This isn’t the same as feeling bad during a rough patch; if someone close to you is ill, you’re going through a divorce, you’re moving house or have just had a baby (good stress is still stress), you may find yourself feeling low, stressed and overwhelmed, but in these cases this reaction is normal and the situations, along with the negative moods, will pass. And a caveat to short term medication is chronic psychiatric illnesses which often require medication for life, for the person’s safety. A topic we won’t go into here.
Lifestyle choices you probably have read about before – walking, turning screens off an hour before bedtime, exercising, getting enough sunlight and good food tap into basic human needs that many people aren’t getting. Community and belonging, with a good support network of friends and family, as well as a sense of purpose, be that a job, volunteering at the school bake sale, or simply devoting your time to nurturing your children are all valuable contributions to the wider world.
But there are some natural supplements and sleep aids that can help. In fact they’re so natural they’re simple vitamins, minerals and nutrients found in the food and drinks you consume every day. Only if you’re not getting enough or have a greater need for them (such as if you exercise or are stressed), you might be deficient or need more than the RDA, and supplementing could drastically improve your sense of wellbeing.
Two of these are Magnesium, a mineral, and L-Theanine, which you may not have heard of but have certainly consumed, in your morning cup of tea! I have a good diet and love tea, but I also exercise a lot and an very stress sensitive, or ‘highly strung’ as some might call me. Could Mindful Matter’s supplements give me a helping hand? I tried them and here are my thoughts (that’s sweaty me posing with them after a workout at the end of a ridiculously hot day….Summer 2018 heatwave if you’re reading this in the future….):
Magnesium deficiencies are common even in developed countries. It’s commonly found in nuts, leafy green vegetables and oily fish, things Westerners often don’t get enough off. People who exercise have higher needs so are even more likely to need topping up if they don’t pay attention to their food.
Magnesium reduced blood pressure; high PB is correlated with stress and this is one connection as to why. The relaxing effects of magnesium help lower blood pressure as well as stress.
Magnesium also improves insulin sensitivity which in short means you have more balanced blood sugar levels. Ever noticed how you crave sugar when stressed? Yes that’s another non-coincidence! Magnesium will help with sugar cravings, especially stress related ones.
Magnesium has shown to be calming enough to help with depression, anxiety and ADHD, as it ‘reduced neural excitation’ (calms the nerves) and acts as a sedative, so is best taken before bed.
You’ll know when you’ve taken too much or too much at once; the result is usually diarrhoea, but that’s a good thing as it means toxicity is rare as your body just flushes excess out. In fact some people use it for constipation for this reason, though I’m not a medical doctor and am not advising you try that without advice first, or doing your own research.
Mindful contains three types of magnesium (there’s more than one type of most vitamins and minerals), all of which have slightly different absorption rates and benefits, so mix is best for most people, at a total amount of 330mg, at the higher end of the recommended 200-400mg / day. This is impressive – most supplement companies cut corners and costs by providing just enough to tick a box, but more is often better when deficiency is likely.
The magnesium tablets also contain 10mg zinc and 30mg Vitamin B6. This makes it very similar to a product called ZMA you might have heard me talk about which is commonly sold to bodybuilders in macho tubs, but actually is just minerals that are fantastic for relaxation, muscle and nerve recovery, and are simply needed more in people who exercise than those who don’t.
Zinc is another common deficiency in developed countries, since it’s found in similar healthy foods like seeds as well as red meat and shellfish, but many people in the UK rely a lot on simple grains as the staple of their diet. For this reason most are fortified, but this isn’t an ideal way to get your nutrients by any means. Zinc helps regulate hormones and is lost through sweat, making it another mineral especially important for people who exercise. It’s also vital for immunity, muscle and nerve health. From a mood perspective, zinc improves serotonin (a happy chemical) uptake in the brain, and improves ‘BDNF’ pathways in the brain, potentially helping with depression and memory problems.
Vitamin B6 helps your body produce energy but also increases serotonin and dopamine – two ‘happy chemicals’ – transmission, providing a potential mood lift as well as helping you to destress and relax.
There’s two reasons I take magnesium some days. Firstly, for sleep. It’s a mild relaxant and sedative, and since sleeping pills come with some not so great side effects and are addictive, I’d rather take magnesium any day (or should that be any night?). It works for me, and it works for many others too. I don’t take it every day, but if I’m having trouble sleeping, it works.
The other reason is muscle soreness. I’m pretty good with my 5-6 x weekly workouts and after a few days the DOMS (muscle soreness) can start to build up. Magnesium helps ease my tight ‘done a workout’ muscles and makes the next morning’s workout so much easier, and can even allow me to exercise when I would have otherwise had to skip it.
I’ve used both magnesium and ZMA (which this mix is very similar too) many times before so hoped it would be as good as my previous experiences. During school holidays (which it is, as I write this) the kids are up later, I’m more wired and wound up later into the evening, and having to work early in the morning means I can quickly get over worked and under rested. This helped a real treat.
Ever been given magnesium bath salts? Now you know why – they relax your muscles and help you sleep.
You’ve probably felt the relaxing and rejuvenating effects of l-theanine many times – it’s in your cup of tea! It’s the stuff that makes you relax while being uplifted, and if not found in coffee which is why coffee gives you the jitters – l-theanine in tea counterbalances that. Taking l-theanine alongside coffee negates many of the negative effects of coffee that some people experience.
L-theanine can be summed up as relaxing without being sedating, so it doesn’t induce sleep. If it’s sleep you want, refer to the previous discussion on magnesium, or try lemon balm. What many Mums find is that we’re so tired we fall asleep easily when given the opportunity, but stress and feeling overwhelmed during the day are a problem. We joke that a cup of tea helps most problems, but as you can see it’s no joke!
L-theanine also improves attention, so is good while studying or working, or tackling the yearly Christmas card list…..
L-Theanine relaxes you by increasing calming brain chemicals such as GABA, which is what chamomile tea does, and also cannabis….but we won’t go there….;) . It increases the happy hormones serotonin and dopamine which regulate mood, sleep, alertness as well as appetite, energy and cognitive skills, while lowering ‘excitatory’ brain chemicals. Stress speeds up brain cell ageing, so l-theanine could potentially slow down ageing and play a role in preventing age related brain disorders like dementia.
Want to get science? L-theanine enhances ‘alpha’ brain waves and increases relaxation, focus and creativity, which create ‘wakeful relaxation’ and are highly active during REM sleep when you have all those weird and creative dreams!
The 400ml capsule is an impressive dose and would be called ‘high strength’, since most offer 100-200mg, but this is perfectly safe and will simply be that much more effective at helping you chill out! For reference, a cup of tea has about 24mg, but there’s none in coffee. In fact L-Theanine is often taken with caffeine as a relaxing while also stimulating concentration aid, or while drinking coffee to reduce the jitters or anxiety. It’s why tea gives you that ‘aaahh’ feeling with a lift, while coffee just makes you more awake and alert. Taking L-Theanine alongside coffee can negate some of the negative effects that can go with drinking coffee.
The first time I took this was actually the first time I’d tried L-Theanine in capsule form (I’m a regular tea drinker). The kids were at their aunts, hubby was away, and I was beavering away on a computer based project until 9pm when I decided I needed to turn the screen off and eat something if I was ever going to sleep that night. I struggle to slow my brain down at the best of times and tonight was going to be hard, so I took a capsule and……went to sleep.
Coincidence or not it’s not usual that I can go from blue light and brain whirring to fast asleep that quickly, and I’m convinced the l-theanine really helped.
The next day I took it with a coffee AND a caffeine containing pre-workout supplement and didn’t get the post-coffee/workout tremor I often do. The following day I drank the same but without the l-theanine, and the tremble returned. Odd? No, this stuff is proven and some people take l-theanine with coffee all the time for this reason. I took a capsule about 20 minutes later to see if it would help, and yes, it did.
You can find out more about Mindful Matters Magnesium and L-Theanine on their website at https://mindfulmatter.co.uk/. There’s also free delivery and you can get 20% off with code MINDFUL20.