The Fatigue Fix
Power up your day with a mix of energy-boosting supplements—from the essentials such as B vitamins and ginseng to lesser-known options maca and cordyceps.
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Being tired has practically become an American way of life. Most of us are inundated with unrelenting stress, information overload, and sleep deprivation. To cope, we put our health and well-being on the back burner, depending on stimulants such as caffeine to keep going. If this sounds like your life, you’re not alone. In fact, chronic exhaustion has become such a widespread phenomenon that some experts have dubbed it the “fatigue epidemic.”
There’s no doubt that a healthy diet and lifestyle are the cornerstone of an energetic life. But if your days are extremely hectic or you suffer from an energy-sucking condition, the following supplements can help turbocharge your energy levels and support overall good health.
B vitamins have earned a reputation as energy boosters-and for good reason. B vitamins are essential for turning the food we eat into energy, or more specifically into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the form of energy your cells use. Converting food into ATP requires hundreds of chemical reactions. Since B vitamins act as co-factors in many of those reactions, it’s important to make sure your levels are adequate. Just be aware that B vitamins aren’t stored in the body. What’s more, stress, alcohol, and a poor diet can deplete your supply. This is why it’s important to replenish your levels daily with a B complex that includes B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6, pantothenic acid, biotin, B12, and folic acid.
Iron deficiency is a common cause of fatigue, especially among women. However, a study involving 136 women between the ages of 18 and 55 found that those taking 80 mg of iron daily for four weeks experienced 29 percent less fatigue compared to just 13 percent in those taking a placebo. Women of childbearing age and those who are pregnant are at the greatest risk of an iron deficiency. On the other hand, men and postmenopausal women should have their iron levels checked before supplementing.
Magnesium is often considered the “anti-stress” mineral. But it’s also a great way to support healthy energy levels. Studies suggest that adequate serum magnesium helps to optimize the body’s use of oxygen. This, in turn, helps you feel more energized. What’s more, the enzymes involved in the production of ATP are dependent on this vital mineral. Since most Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diets, supplementation is important. The best way to ensure you’re getting enough is by taking a high-quality magnesium supplement every day. For optimal bioavailability, opt for water-soluble magnesium in ionic form.
Omega-3 fats: Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to building healthy cell membranes. They also boost brain function, modulate mood, protect the heart and arteries, fight wrinkles, protect vision, lubricate joints-and play a role in supporting optimum energy levels.
There are a number of mechanisms whereby low levels of omega-3 fatty acids can contribute to low energy levels, says Michael T. Murray, ND, author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine and other books. “Low levels of EPA and DHA are associated with an increased stress response. That means, both the acute and chronic effects of stress-including fatigue-are much more severe when omega-3 levels are low.”
Unless you eat these types of fish at least twice a week, it’s wise to take a high-quality fish oil supplement boasting about 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA combined. If you are a vegetarian, take an algae-based omega-3 with 200-400 mg of DHA.
Cordyceps has been used as an effective energy booster in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It’s so well accepted in Asia that a team of women runners taking part in the 1993 Chinese National Games used it as part of their training program-and went on to shatter nine world records. Although few clinical studies have been conducted, Japanese researchers at the University of Fukui recently reported on cordyceps’ anti-fatigue properties. Other preliminary research has found that cordyceps increases oxygen uptake and improves physical endurance. Look for a freeze-dried, certified organic cordyceps supplement that provides a full spectrum of polysaccharides, glycoproteins, ergosterols, triterpenoids, and other myconutrients.
D-Ribose is a naturally occurring sugar that forms the backbone of ATP. One study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that when people with chronic fatigue syndrome took ribose, energy increased an average of 45 percent after only three weeks. Another trial found that ribose increased athletic performance, strength, and endurance in a group of bodybuilders. For an energy boost, add a scoop of ribose to eight oz. of juice or water.
L-carnitine is an amino acid that can help boost energy levels in those suffering from persistent fatigue. One way it does this is by transporting fatty acids across cell membranes and into the mitochondria-the energy factories inside each cell-where they fuel energy production.
Athletes value L-carnitine for its ability to speed recovery and decrease muscle soreness after workouts. But L-carnitine’s benefits go beyond the gym. When 66 centenarians who experienced fatigue after even the slightest physical activity took a daily dose of L-carnitine, they had more energy and showed improvements in both mental spryness and muscle mass. A study of fibromyalgia patients found that L-carnitine improved fatigue, the ability to sleep, mood, and muscular-skeletal pain. Take L-carnitine 30 minutes before eating to improve absorption. To boost exercise performance, take right before your workout.
Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is gaining popularity for its ability to boost cellular energy. This vitamin-like compound facilitates biochemical reactions in the mitrochondria without breaking down. It also activates the genes that promote the formation of new mitochondria. To date, there are more than 200 published studies on PQQ. This preliminary research suggests that it improves energy levels and optimizes mitochondrial function. Other studies have found that a combination of PQQ and CoQ10 may promote memory, cognition, and attention span.
Related: 7 Fatigue-Busting Foods
Siberian ginseng (also called eleuthero) is the one of the most commonly used herbal energy boosters for fending off fatigue. Studies suggest that eleuthero improves stamina and concentration. A study of 96 people suffering from chronic fatigue found that those taking eleuthero reported significantly less fatigue after two months.
Rhodiola has been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce stress-related fatigue. It also elevates mood by facilitating the production of serotonin. Rhodiola is typically taken continuously for several weeks, then stopped for a week or two before resuming use.
Maca (also called Peruvian ginseng) is an adaptogenic root that has been used for thousands of years to boost energy, nourish the adrenals, combat stress, and enhance sexual desire and stamina. Related to the radish plant, maca is typically sold as a light tan powder; add it to smoothies.
More Energy for Exercise
Certain supplements on the market have an impressive and proven track record for increasing energy and exercise performance, particularly branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) and beet juice extract.
BCAAs are three amino acids-leucine, isoleucine, and valine-that have a unique role in exercise. “Branched chain amino acids are a kind of alternate fuel source,” explains Jade Teta, ND, CSCS, an integrative physician specializing in fitness and the author of The Metabolic Effect Diet. They can be used to make both glucose and ketones, which, as any low-carb dieter knows, can be used quite effectively as fuel by the brain, heart, and muscles. “By acting as a kind of surrogate carbohydrate, they allow you to exercise in a carb depleted state, and that will increase fat burning,” says Teta.
BCAAs also have an effect on cravings. According to Teta, when you take 5-10 gm of BCAAs between meals on an empty stomach, it essentially shuts off hunger. And research has shown that BCAAs increase the rate of protein synthesis (muscle building) and decrease the rate of protein degradation (muscle breakdown).
Beet Juice Extract
Another great supplement for exercisers that’s the focus of a lot of research right now is beet juice. “Beet juice is absolutely fantastic as an exercise performance enhancer,” says Teta. Beet juice-and beet extract-seem to work their magic by increasing nitric oxide in the body. According to Jim Stoppani, PhD, aka “the Supplement Guru” on Bodybuilding.com, the purported benefits of beet juice or beet extract include “greater exercise endurance, greater power output, and less fatigue.” Stoppani suggests taking beet extract 30-60 minutes before a workout.
Invigorating Essential Oils
Awaken your senses with clean, refreshing essential oil blends. Citrus aromas are naturally cleansing and energizing. Try lemon, grapefruit, or sweet orange-or a mix of all three. Bergamot, peppermint, tangerine, lime, ginger, eucalyptus, and rosemary scents, to name a few, are all used to uplift the spirit and recharge the mind and body. Try: Aura Cacia Pep Talk, which is a blend of orange, lemon, and peppermint essential oils.
When buying essential oils, look for pure essential oils that can be added to a bath, mister, or carrier oil. Or try candles, soaps, room sprays, and other products made with pure essential oils. Avoid synthetic fragrances-only pure essential oils retain the healing properties of the plants from which they are derived. The following body scrub, excerpted from The Spa Deck: 50 Recipes for Relaxation & Rejuvenation by Barbara Close, features energizing grapefruit and tangerine essential oils. Try in the shower for an instant pick-me-up and skin-smoothing treatment.
Ruby Grapefruit Exfoliating Paste
Massage this paste vigorously over the entire body in the bath or shower to enhance circulation, exfoliate dull skin, and help you to get going in the morning.
4 oz. glass jar
1 oz. almond oil
18 drops grapefruit essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil
14 drops tangerine essential oil
Small glass bowl
3 oz. coarse sea salt
Combine almond oil and essential oils in glass jar; shake vigorously. Pour oil mixture into a glass bowl and add the sea salts a little at a time, stirring until you have a thick paste. Let mixture sit for one hour. Pour into glass jar. This paste will last for six months if covered and stored in a dark glass container.