Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Three Essential Nutrients for Stress and Sleep

As we all know, getting a good night's sleep is key in maintaining a balanced, healthful life. Enhancing the quality of sleep and reducing the effects of stress means that we can make the most of our mental and physical abilities. When we are deficient in essential nutrients this can lead to irregular sleep patterns, higher stress levels, and other health complications. By providing the body with the appropriate nutrients, our immune system is thus strengthened, making it easier to fight illness and disease.

When the body is low in magnesium levels, it becomes vulnerable to the ravages of stress. Magnesium works in conjunction with calcium and potassium to affect every organ in the body as well as tissue and cell function. Because it is not often added to the soil in conventional fertilizers, the magnesium level in our food is diminishing, unless we are eating organic, farm-grown produce. Refined foods are also lacking in magnesium, which makes it essential to replenish this mineral if our diets are not up to snuff. When magnesium levels are in balance, we have a much greater ability offset the symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, as well as PMS. Some foods containing magnesium are almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, sesame seeds, coconut, brown rice, quinoa, tofu, salmon, sardines, spinach, eggplant, yams, beet greens, avocados, and black beans.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid responsible for creating protein and repairing protein tissues. Tryptophan converts to serotonin in the brain, which helps the brain produce melatonin, the hormone that assists in regulating the body's natural clock and improving sleep quality (see below). Tryptophan helps to reduce the effects of stress, jetlag, PMS, depression, and insomnia. Appropriate amounts of tryptophan also keep blood sugar levels stable, while working with the adrenal glands to release stress-reducing hormones. Tryptophan can be found in grains, soy products, shellfish, tuna, and turkey.

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland. Known as the ‘sleep hormone’, it helps to regulate the body's internal clock, regulate blood pressure, heighten the libido, and keep the immune system healthy. As a powerful anti-oxidant, melatonin fights free radical damage and helps to lower stress levels. According to the online journal, Alternative Cancer Care, studies focusing on cancer patients show that they generally have low melatonin levels, and that by elevating these levels the degree of stress associated with the illness can be alleviated. Herbs containing melatonin are St. John’s wort, and feverfew. Foods containing melatonin are oats, rice, ginger, bananas, and tomatoes.

Make sure you consult with your health-care provider before you take any of the above to determine dosage and to make sure there are no counter-indications.

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