Supplements for Stress Relief, According to Dietitians

Are there certain supplements that can help alleviate stress? Explore the pros, cons, and benefits of some popular stress relief supplements.

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by
Caroline Thomason
— Signos
Dietician + Diabetes Educator (CDCES)
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 20, 2024
May 10, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

If you imagine that your stress tolerance is a cup, we all have a distinct capacity for how much stress our cups can hold before feeling its overflowing effects. Managing your stress means making various lifestyle adjustments such as sleep, diet, physical activity, and mental well-being. Even with a healthy lifestyle for stress management, supplementation might be useful to bolster the body's resilience to stress, particularly cortisol.

Cortisol, the body's primary stress hormone, is a steroid hormone manufactured by the adrenal glands in response to various life stressors. Cortisol plays a role in many physiological functions, including metabolism, immune response, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. Contrary to popular belief, cortisol isn’t all bad. Cortisol levels naturally vary throughout the day, peaking in the morning to help us wake up for the day and feel more alert and diminishing in the evening to promote feelings of relaxation and sleep. 

Rather, chronic stress—and thus chronically elevated cortisol—is more problematic. Unhealthy lifestyle practices that increase stress levels can disrupt our cortisol balance. If you're worried about your stress levels impacting your health, consult with your doctor before adding a new supplement to your regimen. 

Keep reading to uncover the stress-relieving supplements to help you manage your cortisol levels.

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CBD

Cannabidiol, or CBD, has become increasingly popular for everything from pain relief to stress management. CBD interacts with the body's endocannabinoid system, particularly cannabinoid receptors, to modulate neurotransmitters. Specifically activating serotonin receptors, CBD may improve mood and reduce anxiety levels. It also promotes neurogenesis in the hippocampus part of the brain, may regulate stress hormone release, and increases the neurotransmitter GABA, which might create a calming effect. 

CBD has many modes of action, making it a natural supplement option for folks who want to manage stress and anxiety, though everyone’s tolerance and responses vary. Because of regulatory laws around hemp-based products, be sure to review your supplement labels carefully: some CBD products contain THC in doses that can have a psychoactive effect. Consult with a healthcare professional before use, especially if you have underlying health conditions or take other medications.

Adaptogens

A pill jar with supplements on the side and a cup of tea in the background

Adaptogens are natural substances that help the body adapt to stressors by modulating the body's stress response and reducing the production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Adaptogens also support homeostasis by promoting balance in various physiological processes, such as neurotransmitter activity, immune function, and energy metabolism.1 By enhancing the body's ability to cope with stress, adaptogens can improve overall well-being, reduce feelings of fatigue, and enhance mental clarity and focus.

Common adaptogens include ashwagandha, holy basil (tulsi), panax ginseng, licorice root, maca, reishi mushroom, and cordyceps mushrooms. These herbs and plants can be consumed in teas, capsules, powders, or tinctures and are often incorporated into herbal remedies or supplements

When selecting an adaptogenic supplement, it's crucial to ensure it's from a reputable company with third-party verification to guarantee safety, quality, and proper dosage. Plus, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional before using adaptogens, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medications. Particularly, folks with high blood pressure or those taking hypertension medication should exercise caution before adding adaptogen supplements as they may be contraindicated. 

Magnesium

Research indicates that magnesium plays a direct role in regulating cortisol levels in the body, potentially leading to long-term stress reduction.2 Additionally, magnesium is associated with anxiety reduction by modulating neurotransmitter signaling in the brain and facilitating the release of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes nervous system relaxation. By supporting GABA function, magnesium promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety.3

There are multiple types of magnesium available, but the most well studied for brain health and anxiety are magnesium glycinate or magnesium threonate, which have been shown to increase magnesium levels within the brain and aid with sleep, stress relief, and cognition over time. Even more so, magnesium deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to stress, making supplementation particularly beneficial for individuals with inadequate dietary intake or increased stress levels.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href=yoga-101>Yoga 101: Getting Started and Beginner Tips for a Successful Yoga Practice</a>.</p>

Rhodiola Rosea

6 capsules on top of a wooden tray

Another potent but lesser-known plant for stress relief is Rhodiola rosea, which possess adaptogenic properties. Rhodiola rosea improves stress by acting as an adaptogen, helping the body adapt to and cope with stressors and stress-induced fatigue. It impacts the sympathoadrenal system, reducing the production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Rhodiola rosea may also increase levels of stress-resilient neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine while reducing the activity of stress-inducing enzymes. These combined effects help to mitigate the physiological and psychological effects of stress, enhancing stress resilience and reducing fatigue.

Taking up to 600 mg of Rhodiola rosea daily appears to be safe, but it's essential to note that it may interact negatively with certain medications or stimulant-containing substances. As always, consult a healthcare provider before adding a new supplement to your routine.

B Vitamin Complex

By ensuring adequate levels of B vitamins, you may be able to better cope with stress. B vitamins support energy metabolism, helping maintain optimal cellular function during stress. 

B vitamins improve stress by playing essential roles in the body's stress response and overall nervous system function. Specifically, vitamins B6, B9 (folate), and B12 are crucial for neurotransmitter synthesis and regulation, including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, which are involved in mood regulation and stress management. 

Clinical research shows that high-dose vitamin B6 supplementation may effectively alleviate symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety by enhancing GABA levels in the brain.4 Combining magnesium and vitamin B6 may enhance these positive side effects, as both nutrients facilitate GABA production. Since vitamin B6 is water-soluble, any unabsorbed amount is excreted through urine.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read Next: </strong><a href=best-supplement-for-diabetes>10 Best Herbs and Supplements for Diabetes</a>.</p>

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<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href=holiday-stress>11 Self-Care Ideas for Your Holidays</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Salve J, Pate S, Debnath K, Langade D. Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Clinical Study. Cureus. 2019 Dec 25;11(12):e6466. 
  2. Pickering G, Mazur A, Trousselard M, Bienkowski P, Yaltsewa N, Amessou M, Noah L, Pouteau E. Magnesium Status and Stress: The Vicious Circle Concept Revisited. Nutrients. 2020 Nov 28;12(12):3672. 
  3. Hepsomali P, Groeger JA, Nishihira J, Scholey A. Effects of Oral Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Administration on Stress and Sleep in Humans: A Systematic Review. Front Neurosci. 2020 Sep 17;14:923.
  4. Olsson EM, von Schéele B, Panossian AG. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 2009 Feb;75(2):105-12. 
  5. Field DT, Cracknell RO, Eastwood JR, Scarfe P, Williams CM, Zheng Y, Tavassoli T. High-dose Vitamin B6 supplementation reduces anxiety and strengthens visual surround suppression. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2022 Nov;37(6):e2852.

About the author

Caroline Thomason is a dietitian, diabetes educator, and health writer based in Washington, DC.

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