Nutrition can be used to combat stress – The Leader


Shana Tatum

By Shana Tatum

In the world of healthcare, a system exists known as ICD-10. The International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, is a collection of codes to classify diagnoses and symptoms related to specific health conditions.

Healthcare providers and insurance companies use these codes to record and track diseases as well as to reimburse and catalogue. The upcoming revision set for 2022 includes a new definition for something called Occupational Burnout, “A syndrome resulting from chronic stress in the workplace that has not been successfully managed.”

I was surprised to learn that there was such a diagnosis code for stress burnout. In efforts to support more clients that are experiencing high stress, my nutrition research highlighted some companies report that 30 percent of employees have feelings of energy depletion and exhaustion related to work stress. Moreover, the economic impacts can reach upwards of $4.6 billion per year. That’s no small figure.

Chronic stress, such as that related to burnout, leads to trouble regulating emotions and disturbances in brain function. It can cause dysregulation of the hormonal system, specifically one called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA).

Under normal circumstances, these hormone surges shift the body into action to prepare, protect or react to a stimulus or perceived threat. When this happens repeatedly throughout the day, such as with work deadlines and budgets or the daily commute in Houston traffic, or even the demands of parenting, it can cause the endocrine system to have abnormalities. Heart rate can increase, cholesterol may become elevated and blood pressure and blood sugar increase. In periods of chronic stress and over time, the system may stop producing as much stress hormone like cortisol, which then leads to more abnormal rhythms.

Much can be done, however, to balance the physical stress response. Research shows how meditation, reflection and prayer calm the nervous system and allow for a pause and reset. Exercise and movement also has been shown in studies to not only activate the lymph system supporting good detoxification but also to stimulate neurotransmitters in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin, giving us a sense of well-being.

Nutrition is important in maintaining resiliency to the stress response. Vitamins and minerals can be quickly depleted under times of stress. These micronutrients are needed to maintain healthy adrenal glands. These tiny glands that sit atop the kidneys in particular are in need of these vitamins and minerals.

A few are listed here:


This mineral is involved in more than 300 enzymatic functions in the body. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, dyslipidemia and hypertension, which all have been associated with diabetes mellitus. It is found in many green vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, seeds and whole unprocessed grains.

Vitamin B5

Pantothenic acid plays vital roles in energy production from food. It is involved in the release of energy from carbohydrates, fats, proteins and other compounds as well as the creation of fats, cholesterol and steroid hormones like cortisol. It is found in meat, seafood, eggs, lentils, mushrooms, avocado, broccoli, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, kale and tomatoes.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is required for several metabolic functions in the body. It is necessary in the production of several stress-response hormones, including adrenalin, noradrenalin, cortisol and histamine. It is found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, citrus fruits, guava, kiwi, papaya, parsley, peas, potatoes, red and green peppers, rose hips, strawberries and tomatoes.


This mineral has been associated with more than 200 functions in the body. Increased blood glucose levels have been associated with low zinc. Zinc has been shown to be important in the synthesis, storage and secretion of insulin and is required for healthy adrenal function. It is found in oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains and dairy.

Compounds found in botanicals also can be helpful for managing stress. Herbal teas such as chamomile, lemon balm and passionflower may be supportive. Try a few and see how you like the tastes. Enjoy hot or iced. Other botanicals like holy basil, ashwagandha and rhodiola, known as adaptogens, also can be supportive in balancing the stress response due to cortisol.

Talk with your healthcare provider before starting an adaptogen. Some can be stimulating if taken at night. With ashwagandha, it is in the nightshade family and not recommended for people with autoimmunity.

Managing stress with today’s modern lifestyle is not so easy. Pay attention to your sleep, your daily movement and even your nightly screen time. Specific focus on a good, whole foods diet rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients as well as adequate protein and good healthy fats will go a long way to balance the effect of cortisol. With discipline toward self-care such as this, balance can be achieved.



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