Life in the modern world often leads to women juggling multiple roles in an increasingly complex society. As a result, they are at ever increasing risk of psychological stress. To help combat this, there are a variety of supplements on the market targeted at stress relief, but to date the clinical evidence is limited in regards their ability to effectively manage stress.
A new, comprehensive systematic review has demonstrated that some micronutrients are able to reduce clinical symptoms in response to stress (1). The review identified 14 relevant studies, which included a total of 2,193 women ages 18 to 70 years. High-dose, sustained release vitamin C supplementation was found to be effective in women with stress induced anxiety and high blood pressure. Older women were found to benefit from a reduction in anxiety when supplemented with Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), but did not respond to Vitamin B12 or folic acid. Vitamin B6 was also shown to reduce symptoms of premenstrual tension, but only when used in combination with magnesium. One study also looked at the effects of LC-PUFAs using a daily supplement containing 450mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and nominal quantities of docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in a small cohort of 64 women. After confounders had been accounted for, the study did identify significant reductions in both perceived and circumstance stress among the participants (2). It did not prove possible to conduct a full meta-analysis from the review data (1) because of the heterogeneity of the data and wide variety of outcome measures (e.g. 14 different measures of stress!).
Pyridoxal 5 Phosphate, the metabolically active form of vitamin B6 is a cofactor in the biosynthesis of some important mood-altering neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) (3,4).
A previous randomized control trial (RCT) examined whether the mood and anxiety of working participants could be improved by a supplement of a high dose vitamin B complex. The result was a significant reduction in reported personal strain and less confusion, but other measures of mood and anxiety were unaffected (5).
In summary, the new review offers some evidence of the benefit of some micronutrients when used in stress-relieving supplements for women, but much more is required in the way of randomized controlled studies and consequent meta-analyses before any quantification of efficacy can be attempted.