Can diet affect stress levels?

This is an interesting question, given how much we know food impacts mental health and brain health

There are three aspects to this question that are vital:

  1. can food reduce stress and cortisol levels?

  2. can food reduce symptoms of stress?

  3. can food reduce the health impacts of stress?

Ill go through the first question in this post, and the next two in my next post :-)


This post will look at whether food can directly alter cortisol levels

The evidence for this is not that clear, mostly due to limited trials But some studies shows it may - and interestingly many mirror traditional remedies for stress!


  • Drinking tea may help - one RCT comparing black tea with placebo over 6 weeks showed tea drinkers had less of a cortisol spike when stressed and recovered faster from stressful situations This is thought to be due to the EGCG and l-theanine content . So making a cuppa to calm the nerves may have some basis Green tea has also been shown to reduce dementia risk and is included in brain healthy diets such as the MIND diet


  • B vitamins: a metanalysis of multiple RCTs showed that B vitamins reduced stress in most trials . B vitamins are needed for many metabolic pathways, and deficiencies increase risk of mental health issues and dementia A small trial done after the Christchurch earthquake also showed reduced stress levels in people given b vitamins Foods rich in b vitamins include whole grains, legumes, avocado's, citrus, eggs, and poultry/fish


  • Warm milk contains tryptophan which increases serotonin, as well as helping sleep (a warm cup of milk before bed may have some science behind it!)


  • Whole grains may reduce cortisol, some studies have shown a direct effect from this - they are also highly beneficial for gut health, which is directly linked to mental health


  • Magnesium is often used for stress, relaxation, muscle tension, and sleep Many cultures use mineral baths high in magnesium to help stress and aches Stress can deplete magnesium levels, and a metanalysis of magnesium and anxiety showed that supplementing with this reduced anxiety levels Magnesium is involved in production of neurotransmitters and may even affect hypothalamus function, again a vital part of the stress response Foods high in magnesium are again brain healthy foods - leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, avocado and even dark chocolate

Interestingly, these foods are all included in both an anti-inflammatory diet, as well as the MIND diet (diet for brain health) and the modiMED diet (diet for mental health) - just adding to the likelihood its all interconnected!



https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22782571/ (chch earthquake) TEA and stress https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00398-1 Food and stress https://source.wustl.edu/.../breaking-down-stress-10.../ Metanalysis b vitamins https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6770181/ Magnesium https://www.healthline.com/health/magnesium-anxiety Magnesium metanalysis Boyle NB, et. al. (2017). The effects of magnesium supplementation on subjective anxiety and stress – A systematic review. DOI: 10.3390/nu9050429

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