How to boost energy naturally

  • 27 Nov 2015
  • Reading time 13 mins
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The complaint I hear more than any other is from people feeling tired or running out of energy. The ‘need’ for caffeine, especially coffee, has become a life essential. Yet the research is clear that non-caffeine consumers are more alert on waking than caffeine consumers. So instead of coffee what can you take? Below are my favourite energy nutrients and herbs. Here’s why.

B vitamins and C

Numerous studies have linked low levels of vitamin C with increased fatigue. For example, a study at the University of Alabama Medical Center assessed the vitamin C intake of 411 dentists and their spouses, then, using a questionnaire, determined their ‘fatigability’ score. The researchers concluded, ‘These limited data suggest that individuals consuming the generally accepted RDA for vitamin C report approximately twice the fatigue symptomatology as those taking about sevenfold the RDA.’

Supplementing vitamin C alongside B vitamins can also have a marked impact on how you feel and your energy levels. A 2011 randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial gave 198 men between the ages of 30 and 55 in full-time employment either a supplement containing vitamin C, B complex and minerals or a placebo. After assessments at 14 and 28 days, those receiving the supplement were found to have greater physical and mental stamina, concentration and alertness than those taking the placebo.1

Co-Q10

Coenzyme Q10 is a vital link in the energy equation. In cell studies it improves energy, reduces stress and acts as an antioxidant.2 Technically, Co-Q cannot be classified as a vitamin since it can be made by the body, although it isn’t made in large enough amounts for optimum health and energy. It is therefore known as a semi-essential nutrient. The older you get the less you make so cellular levels drop unless you supplement it. The form that humans use is called Co-Q10, which is what you’ll find in supplements, sometimes in the ‘reduced’ form called ubiquinol. Co-Q’s magical properties lie in its ability to improve the cell’s capacity to use oxygen.

I recommend 50 to 200mg of Co-Q10 a day for an energy boost although there is no known harm in taking more. No studies have reported toxicity of Co-Q10, even at extremely high doses taken over many years. So there is no reason to think that continued supplementation with Co-Q10, as I advise for many vitamins, should have anything but extremely positive results.

The three Ginsengs – Korean, American and Siberian

Ginseng is the most renowned energy boosting herb of all. It is a shrub native to the woodlands of Northern China, Korea and Siberia, whose roots have been revered in China for some 5000 years as a general tonic - increasing your energy and sense of well-being.

There are actually several related herbs commonly called ginseng, but the two most commonly used are Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) and Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). The latter, while related, is technically not a ginseng, though its functions are so similar that it is now regarded equally. There is another sub-species of Panax ginseng called Panax quinquefolium, known as American ginseng. This is established as an energy booster in animal studies.3 Korean ginseng has been shown to lessen fatigue in those with chronic fatigue,4 fibromyalgia5, multiple sclerosis6 and cancer-related fatigue.7

Siberian ginseng is the best researched of the ginsengs. For example, in one study with Russian telegraph workers, subjects were asked to transmit the same piece of text rapidly and continuously for 5 minutes, and while everyone transmitted similar numbers of characters in the allotted time, those who were taking Siberian ginseng made significantly fewer errors.8 Two reviews of dozens of experiments involving over two thousand people taking Siberian ginseng for up to three months confirmed its ability to improve mood and intellectual performance with almost no side effects.9

A recent study found that Siberian ginseng plus stress-management training, was highly effective at reducing fatigue and improving alertness and quality of sleep.10 While it can raise cortisol, it seems to work as an ‘adaptogen’, helping you to adapt by stabilising the stress response and reducing fatigue.11

Doses that work in studies vary but quite a few studies suggest that 2,000mg is the most effective dose, although some have reported effects from as little as 100mg. The quality is important and you want to have a ginseng extract that guarantees 4% ginsenosides, or at least 1% eleutherosides for Siberian ginseng, which are the active components. If you have good quality ginseng, a daily dose of 200mg is enough for a beneficial effect.

Side effects at the doses above are extremely rare, though overuse of ginseng can cause overstimulation leading to insomnia, irritability and anxiety. Unconfirmed reports of excessive doses raising blood pressure and increasing heart rate have been largely discredited, though high doses of Korean ginseng might be wise to avoid if you have high blood pressure unless advised by a health practitioner. Korean ginseng in high doses is generally recommended only for men, as it can cause menstrual irregularities and breast tenderness in some women. Lower doses, below 200mg, should not be any problem. All ginsengs, including Siberian, should be taken for no more than 3 months at a time, and after that, used as a tonic when needed. Some take it for three months, then have a one month break.

Some herbalists recommend ginseng during pregnancy, and others warn against it, so as with all herbs, consult a qualified herbal practitioner prior to use during pregnancy.

Reishi mushroom

Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) is a wood-rotting fungus used to strengthen and calm the nerves, improve memory, and prevent or delay senility. It is often used to modify or enhance the effects of other stress-fighting herbs. It also helps to lower insulin levels.12

Not only is it believed to heal physical ailments, it is said to bring about a peaceful state of mind, and to increase spiritual energy.

In one clinical trial with 37 people reporting general weakness, insomnia, poor memory and tiredness, symptoms were ......

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