The Relationship Between Minerals and Stress
It’s no surprise that we love to talk about anxiety around here. After all, it’s plaguing so many of us and is on the rise with nearly ⅓ of the US population reporting symptoms of anxiety in 2023. While there are countless reasons that you could be experiencing anxiety, mineral deficiencies are often a lesser-known culprit. Let’s dive into the dynamic relationship between minerals and stress and how certain minerals can get out of whack with chronic stress. For more information on how mineral deficiencies can manifest in your body, listen to my full conversation with the mineral queen (and my dear friend) Amanda Montalvo RD on the Quiet the Diet Podcast.
Your body’s natural stress response
We all have a surveillance system, so to speak, that is constantly monitoring us and our environment for potential stressors. Here’s how it works: your brain gets alerted to a stressor (a loud bang, the “we need to talk text”, freezing cold water, etc) then your hypothalamus sends a hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) to your pituitary gland, triggering the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone travels to your adrenal glands, signaling them to produce cortisol – which we are all-too familiar with these days. Cortisol gets a bad rap, but this essential, anti-inflammatory hormone immediately puts you in fight or flight mode when you need it most. Simultaneously, your body makes two important neurotransmitters: epinephrine and norepinephrine. These are what give you that jolt of energy that makes you feel like you can take on the world, which is addicting! So if you’re the kind of person who can’t sit still and meditate because your body is so accustomed to being in a state of chronic stress, your body may not feel safe enough to come out of this mode.
Why you burn through minerals when you’re stressed
When your body pumps out stress hormones, you quickly burn through vitamin C and magnesium, which in turn impacts your levels of sodium, potassium and zinc. It’s important to note that you may not even be aware that your body is under stress, like when you are dealing with gut issues or internal inflammation of any kind. So you may go months or even years with this underlying, subconscious stress until something really big happens in your personal life or you find yourself in a difficult season. That’s when your stress response can get dysfunctional and cause your cortisol to remain high, signaling to your brain to stop producing it at all. Eventually you’ll start feeling exhausted, super anxious, on edge, and perhaps a little depressed. Sound familiar?
This is where minerals become critical! You can think of minerals like little spark plugs, or cofactors, that kick off chemical reactions in your body. Magnesium, for instance, is involved in over 500 different enzymatic reactions in your body, so when it’s depleted, your body struggles to make ATP (your primary energy source) and you wind up feeling like you have zero energy to do anything.
How mineral deficiencies show up in Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis tests
A hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) test will expose all of this since your stress response shows up in your mineral levels. As we touched on earlier, magnesium is the first mineral that gets depleted. When you’re experiencing high stress, you’ll often see higher levels of minerals like magnesium and sodium on your hair test because your body is appropriately responding to that stress by using them up. Once you’ve used up your sodium, you’ll then start to use up potassium – a severely underrated mineral. While potassium is essential for every body system, it’s particularly important for blood sugar and healthy thyroid function. This is because potassium helps to shuttle both thyroid hormone and glucose into your cells. So as you start to use up your potassium you will start to see potassium creep higher than sodium in your hair test. And that’s when you can tell you’ve been stressed for a long period of time or you are compensating for acute stress.
Zinc is another extremely popular mineral in the wellness space because of immunity but also zinc deficiencies. If you are dealing with a zinc deficiency, it could be due to a magnesium deficiency since zinc gets depleted when magnesium gets depleted.
Sodium and Potassium
Let’s dive into sodium a bit more because sodium gets a bad name, especially when it comes to blood pressure. But, in reality, if we examine the minerals that impact your blood pressure, it’s never actually sodium, rather, magnesium and potassium are to blame. Most people have a lack of magnesium and potassium (and oftentimes sodium too) which leads to high blood pressure. This is why it’s paramount that you don’t start taking one of these minerals without balancing the others as well.
Sodium and potassium are electrolytes that work in tandem – sodium functions more outside the cell while potassium is more of an intracellular mineral. Sodium’s primary function is to keep your body’s fluids in balance while potassium plays a vital role in muscle contraction and nerve transmission. The two minerals have an inverse relationship: as potassium increases, sodium decreases. Together, they create what is known as a sodium-potassium pump, which is a protein that transports ions (like sodium and potassium) in and out of your cells to maintain normal, healthy electrochemical gradients critical for your survival. Since many women are on some iteration of a low carb diet they’re missing out on potassium-rich foods like sweet potatoes, bananas, potatoes, apples, oranges, and dried fruits (apricots, prunes, dates, raisins). So, if you’re not getting enough potassium AND you cut down on your salt consumption for health reasons, then you likely are going to experience high anxiety and extreme fatigue.
To avoid taxing your kidneys and retaining fluid, we recommend that you increase sodium and potassium together, slowly, while incorporating 4x more potassium than sodium. Try not to overthink this and just focus on eating both potassium and sodium rich foods. Remember, if you’re in an exhausted state of stress, going slower is always better! Here are 3 tips on how to improve low sodium and potassium on an HTMA test that Amanda shared.
To wrap things up, let’s talk about high calcium on a hair test. There’s an interesting pattern of high calcium (above 175-200mg%) called a “calcium shell”. This occurs when sodium and potassium become too low, causing magnesium and calcium to precipitate out of your blood and form hard deposits all over your body, particularly in soft tissues like your hair. In this case, calcium becomes biounavailable and your blood or serum calcium levels will be low, eventually causing your body to steal calcium from your bones and putting you at risk for osteoporosis. This pattern is hugely common in people with mental health struggles and trauma, which is interesting because the physical shell is almost like your body is trying to protect itself emotionally, or energetically, to keep you safe.
Adrenal nourishing drinks:
As we now know, when you get burnt out, you generate less cortisol (hi fatigue) and quickly deplete your minerals. Replenishing them through an adrenal cocktail is an easy and delicious way to ensure you’re nourishing your adrenals and overall hormone health. Amanda shared a few of her recipes that follow the ideal mineral ratio of 460 mg of sodium, 375 mg of potassium and 60 mg of whole food vitamin C so that you don’t have to think about it!
For Amanda’s favorite adrenal cocktail:
- 4oz of coconut water
- uice of 1/2 a lime
- 1/4 tsp of sea salt
If you have blood sugar issues, try this recipe:
- 2-4oz orange juice
- 4oz coconut water
- 1/4 tsp redmond real salt
- 2oz coconut cream
- 2 tbsp collagen peptides
If you struggle with histamine intolerance, here’s a low histamine recipe:
- 2-4oz pomegranate juice
- 2-4oz aloe vera juice (inner leaf)
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
And if you’re looking for an even simpler way of getting in more minerals, we love using LMNT for a daily dose of sodium, potassium and magnesium (the top three you burn through when stressed!).
Want more support in eating healthier and losing weight?
By working with one of our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists at Michelle Shapiro Nutrition LLC, you will receive personalized recommendations and one-on-one nutritional counseling to help you reach attainable goals in a way that fits your lifestyle.