Using Neutraceuticals To Manage Stress And Its Effects

Using Neutraceuticals To Manage Stress And Its Effects

Michael Garko, Ph.D.
Host – Let’s Talk Nutrition


“No one can live without experiencing some degree of stress all the time,” so said Dr. Hans Selye, who coined the term “stress” in 1936. Stress is an inevitable part of everyday modern life as evidenced by 75% of Americans experiencing at least “some stress” every two weeks, with half of those experiencing moderate or high levels of stress during the same two week period (U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1990).

In a survey conducted in 2004 by the American Psychological Association (APA), 54% of Americans reported being concerned about the level of stress in their day-to-day lives, while two-thirds of those surveyed reported they were likely to seek professional help for stress. Findings from the same survey revealed that 73% of Americans considered money to be the number one stressor in their lives. Sixty-two percent mentioned work as a significant factor in raising their stress levels, with 25% taking a mental health day off from work in order to cope with stress (APA, 2004).

These statistics and findings from numerous other studies reveal stress to be a defining feature of contemporary life. In this month’s issue of Healthful Hints the focus will be on defining stress, describing the two major types, identifying the myriad of effects from stress and using neutraceuticals, in contrast to pharmaceuticals, to help cope with stress, its symptoms and deleterious health effects.

Definition of Stress

Dr. Hans Selye, who is considered by many to be the father of stress research, originally defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” (see American Institute of Stress, 2007). Selye sought his entire career to find a satisfactory definition of stress that would make sense to people but without much success. He ultimately defined stress as “The rate of wear and tear on the body.” However, late in his career when reporters asked him to define stress, he told them, “Everyone knows what stress is, but nobody really knows” (see American Institute of Stress, 2007).

For purposes of this newsletter, stress can be defined as the body’s adaptive response to physical, psychological and emotional stressors or threats, which trigger a cascade of internal biochemical changes.

Stress is difficult to define because it can be triggered by pleasant and unpleasant experiences and because each of us reacts differently to different stressors. For example, winning a large amount of money playing blackjack in Las Vegas can be as stressful as losing a big money hand. Furthermore, one person’s stressor is another person’s sedative. While most mortals would have been under considerable stress in his shoes, John Glenn, America’s first astronaut to travel into space, fell asleep at one point during the countdown for his Mercury flight.

Acute & Chronic Stress

There are two major types of stress, acute stress and chronic stress, each with its own set of characteristics.

Acute Stress

Acute stress is more common than chronic stress and arises from the ebb and flow of everyday life. It is short-term in its occurrence. Because it takes place on a short-term basis, acute stress is not as debilitating and deleterious to the health of individuals.

Typically, people know when they are experiencing an episode of acute stress. Acute stress can stem from pleasant and unpleasant experiences. For example, an automobile accident, extreme hot or cold temperatures, a sudden fall while skateboarding, walking into a crowded football stadium surrounded by people on all sides, getting pulled over for a traffic violation are for many people unpleasant experiences resulting in acute stress. On the other hand, skydiving, riding a roller coaster, skiing down a mountain and driving a race car are examples of experiences which trigger acute stress but which many people find thrilling and enjoyable.

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress is a more insidious type of stress. It is long-term in nature. It can be triggered by such things as failing finances, uncertain careers, failing health, turbulent interpersonal relationships, living in a war torn country, remaining in combat for extended periods of time, living with the threat of terrorism on a daily basis and working daily under a power and control, top-down management style.

Chronic stress tends to be more pervasive, persistent and pernicious because it stems not just from physical threats but also from psychological and emotional threats. Chronic stress is unhealthy because it accelerates aging and promotes and exacerbates a long list of chronic diseases and disorders, such as CHD, cancer, diabetes, digestive disorders, adrenal fatigue, neurological problems, and a whole host of autoimmune diseases, including arthritis.

Effects of Stress

There are a myriad of physiological, behavioral and psychological effects stemming from chronic stress. The American Institute of Stress (AIS) has identified 50 signs and symptoms of stress. They are as follows:

1.  Frequent headaches, jaw

     clenching or pain

26. Insomnia, nightmares,

       Disturbing dreams

2.  Gritting, grinding teeth

27. Difficulty concentrating, racing


3.  Stuttering or stammering

28. Trouble learning new


4.  Tremors, trembling of lips, hands

29. Forgetfulness, disorganization,

5.  Neck ache, back pain, muscle


30. Difficulty in making decisions.

6.  Light headedness, faintness,


31. Feeling overloaded or


7.  Ringing, buzzing or “popping


32. Frequent crying spells or

       suicidal thoughts

8.  Frequent blushing, sweating

33. Feelings of loneliness or


9.  Cold or sweaty hands, feet

34. Little interest in appearance,

10. Dry mouth, problems swallowing

35. Nervous habits, fidgeting, feet


11. Frequent colds, infections,

      herpes sores

36. Increased frustration, irritability,

12. Rashes, itching, hives, “goose


37. Overreaction to petty


13. Unexplained or frequent   

      “allergy” attacks

38. Increased number of minor


14. Heartburn, stomach pain,


39. Obsessive or compulsive


15. Excess belching, flatulence

40. Reduced work efficiency or


16. Constipation, diarrhea

41. Lies or excuses to cover up

      poor work

17. Difficulty breathing, sighing

42. Rapid or mumbled speech

18. Sudden attacks of panic

43. Excessive defensiveness or

19. Chest pain, palpitations

44. Problems in communication,


20. Frequent urination

45. Social withdrawal and isolation

21. Poor sexual desire or


46. Constant tiredness, weakness,


22. Excess anxiety, worry, guilt,

47. Frequent use of over-the-

       counter drugs

23. Increased anger, frustration,


48. Weight gain or loss without diet

24. Depression, frequent or wild

      mood swings 

49. Increased smoking, alcohol or

      drug use

25. Increased or decreased  


50. Excessive gambling or impulse

       buying      (AIS, 2007, p.1)

AIS’ list indicates how broad ranging the effects of stress can be on behavior, emotions and mood. AIS also identified a host of emotional and physical disorders connected to stress including the following:

Depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, immune system disturbances that increase susceptibility to infections, a host of viral linked disorders ranging from the common cold and herpes to AIDS and certain cancers, as well as autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In addition stress can have direct effects on the skin (rashes, hives, atopic dermatitis, the gastrointestinal system (GERD, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis) and can contribute to insomnia and degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease (AIS, 2007, p. 2)

According to AIS, “it’s hard to think of any disease in which stress cannot play an aggravating role or any part of the body that is not affected. This list will undoubtedly grow as the extensive ramifications of stress are increasingly being appreciated” (AIS, 2007, p. 2).


Millions of Americans rely upon pharmaceuticals to help them cope with and manage stress. I advocate using neutraceuticals, a natural drug-free way, to help manage chronic stress and its harmful effects. It is not being argued that neutraceuticals should replace pharmaceuticals for the purpose of managing stress or that readers should stop taking their medication for stress. Rather, it is contended that neutraceuticals can serve as a healthful adjunct to pharmaceuticals and readers should always talk with their doctor before quitting their medication for stress.

Definition of Neutraceuticals

While a guest on Let’s Talk Nutrition, Dr. Stephen DeFelice, who coined the term “neutraceutical,” defined a neutraceutical as any food or nutritional supplement which possesses health and medical benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease.


Why the Need for Neutraceuticals?

When suffering from stress there are a myriad of automatic responses resulting in an increase in cellular metabolism and the need for more fuel for energy, thereby, depleting the body of its vital nutrients. For example, in the case of an injury, blood clotting occurs more quickly to prevent blood loss from lacerations or internal hemorrhage. The body’s stores of glycogen, fat and protein are metabolized to furnish more fuel for energy, raising blood sugar/glucose and insulin levels. Heart rate and blood pressure rise to help increase blood flow to the brain so as to improve decision making, especially during situations of acute stress. Blood is shunted away from the digestive tract to the large muscles of the arms and legs to provide more strength to either escape from a scene of potential danger or confront it.

All of these and other physical and metabolic responses typically occur with acute stress in which the fight or flight response is triggered. However, in the case of chronic stress, which is more often triggered by psychological or emotional threats, the same fight or flight response is turned on with all of its accompanying metabolic demand for energy. As a consequence, when suffering from chronic stress more quality macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat), micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) and phytonutrients (plant chemicals) are needed to sustain this demand and counter the wear and tear effects of stress on the cells, tissues, organs and systems of the body.

Stress Reducing Foods & Stress Inducing Foods 
Fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables, low or non-fat dairy, lean meats and fish are excellent neutraceutical choices, along with lots of water, to help fight the effects of stress. 

Unfortunately, when under stress, people resort to the wrong foods for energy because these foods exacerbate the stress response and are the source of nutritional stress on the body.  Chocolate, ice cream and cookies are all time favorites of those under stress. Generally, when under stress, avoid the following:

  • Stripped down, processed carbohydrates in the form of refined sugar and grains
  • Saturated and trans fats
  • Sodium in excess (usually with potato chips & other junk food high in sodium)
  • Stimulants (coffee & tobacco) & suppressants (alcohol)

These are four items from my list of Seven Deadly Health & Nutritional Sins. The other three are stress itself, sedentary lifestyle and sleep deprivation. The last two also contribute to and exacerbate the effects of stress. In fact, sleep deprivation is a stressor in and of itself.

Stress Reducing Neutraceuticals

During times of acute and chronic stress the body is depleted of antioxidant vitamins such as vitamins A, C and E. The B-vitamins are used-up. Also depleted are minerals such as magnesium, potassium and zinc. Glycogen, protein and fat stores are expended. Therefore, it is important to maintain an optimal nutritional status using dietary supplements.

In terms of dietary supplements, there are some excellent neutraceuticals to manage stress and modulate its unhealthy effects. Below is found a list of supplements reported in the literature to be helpful in combating stress and modulating its effects. Particular brands of supplements are also provided.

Basic Supplement Protocol
 Multiple Vitamin & Mineral
              Natural Factors – Women’s Multi- Start
              Natural Factors – Men’s Multi-Start
              Fish Oil – Omega 3 fish oil
              Natural Factors – Rx Omega 3 Factors

Greens Product
             Greens Plus – Greens + Wild Berry Burst

B-Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamin Discount Center’s B-Complex
           Vitamin Discount Center’s Ultra Minerals

Glucose Balance 
            Natural Factors – WellBetX Complete Multi for Glucose Balance
            Natural Factors – WellBetX Glucose Balance Herbal Formula

Natural Factors – Slim Styles PGX Granules
          Natural Factors – Slim Styles PGX Packets
          Natural Factors – WellBetX PGX w/ Mulberry       

GABA – Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
Natural Factors – PharmaGABA