Stress is your body’s response to anything out of the ordinary.
This is also known as the ‘flight-or-fight’ response.
During stress, your body pumps out hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
While these aren’t an issue in the short-term, chronically elevated stress hormones can cause a wide range of health problems.
You’ve guessed it, vitamin deficiency is one of these problems.
Before we explain the link between stress and vitamin deficiency, let’s see what happens to your body under stress:
What Happens When You’re Stressed?
When you’re under stress, your body goes through a number of changes.
One of these changes happens in your adrenals, which start pumping out cortisol and adrenaline.
- These stress hormones serve to help us act quickly, resolve a problem, or defend ourselves from danger.
Your cortisol is typically higher in the morning to wake up you.
In the evening, cortisol levels drop down to help you relax and unwind.
But what happens when you’re constantly stressed?
The answer is, your cortisol stays elevated all day and night.
Is Cortisol Your Enemy?
It doesn’t take a doctor to tell you that constantly elevated cortisol is not good for your health.
Some of the health effects of chronically high cortisol include (2):
- Loss of libido
- Insomnia (inability to sleep)
- Low testosterone
- High blood pressure
- Increased inflammation
- Heart disease
- Neurological and emotional problems
But how exactly does stress cause these problems for us?
Well, that’s exactly what we explain below:
How Stress Affects Your Health
In order to fully understand the answer to the question “can stress cause vitamin deficiency,” we should look at what stress exactly does to your body – both short-term and long-term.
While some stress once in a while is not a bad thing. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your health.
Short-Term Effects of Stress
Your body secretes stress hormones right after you experience a stressor.
Cortisol and adrenaline are released to tell your body it’s time to go into a ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. (1)
Your blood sugar levels increase to provide you with the energy necessary to deal with the situation.
On the other hand, other bodily functions such as digestion take a backseat.
Because of these changes, you may experience a wide range of symptoms in your body.
Some of the most common short-term effects of stress are:
- Muscle stiffness and tension
- Dry mouth
- Sweating, especially under armpits
- A spike in blood pressure
- Short and quick breaths
- Decreased appetite
- Racing heart
Long-Term Effects of Stress
Normally, your body returns back to baseline after the stressor is gone.
But in chronically stressed people, the body isn’t able to return back to normal.
The danger may be long gone, but their bodies continue to sense danger.
In such cases, the body conserves the energy for survival, instead of using it for repairing and healing itself.
As you can imagine, this can lead to a wide range of health consequences (3):
- Existing health issues get worse – the immune system gets weaker and the body has a hard time recovering from illness.
- Poor digestion – Stress slows down your body’s digestion. If you’re chronically stressed, this means you’ll have poor nutrient absorption, along with stomach cramps. If you already have ulcers, stress can make them worse.
- Sex hormone disbalances – if you’re a man, chronic stress can wreck your testosterone levels and increase estrogen. This leads to the infamous ‘man boobs’ and belly fat. For women, chronic stress means a disbalance in estrogen and other sex hormones, which can negatively affect almost all areas of their life.
- Mental disorders – Chronic stress depletes your neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. A disbalance in these brain chemicals can lead to anxiety, depression, ADD, and other mental disorders.
- Short-term memory loss – Have you ever tried to remember a stressful event, like when you had an important public speech? Do you have trouble recalling the details of the event? When you’re under stress, your brain often goes ‘blank’ leading to short-term memory loss.
So, Can Stress Cause Vitamin Deficiency?
Onto the big question: can stress cause vitamin deficiency?
The answer is a definite ‘yes’.
There are three main reasons why.
- Poor nutrient absorption: as we explained, stress causes your digestion to slow down. If you’re constantly stressed, your body won’t be able to properly digest and extract the nutrients from the foods you eat. (1)
- Stress quickly depletes your nutrient reserves: Your body rapidly uses up resources during stress as a survival mechanism. To boost your energy levels, heart rate, and other bodily functions, the body uses a lot of vitamin C, B vitamins, and magnesium.
- Stress causes you to eat unhealthily: How many times have you reached for that bar of chocolate when you were stressed? In the short-term stressful situation, the body looks for one of the most important nutrients it can get: glucose. But if you’re constantly stressed, you may start to reach for that sweet treat a little too often. This can lead to malnutrition and insulin resistance from too much sugar and lack of real nutrients.
Which Vitamins Get Depleted During Stress?
As you saw, your body mainly uses vitamins B and C during stress.
Vitamin C is extremely important here because your adrenal glands need it to produce stress hormones in optimal amounts. (4)
- A quick tip: If you’re stressed often, try taking 500mg of vitamin C every couple of hours, along with 1-2 capsules of vitamin B complex per day. Or even better, you can take a whole food multivitamin.
Can Stress Cause Mineral Deficiency?
Yes, stress can cause mineral deficiency, especially when it comes to magnesium. (5)
Zinc is another mineral that gets depleted by stress.
When you’re stressed, your body typically sweats more. Since you lose zinc through sweat, this can become an issue.
Can stress cause vitamin deficiency?
It can – and it does in many people who’re chronically stressed.
The mechanisms of stress affect almost all aspects of your health. This includes digestion which plays a key role in nutrient absorption from food.
If you’re constantly stressed, you’ll have poor digestion which can lead to nutrient deficiency.
Not only that, your body uses up nutrients quickly when it’s stressed.
Vitamins and minerals that get depleted the most during stress are:
- B vitamins
- Vitamin C
The good news is, you can replenish these nutrients by simply eating more foods that contain them. Or if you want a quicker and simpler solution, take a whole food multivitamin.
The impact of stress on body function: A review. (source)
What are the health effects of chronic stress? - MedicalNewsToday. (source)
The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. (source)
Vitamin C is an important cofactor for both adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla. (source)
Magnesium and stress. (source)