrients. The diet and nutrient plan presented here is specifically designed to reduce these negative biochemical effects of stress. There are also many other important aspects of handling this modern-day problem, primarily psychological and lifestyle approaches to stress management. Soon, there will be a medical specialty designed to deal solely with stress-induced diseases. In fact, most specialties now have some set of symptoms or a diagnosis in their field of expertise related to these psycho-emotional/stress-induced diseases. The problem is that most doctors are not trained to do more than diagnose them, and often these diagnoses, such as “irritable bowel” or “spastic colon,” tension headaches, or neurogenic bladder disease, are made primarily by excluding the “real diseases.” Often, only tranquilizers, psychotherapy, or biofeedback are available in most circles of medicine, and this approach may be limited. There is a lot more that each of us can do to better manage our stress.

    Who will benefit from this Anti-Stress program? It is mainly for those who are routinely subjected to high demands, particularly mental demands, and who suffer from “intellectual performance anxiety.” People in this group are mostly office workers, people who must sit and be productive for eight to ten hours a day with little physical outlet, such as the executive or office worker, although they also might be salespeople, flight attendants, mechanics, nurses, or journalists. The Anti-Stress program is also suitable for people undergoing short-term periods of increased stress because of personal changes or other events that increase energy demands, such as divorce or marriage, death of a loved one, relocation, job change, or travel.

    Many of the conditions discussed in this chapter are related in some way to stress—for example, athletes experience extra physical stress and executives experience more mental stress; stress is also a factor in the aging process. Stress can occur at all levels of our being. There are physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual stress factors involved in almost all diseases. Particular medical conditions that have a high stress component include asthma and allergies, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, arthritis, and cancer. Surgery, viral conditions, and environmental chemical exposure may be short-term problems with high stress components. Thus, aspects of this program may apply to many of the other programs. Check other discussions as they may tie into your particular concerns.


    • Physical stress—exercise, hard labor, birth
    • Chemical stress—environmental pollution such as exposure to pesticides and cleaning solvents, and the personal use of chemicals, such as drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine
    • Mental stress—high responsibility, long hours, perfectionism, anxiety, and worry
    • Emotional stress—anger, fear, frustration, sadness, betrayal, bereavement
    • Nutritional stress—vitamin and mineral deficiencies, protein or fat excesses or deficiencies, food allergies
    • Traumatic stress—infection, injury, burns, surgery, extreme temperatures
    • Psycho-spiritual stress—relationship, financial or career pressures; issues of life goals, spiritual alignment, and general state of happiness


    • Attitude toward self
    • Personal financial state
    • Moving
    • Traffic tickets
    • Tests in school
    • Meeting someone new
    • Raising children
    • Demands at the office
    • Job and career challenges
    • Promotion, job loss
    • Emotional challenges—personal relationships, fear, anger, loneliness
    • Family changes—marriage, divorce, separation, a new baby
    • Physical challenges—weather changes, extreme climates, athletic events
    • Health challenges—illness, injury, surgery, chemical exposures
    • Life changes—adolescence, aging, pregnancy, menopause.

    Please realize, though, that stress is not the situations or incidents themselves; rather, real stress comes from the way we react to them. For stress to arise and negatively influence our health, we must experience something as a danger. When we do, anxiety is generated, which we often experience as fear or a feeling of threat to our survival. If we view stress positively, we see it as simply a survival response. But if we cannot handle the stress, we may experience the symptoms and diseases of stress. Learning to adapt our attitude and find suitable outlets for our stress is a very important long-range plan.

    As stated earlier, the normal biochemical response to a sense of danger is stimulation of the adrenal glands to release increased levels of hormones, particularly the catecholamines—epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. The catecholamines are cardiovascular stimulants that increase heart rate, constrict blood vessels, stimulate the brain, and affect every other body system to prepare it for “fight” or “flight”—that is, handle the danger or hit the road. The problem comes in when there is really no physical danger but our body reacts as if there were. Then, if greater physical demands and activity do not provide an outlet for the increased adrenal activity, it may be turned inward and play havoc with our physiology and organs, as well as with our emotions and our mind.

    Though all parts of our body are affected by stress, certain areas seem to be more sensitive than others. In my estimation, the digestive tract is the most easily influenced, followed by the neurological and circulatory systems and the muscles which accumulate some of the tensions as well as toxins from metabolism. The psychological outlook and welfare of the individual are also strongly affected by acute and chronic stress.

    How the damage comes about involves the mechanisms of constant adrenal stimulation along with free-radical production (see Anti-Aging program for a full discussion) and immune suppression. Stress produces irritating molecules that generate immunological changes, damage cells, and inflame organ and blood vessel linings. Stress responses also “eat up” more important nutrients which can lead to deficiencies and allow the other stress response changes to damage the tissues even more. Stress has been shown to decrease protective antibodies and reduce the important T lymphocytes that function in the cellular immune system. Chronic stress is clearly a culprit in the generation of aging and degenerative diseases.

    In addition to the increased demands on the adrenal cortex, certain mechanisms affect the stomach and pancreas and thus our digestion. Stress initially increases stomach hydrochloric acid production, leading to indigestion, heartburn, gastritis, and ulcer problems. With increased acid levels, however, the pancreas is stimulated to release alkaline enzymes to help balance the acidity. With chronic stress, this can lead to hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) and reduced function of the pancreas. This may result in poor digestion and assimilation of nutrients and thus vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well as the development of food allergies due to improper breakdown of the bulk foodstuffs and the subsequent absorption of larger molecules, which may be immunogenic.

    There is also a weakening of the adrenal response with chronic stress, whether the stress is from regular sugar intake (adrenaline helps rebalance blood sugar) or from other physical or emotional demands. When the adrenals do not respond, we may have a more difficult time coping with the stress, and when this inability to cope sets in deeply, we may feel like giving up. We might experience depression, hopelessness, or even death, which can result from the serious diseases that arise with a severely weakened immune system. That is why it is so important to avoid the vicious cycle of trying to meet high demands by pushing ourselves with poor nourishment, poor sleep, and lack of fun. A whole field of medicine, called psychoneuroimmunology, is arising to deal with our new knowledge about the relationship among stress, immunity and brain functions, and disease, examining such problems as AIDS, cancer, and chronic viral conditions. Though we have learned a lot about stress and its influence on disease in recent years, there is still a great deal more to learn regarding the physical mechanisms involved in immune interaction. This, I believe, is going to be the dominant medical field of the future.


    Muscle tensionPeptic ulcerAllergies
    Neck and back painsIrritable bowelAsthma
    AtherosclerosisLoss of appetiteNutritional deficiencies
    High blood pressureAnorexia nervosaPremenstrual symptoms
    DiabetesWeight changesSexual problems
    ArthritisInsomniaPsychological problems

    For people with elevated stress levels, I suggest a variety of stress-reducing activities to minimize the dangers of this underlying cause of disease.


    • Have more fun. Do things that you enjoy and that help you to relax.

    • Express your feelings. Emotions need regular venting, and unexpressed emotions are the building blocks of stress, pain, and illness.

    • Get good sleep. Poor sleep or sleep habits do not let your body really rest, discharge tensions, and recharge.

    • Learn relaxation exercises. These can help a great deal in reducing stress through letting go of mental stresses and experiencing moments of inner peace. This quiet, “nothing happening” space is where, I believe, the healing process begins.

    • Exercise. Regular physical exercise is one of the best ways to clear your tensions and feel good, with more energy and a better attitude toward life.

    • Develop good relationships. It is important to have friends in whom you can confide and find support. Those who love and accept you and will advise but not judge you are your true friends. It is also very meaningful to be a true friend to another.

    • Experience love and satisfying sex. A primary relationship that is loving, sensual, and sexual can also be a major stress reducer. Having an understanding, accepting, and warm being (most often human) to receive your hardworking body and mind can be the best therapy available. However, if you do not have this in your life, there are many other therapies that are helpful. Often, an intense relationship can also be a stressor. It is important to find a balance in all you do, in each endeavor and in your life as a whole.

    • Change perceptions and attitudes. When ideas or views are not serving you, it is wise to examine and adapt them. It is important to learn to respond to life’s situations and not react. This is a true response-ability! Hanging onto frustrations, holding grudges, and accepting the victim-blame game are not in your best health interests. It serves you to look at the big picture and step out of the little struggles. Ask why you might need to experience these challenges and try to view them as opportunities for growth and learning. Applying more spiritual principles to life is very useful and often helps solve many of the conflicts involved in finding greater peace of mind and heart. Find and experience self-love, self-respect, and self-worth.

    There are many positive things to do with regard to diet and nutrition, as well as many things to avoid. This program is designed to counteract and reduce the negative biochemical and physiological effects of stress and to minimize the specific stressing agents, such as the wide variety of drugs, both street and prescription. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol are all irritating drugs. Many over-the-counter and prescription drugs may also cause physiological problems and irritate us physically or mentally.

    A diet of high-nutrient foods is essential for people under stress, because stress increases cellular activity which leads to increased nutrient usage. The resulting depletions may aggravate the damaging effects of stress. Also, less food may be consumed during times of stress, as the digestive tract may be a little upset; and the higher nutrient foods make up for lower consumption. However, some people who are stressed tend to push themselves and not take good care of themselves, avoiding meals, especially wholesome ones, and snacking on quick-energy or fast foods. They may be martyrs who feel that they must serve the cause and there is no time for such things as eating properly, or they may just be too busy and forget to eat. These people are usually not overweight; on the contrary, they need to be reminded to eat. This unrelenting push without feeding the stomach (and every cell) can lead to acid irritation of the digestive organs and ulcers. Then the cycle of antacids starts and further poor digestion and assimilation is the final outcome.

    Probably the best type of diet for the fast-track people with intellectual performance anxiety is three to five small but wholesome meals a day, like the Warrior’s Diet discussed in Chapter 9, Diets. Lots of water is important to keep us well hydrated and to help counteract stress by circulating nutrients. Avoiding stress around meals is very important. Try to rest and relax before and after eating, even if just for a minute or two of placing your body in a receptive state for the nourishment coming in—rather like clearing the computer of its active program so that it can receive new information. If there is time to take 10–15 minutes before and after meals, that is even better, especially after large meals. Listening to relaxing music also helps.

    A detoxification-type diet may be useful at times of intense stress, and it is often a natural response to these increased demands. Drinking lots of liquids, such as water and juices, and reducing heavier meals that may not be handled well can help us lighten up when life gets “too heavy.” A response of overeating and food abuse can only make matters worse. Juices, soups, and salads, for example, can nourish us well without creating great demands on our body and digestion, which may not be working well at the time. Our energy level and productivity may rise with lighter eating as well. A lighter, cleansing diet may help us through times of short-term stress. Some food intake may enable our body to assimilate the supplements that can also be of value. A good supplement plan is imperative to our Anti-Stress program. Stress depletes so many of our body’s nutrients that it is difficult to obtain the levels we need from food alone unless we spend eight hours a day shopping, preparing food, and feeding ourselves—and that is not too realistic.

    Nutrients that are commonly depleted by stress include the antioxidant vitamins A, E, and C, the B vitamins, and the minerals zinc, selenium, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, sulfur, and molybdenum. Because of increased metabolism and use of energy, our stressed body utilizes more carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, especially the fatty acids. Unrelenting stress, however, is not the basis for a healthy weight-loss program.

    The B vitamins and vitamin C are the main constituents of many antistress formulas. They are all significantly depleted by stress and the stress-related problems may be compounded by deficiencies resulting from poor nutrition prior to the time of increased stress. All of the B vitamins are important here. Pantothenic acid, or vitamin B5, may well be the most important antistress nutrient of the B complex. Along with folic acid and vitamin C, it is necessary for proper function of the adrenal glands. Niacin, enough to generate the niacin flush, may be useful in counteracting some of the biochemical effects of stress. Vitamins B1, B2, B6, biotin, and PABA are also helpful. I recommend taking higher than the RDA of all of the B vitamins, spread out in two or three portions, all taken before dark, since they can be stimulating; it is wise to let the mind and body relax as it gets toward bedtime. I suggest more minerals in the evening, as they tend to help in relaxation. However, if evening work is important or there are evening meetings, a good B complex supplement can be taken after dinner. The B vitamins may even have a relaxing effect on some people, and they could be used by them in the evenings to calm the nerves. A regular B vitamin, with 25–50 mg. each of most of the Bs, for example, will be used and eliminated by the body within a few hours. Such tablets or capsules can be taken several times daily. Time-release B vitamins, which do not have to be taken so often, are also commonly used. Many people do better with hypoallergenic or yeast- and wheat-free B vitamins. Although our body will utilize some of the B vitamins taken at any time, most vitamin and mineral supplements are best assimilated after a meal.

    Vitamin C supplementation is also very important for stress. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, may indeed be the single most essential antistress nutrient. It offers cellular protection, immune support, and adrenal support to produce more cortisone and epinephrine. Vitamin C is also an important antioxidant that helps protect against fat peroxidation, including restoring vitamin E after it is oxidized. Vitamin C is very rapidly utilized and minimally stored in the body. Therefore, regular usage, even four to six times daily, is ideal. A dosage of 1–2 grams per day is recommended, although as much as 8–10 grams may be used for severe problems related to stress. One or two of the vitamin C dosages taken each day should contain the bioflavonoid C complex, including rutin and hesperidin.

    In addition to extra B vitamins and C, I suggest an antioxidant program such as described for the Anti-Aging program. Vitamin A and beta-carotene, vitamin E and selenium, and the amino acid L-cysteine are all part of this. As with vitamin C, these antioxidants sacrifice themselves (through oxidation) to balance out the free radicals.

    Minerals are also important, with potassium, calcium, and magnesium heading the antistress list. Potassium is essential for most crucial physiologic activities. Calcium is vital to nerve transmission and regular heartbeat as well as immune function. It aids both relaxation and muscle tone. Magnesium is a tranquilizing mineral that helps balance the nervous system and supports heart function. An Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) bath (with 1 cup) can be very relaxing. In general, a dosage of 600–1,000 mg. of calcium and 400–800 mg. of magnesium daily, in addition to diet, is recommended, with most of it being taken in the evening before bed.

    Calcium and magnesium can also be used to balance the stomach acid. For acute or early stress with hyperacidity, these alkaline minerals taken before meals can be a helpful antacid. With chronic stress, when stomach acid is more often low, taking them before bed is better. Pancreatic function is often low as well with chronic stress, and additional pancreatic enzymes after meals may be helpful.

    Minerals that are helpful for their immune and enzyme support, such as superoxide dismutase, include zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium. Chromium may be useful in allaying sugar cravings, while potassium is important to prevent heart irregularities and muscle cramps and to balance the hypertensive effects of sodium when salt is used in excess. Like vitamin C and the Bs, minerals are best taken in several portions for optimum absorption and utilization. Taking the important ones such as calcium, magnesium, iron, or zinc by themselves will reduce competitive absorption between them and produce higher levels of each in the blood.

    Supplemental amino acids may allow better protein utilization and energy balance, especially when digestion is poor. The powdered, L- form amino acids are easily utilized by the body, much more easily than steak, though the meat has other nutrition (and possibly other toxins). The antioxidant amino acid, L-cysteine, promotes liver function and detoxification. L-glutamine is helpful for proper brain function, especially with stress. Methionine may also be protective against stress through its support of fatty acid metabolism and other functions. L-tyrosine and L-phenylalanine may help reduce stress-induced high blood pressure, while L-tryptophan can be used for relaxation and sleep.


    Vitamin C,* 500–1000 mg. (helps mineral absorption)
    Calcium, 500–750 mg.
    Magnesium, 350–500 mg.
    Potassium, 300–500 mg.
    L-Tryptophan, 500–2,000 mg. (if available)
    Relaxing herbs, such as valerian, chamomile, vervain,
    catnip, hops, or linden flowers

    Begin with just the C, calcium, and magnesium. If that doesn’t work, add 500 mg. of L-tryptophan, increasing the dosage if necessary by 500 mg. every three days, up to 2,000 mg. If you still have no relief, try an herbal sleep-inducing formula, beginning with one or two capsules and building up if needed. Celestial Seasonings’ Sleepytime tea has helped many people. Drinking a warm cup of it or another nighttime relaxant tea is a helpful addition to a calming-down routine. Some people also enjoy a warm cup of whole milk before bed for its tranquilizing effect, if the digestion will handle it.


    *A mineralized ascorbic acid powder with calcium, magnesium, and potassium can be used in a drink.

    Herbs may be useful in the Anti-Stress program as well. Licorice root, and its active extract DGL, have a soothing and anti-inflammatory effect, and may be useful for stress. Valerian root, by itself or in combination with other herbs, has a tranquilizing effect and can be used before sleep or as a muscle relaxant, either as a tea or in a capsule. Catnip leaf can tame that wild or ferocious feeling and is a safe herb to improve the recharging quality of our catnaps. Ginseng root, as a tea or in capsules, is often thought of as a stimulant but is commonly used as an antistress herb. It strengthens deeper energies and the ability to handle life, and it is definitely better in the long run than coffee. White ginsengs, such as northern or white Siberian, tend to be safer for the blood pressure (too much red ginseng can elevate it). Gotu kola leaf is a good herb for mental stress. Like ginseng, it is very popular in the Eastern cultures. Two formulas that I have used for patients are made by Professional Botanicals: RLX (“relax”), which contains skullcap, passion flower, celery seed, musk root, lupulin, and hops, and RST (“rest”) or Sleepeaze, which contains passion flower, valerian root, black cohosh root, German chamomile flowers, lupulin, and lemon balm.

    Some practitioners use adrenal glandular tablets to support the extra adrenal demands during stress. Many people respond well to this treatment if they feel comfortable taking beef adrenals. I personally do not. Adrenal cortical extract (ACE) has been a popular injection for a number of years for stimulating energy and treating a variety of problems, such as allergies, hypoglycemia, and fatigue. This appears to be less commonly used and harder to obtain, likely because of medical politics. It was not particularly unsafe; its effectiveness and safety were not well enough established to satisfy the FDA.

    Some of the freeze-dried, blue-green algae products have also been useful because of their mild detoxifying and energizing effects. They also seem to reduce some mental stress. I personally like how I feel when I take chlorella or spirulina. They also provide protein and all the essential amino acids.

    The following table shows my recommended Anti-Stress Nutrient Program. The amounts listed are the total day’s intake (in addition to the diet), which I recommend splitting into three portions. Where ranges are shown, these are to accommodate individual needs and ability to handle higher amounts of these nutrients.


    Water 2–3 qt. Calcium 600–1,000mg.

    Chromium 200–400 mcg.
    Vitamin A7,500–15,000 IUs Copper2–3 mg.
    Beta-carotene10,000–25,000 IUs Iodine150–200 mcg.
    Vitamin D400 IUs Iron 10–20 mg.
    Vitamin E400–1,000 IUs Magnesium350–600 mg.
    Vitamin K200–400 mcg. Manganese5–10 mg.
    Thiamine (B1)75–150 mg. Molybdenum300–800 mg.
    Riboflavin (B2)50–100 mg. Potassium300–500 mg.
    Niacin (B3) 50–150 mg. Selenium200–400 mcg.
    Niacinamide (B3)25–100 mg. Zinc30–60 mg.
    Pantothenic acid (B5)500–1,000 mg. L-amino acids1,000–1,500 mg.
    Pyridoxine (B6)50–100 mg. L-cysteine250–500 mg.
    with vitamin C
    Pyridoxal-5-phosphate25–75 mg.
    Cobalamin (B12) 50–250 mcg. Optional:
    Folic acid500–1,000 mcg. Hydrochloric acid
    (with meals for
    chronic stress)
    5–10 grains
    Biotin150–500 mcg. Pancreatic enzymes
    (after meals)
    1–2 tablets
    PABA50–100 mg. Adrenal glandular50–100 mg.
    Choline500–1,000 mg. Chlorella1–2 packets
    or 6–12tablets daily
    Inositol500–1,000 mg. Licorice root2–4 capsules
    Vitamin C4–8 g.
    Bioflavonoids250–500 mg.

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    Written by Elson M. Haas MD

    Explore Wellness in 2021