7 Best Vitamins and Supplements to Relieve Stress
By Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD
While everyone has specific life stressors, factors related to job pressure, money, health, and relationships tend to be the most common.
Stress can be acute or chronic and lead to fatigue, headaches, upset stomach, nervousness, and irritability or anger.
Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and good nutrition are some of the best ways to better equip your body to combat stress, but several vitamins and supplements can also help.
Here are the seven best vitamins and supplements to help you combat stress.
1. Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), is an herb that grows in the cold, mountainous regions of Russia and Asia.
It has long been known as an adaptogen, a natural, non-toxic herb that stimulates your body's stress response system to increase stress resistance.
The adaptogenic properties of rhodiola are linked to two of the herb's potent active ingredients — rosavin and salidroside.
An eight-week study in 100 people with chronic fatigue symptoms, such as poor sleep quality and impairments in short-term memory and concentration, found that supplementing with 400 mg of rhodiola extract daily improved symptoms after just one week.
The symptoms continued to decline throughout the study.
In another study in 118 people with stress-related burnout, taking 400 mg of rhodiola extract daily for 12 weeks improved associated symptoms, including anxiety, exhaustion and irritability.
Rhodiola is well tolerated and has a strong safety profile.
SUMMARY: Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb that has been shown to improve symptoms associated with chronic fatigue and stress-related burnout.
Getting adequate amounts of quality sleep is important for relieving stress.
Stress is strongly linked to insomnia, a sleep disorder characterized by difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep — or both.
That said, achieving adequate quality sleep may not be the easiest if you're under stress, which in turn could worsen its severity.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that regulates your body's circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle. Levels of the hormone increase in the evening when it's dark to promote sleep and decrease in the morning when it's light to promote wakefulness.
In a review of 19 studies in 1,683 people with primary sleep disorders — those not caused by another condition — melatonin decreased the time it took people to fall asleep, increased total sleep time, and improved overall sleep quality, compared with a placebo.
Another review of seven studies involving 205 people investigated the effectiveness of melatonin for managing secondary sleep disorders, which are those caused by another condition, such as stress or depression.
The review demonstrated that melatonin decreased the time it took people to fall asleep and increased total sleep time but did not significantly affect sleep quality, compared with a placebo.
Though melatonin is a natural hormone, supplementing with it does not affect your body's production of it. Melatonin is also non-habit-forming.
Melatonin supplements range in dosage from 0.3–10 mg. It's best to start with the lowest dose possible and work up to a higher dose if necessary.
While melatonin supplements can be purchased over the counter in the U.S., they require a prescription in many other countries.
SUMMARY: Supplementing with melatonin may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer if you have difficulties falling asleep related to stress.
Glycine is an amino acid that your body uses to create proteins.
Studies suggest that glycine may increase your body's resistance to stress by encouraging a good night's rest through its calming effect on the brain and ability to lower your core body temperature.
A lower body temperature promotes sleep and helps you stay asleep during the night.
In one study, 15 people who had complaints about the quality of their sleep and took 3 grams of glycine before bed experienced less fatigue and increased alertness the following day, compared with a placebo.
These effects occurred despite no difference in the time it took to fall asleep or time slept, compared with a placebo, suggesting glycine improved sleep quality.
In a similar study, taking 3 grams of glycine before bedtime was shown to improve measures of sleep quality and performance on memory recognition tasks.
What's more, another small study found that supplementing with 3 grams of glycine before bed reduced daytime sleepiness and fatigue following three days of sleep deprivation.
Glycine is well tolerated, but taking 9 grams on an empty stomach before bed has been associated with minor stomach upset. That said, taking 3 grams is unlikely to cause any side effects.
SUMMARY: The calming effects of glycine have been shown to improve sleep quality and feelings of alertness and focus.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an adaptogenic herb native to India, where it has been used in Indian Ayurveda, one of the world's oldest medicinal systems.
Similarly to rhodiola, ashwagandha is thought to enhance your body's resilience to physical and mental stress.
In one study on the stress-relieving effects of ashwagandha, researchers randomized 60 individuals with mild stress to receive 240 mg of a standardized ashwagandha extract or a placebo daily for 60 days.
Compared with the placebo, supplementing with ashwagandha was strongly associated with greater reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression. Ashwagandha was also linked to a 23% reduction in morning levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
What's more, a review of five studies examining the effects of ashwagandha on anxiety and stress observed that those who supplemented with ashwagandha extract scored better on tests measuring levels of stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
A study investigating the safety and efficacy of supplementing with ashwagandha in people with chronic stress noted that taking 600 mg of ashwagandha for 60 days was safe and well tolerated.
SUMMARY: The adaptogenic properties of ashwagandha have been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as lower morning cortisol levels.
L-theanine is an amino acid most commonly found in tea leaves.
It has been studied for its ability to promote relaxation and reduce stress without exerting sedative effects.
A review of 21 studies involving nearly 68,000 people found that drinking green tea was associated with reduced anxiety and improvements in memory and attention.
These effects were attributed to the synergistic effects of the caffeine and l-theanine in the tea, as each ingredient on its own was found to have a lesser impact.
However, studies suggest that l-theanine by itself may still help relieve stress.
One study showed that supplementing with 200 mg of l-theanine reduced measures of stress, such as heart rate, in response to performing a mentally stressful task.
In another study in 34 people, drinking a beverage containing 200 mg of l-theanine and other nutrients lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol in response to a stressful task that involved multitasking.
L-theanine is well tolerated and safe when supplemented with at its effective dose for relaxation, which ranges from 200–600 mg per day in capsule form.
For comparison, l-theanine comprises 1–2% of the dry weight of leaves, corresponding to 10–20 mg of l-theanine per commercially available tea bag.
That said, drinking tea is unlikely to have any noticeable effect on stress. Nonetheless, many people find the act of drinking tea to be relaxing.
SUMMARY: L-theanine is a natural component of tea leaves that has been shown to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
6. B Complex Vitamins
B complex vitamins usually contain all eight B vitamins.
These vitamins play an important role in metabolism by transforming the food you eat into usable energy. B vitamins are also essential for heart and brain health.
Food sources of B vitamins include grains, meats, legumes, eggs, dairy products, and leafy greens.
Interestingly, high doses of B vitamins have been suggested to improve symptoms of stress, such as mood and energy levels, by lowering blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine.
High levels of homocysteine are associated with stress and an increased risk of several conditions, including heart disease, dementia, and colorectal cancer.
In one 12-week study in 60 people with work-related stress, those taking one of two forms of a vitamin B complex supplement experienced less work-related stress symptoms, including depression, anger, and fatigue, compared with those in the placebo group.
What's more, a review of 8 studies involving 1,292 people found that taking a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement improved several aspects of mood, including stress, anxiety, and energy.
Though the supplement contained several other vitamins and minerals, the study's authors suggested that supplements containing high doses of B vitamins may be more effective at improving aspects of mood.
Another study observed similar results, suggesting that supplementing with B vitamins as part of a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement may improve mood and stress by lowering homocysteine levels.
However, it's unclear whether people who already have low homocysteine levels will experience these same effects.
Vitamin B complex supplements are generally safe when taken within the recommended dosage ranges. However, they may cause harmful side effects like nerve pain when taken in large amounts. Plus, they're water-soluble, so your body excretes any excess through urine.
SUMMARY: The eight B vitamins, collectively known as B complex vitamins, may improve mood and reduce stress by either lowering homocysteine levels or maintaining healthy levels of this amino acid.
Kava (Piper methysticum) is a tropical evergreen shrub native to the South Pacific islands.
Its roots have traditionally been used by Pacific Islanders to prepare a ceremonial beverage called kava, or kava kava.
Kava contains active compounds called kavalactones, which have been studied for their stress-reducing properties.
Kavalactones are thought to inhibit the breakdown of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that decreases the activity of your nervous system, producing a calming effect. This can help relieve feelings of anxiety and stress.
A review of 11 studies in 645 people found that kava extract relieved anxiety, a common reaction to stress.
However, another review concluded that there is insufficient evidence to confirm that kava relieves anxiety.
Kava can be taken in tea, capsule, powder, or liquid form. Its use appears to be safe when taken for 4–8 weeks at a daily dosage of 120–280 mg of kavalactones.
Serious side effects like liver damage have been linked to kava supplements, likely due to supplement adulteration or the use of less expensive parts of the kava plant, such as the leaves or stems, instead of the roots.
Therefore, if you choose to supplement with kava, choose a reputable brand that has its products independently tested by organizations like NSF International or Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
Kava is not a controlled substance in the U.S., but several European countries have regulatory measures in place to limit its sale.
SUMMARY: Kava has traditionally been consumed as a ceremonial beverage. Studies suggest that it may alleviate anxiety via its calming effects, but more research is needed.
The Bottom Line
Stress can be caused by many things, such as job, money, health, or relationship factors.
Several vitamins and other supplements have been linked to reduced stress symptoms, including Rhodiola rosea, melatonin, glycine, and ashwagandha.
L-theanine, B complex vitamins, and kava may also help increase your body's resistance to life's stressors.
Always check with your healthcare provider before trying a new supplement, especially if you're taking other medications, pregnant, or planning to become pregnant.
If stress continues to be a problem in your life, consider speaking with a medical professional or therapist about possible solutions.
WHERE TO BUY: If you're interested in trying one of the suggested supplements above, you can find them locally or online:
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