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Need More Energy?

asleep at desk.jpgIf you lack sufficient energy to meet the demands of life, you aren’t alone.  The National Institute of Health states that approximately one in five Americans complains of fatigue severe enough to interfere with normal daily life.  In fact, fatigue is the second most common reason for a primary care medical visit, second only to pain.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the sale of energy drinks grew 60% since 2010, with total U.S. sales topping $12.5 billion (from foodproductdesign.com).  According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009‒2010, about 20% of Americans drink energy drinks every day.  And let’s not forget that over half of all Americans drink coffee on a daily basis.  Clearly, a lot of people feel they need something to give them more energy.energy drink.jpg

Unfortunately, energy drinks and caffeinated beverages don’t give people the energy they seek.  What they do is stimulate the discharge of energy, rather than increasing energy production and storage.  Consuming these substances is much like whipping a tired horse to make it go faster.  The horse will go faster temporarily, but it will just become more exhausted.  So, when people use caffeine and other stimulants to try to boost their energy, they develop deeper and deeper levels of fatigue.  The body is essentially “running on empty” and never receiving what it needs to replenish its “batteries.”

Understanding Energy

To understand how we can get more energy, we need to understand how the body produces energy. Food is the fuel that contains potential energy for the body. But eating more food doesn’t give you more energy because the food has to be converted to energy through the process of digestion and metabolism. If more fuel is consumed than can be converted to energy, the body simply stores it as fat.  And, although fat is sometimes referred to as an “energy reserve,” it is actually a “fuel” reserve.

Metabolism is what converts the food we consume into energy. That energy comes in the form of heat and electricity. The body is constantly dissipating heat, but it stores electrical energy and it is this storage of electrical energy that constitutes our energy reserve.

According to Dr. Jerry Tennat in his book, Healing is Voltage, the pH of a fluid corresponds with its storage of electrical energy. An alkaline solution has extra electrons to utilize as energy.  An acid solution lacks electrons and will borrow them. The body runs on a slightly alkaline pH, but as electrical energy reserves are reduced, the pH of the body becomes increasingly acidic. Stimulants (like caffeine) deplete these reserves of electrical energy, resulting in more acidic body chemistry and ultimately leading to chronic illness.

Feeling Tired? Caffeine Isn’t the Answer!

coffee doesn't help.jpgCaffeine may be the most widely used drug, primarily because most people don’t regard it as a drug.  People have been using caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea and sodas increasingly during the last century to try to stimulate themselves. Energy drinks have compounded the caffeine problem simply because they contain even larger amounts of caffeine than coffee or sodas. Not only are adults consuming these beverages in large quantities, they are allowing their children and teenagers to do so as well.

In spite of its innocuous reputation, excessive use of caffeine may cause serious damage to the brain and central nervous system. Consuming large amounts of caffeine regularly can lead to serious health problems.  Doctors report that an increasing number of patients come to the ER having consumed three or four energy drinks within an hour (equivalent to 15 cups of coffee). A recent government survey found that from 2007 to 2011, the number of emergency room visits related to energy drink consumption nearly doubled, increasing from 10,068 to 20,783. The largest percentage increase (279%) over the same period was found in people over the age of 40.

Side effects of excessive caffeine consumption can include an elevated risk of developing osteoporosis (caffeine causes the body to lose calcium, resulting in weak bones), rapid heartbeat, arrhythmia, sleeplessness, anxiousness, nervousness, irritability, cold sweats, loss of appetite, nausea and diarrhea.  Symptoms of caffeine overdose also include headaches, fever, dehydration and seizures (acute overdose). Caffeine use also interferes with sleep, which means that the body can’t effectively recharge its energy through proper rest.

The bottom line is that consuming caffeine is not a good way to boost energy—it merely makes the problem worse. People need to learn to increase energy production and storage, not just energy discharge when we are tired.  So, in this article we’ll talk about natural methods of increasing energy to improve endurance, stamina and overall health.  Read further to learn how you can get the energy you need without resorting to stimulants like coffee, tea, cola drinks and energy drinks.

Natural Ways to Boost Your Energy!

Not having enough energy is a sign of diminished health. To restore energy, you need to restore health. You may need help in figuring out what underlying problems are causing your fatigue. So, if you are suffering from severe fatigue, be sure to consult with a medical doctor to make sure you don’t have a serious health problem affecting your energy level. For example, fatigue may be the result of one of the following:

  • Chronic infection, including intestinal dysbiosis or SIBO
  • Respiratory problems (asthma, COPD, pneumonia)
  • Cardiovascular problems (coronary heart disease, arrhythmia, valvular heart disease, congestive heart failure)
  • Side effects of medications (antidepressants, antihypertensives, antihistamines, sedatives, statins)
  • Glandular problems (low thyroid, adrenal fatigue)
  • Lack of sleep due to chronic pain or sleep apnea

If you don’t have a serious health issue, here are some ways to improve your health and generate more energy naturally.

Support Energy Production

eating-salad.jpgLive foods contain more electrical energy than processed foods. Also, whole foods contain vitamins and minerals, which cells need to extract energy from food. Mitochondria are the “power plants” cells use to extract electrical energy from food, and without the right vitamins, minerals and amino acids these cellular power plants can’t function properly. So, start increasing your energy by eating more fresh (especially raw) fruits and vegetables and less refined sugar, white flour and processed foods. Coffee and energy drinks won’t supply energy-producing nutrients, but the following supplements will.

There are many single nutrients that can help improve energy production. One of these is magnesium. Magnesium helps energy production in the mitochondria, but it also helps muscles (and nerves) stay relaxed. Relaxed muscles hold a high amount of reserve energy, and when this energy becomes depleted, muscles become tense. So, if you have tense muscles, don’t sleep soundly, and are irritated or stressed by small things, you can probably benefit from taking a magnesium supplement. Most people need about 800-1,000 mg. per day.B-vitamins.jpg

Vitamin D3 also helps produce energy in the mitochondria. In one study, mitochondrial function was shown to be depressed in a group of patients with severe vitamin D deficiency. After supplementing with vitamin D3, the same group experienced a 20% increase in ATP production in linear fashion proportional to their vitamin D levels. All patients reported a reduction in fatigue. About 90% of the population is deficient in vitamin D, especially during the winter months. Supplementing with vitamin D3 can boost your energy, strengthen your resistance to infection, and enhance your mood, bone health and cardiovascular function.

B-vitamins help promote energy, maintain the nervous system, support immune function, and buffer the effects of stress. For this reason, B vitamins are sometimes added to energy drinks.  However, it’s better to take your B vitamins as a supplement, rather than in a drink loaded with sugar and caffeine.  Vitamin B12 can be also be helpful for energy, as many people don’t get enough B12 in their diet.

There are also many formulas that can boost energy production. One of my favorites is Target Endurance from Nature's Sunshine Products. Target Endurance contains zinc and copper chelated to the amino acids  arginine, leucine and glycine. This directs these minerals to the mitochondria where they enhance energy production. Research on these specially chelated minerals showed that they increased energy in laboratory animals by almost 500%. The minerals in Target Endurance increased swimming time in rats from an average of 10 minutes to an average of 48 minutes. To enhance the effectiveness of these minerals, they have been combined in a blend with other herbs, vitamins and minerals known to enhance cellular energy production.

Target Endurance is one of the best formulas to take for increasing energy when weaning off of caffeine and other stimulants. It is also helpful for weaning off of refined sugar when taken with licorice root.

Both Energy Boosting & Adaptogen Formulas can also support mitochondrial function to enhance energy production in people who are weak, recovering from chronic illness and debility, or compete athletically and want to enhance physical performance. Energy-Boosting formulas use key herbs like corycepts, bee pollen, eleuthero, gotu kola, he shou wu and licorice. Adaptagen Formulas have key herbs like ashwaganda, American or Korean ginseng, astragalus, holy basil and schizandra. Examples include Planetary Herbals Cordyceps Power CS-4, Herbalist and Alchemist Adrenal Balance Compound, Gaia Adrenal Health, Urban Moonshine Energy Tonic, Nature's Sunshine's ENRG-V, Herbalist and Alchemist's Ginseng/Schizandra Compound and Herb Pharm's Stress Manager. These blends can reduce stress and support energy production in the body.

Support Your Glands

A common cause of chronic fatigue is an imbalance in the glandular system.  Here are three of the major issues that drain our energy.

Supporting the Thyroid

Thyroid.jpgThe most common glandular problem causing fatigue (especially in women) is low thyroid. When thyroid activity is low, the body’s metabolic “engine” sputters and stalls. Signs of low thyroid include fatigue, getting chilled easily, cold hands and feet, weight gain, dry skin, reproductive problems, hair loss and depression.  If you have several of these symptoms, a Hypothyroid Formula, containing herbs like kelp, ashwaganda, bladderwrack and dulse, may be helpful in restoring your energy. They contain a thyroid glandular along with herbs and nutrients that support healthy thyroid function. You can find examples in our Modern Herbal Medicine book. They can help to rebuild a tired thyroid gland, boosting energy and improving overall health. You may also need to take a Thyroid Glandular, like Nature's Sunshine's Thyroid Support. Since the thyroid and adrenals work hand in hand, it is often helpful to take the formula with an Adrenal Tonic Formula or an Adrenal Glandular. 

Rebuilding the Adrenal Glands

Low adrenal function is another common cause of chronic fatigue. When a person has been under stress for an extended period they start to feel exhausted or “burned out.” This is a sign that the adrenal glands are fatigued and that the entire glandular system is run down. Symptoms of this include: feeling unable to cope with life, loss of short-term memory, difficulty focusing or concentrating, lack of sexual desire, and feeling chronically tired but sleeping poorly.Adrenal Gland.jpg

When these symptoms are associated with a lack of energy, it’s very important to discontinue all caffeine and sugar. It’s also important to get adequate sleep.  There are several types of formulas can be very helpful here.

Adrenal Tonic Formulas generally contain herbs like borage, eleuthero, Korean or American ginseng, gotu kola, holy basil, licorice and schizandra. They are similar to Adaptagenic Formulas (some formulas are both), but the better ones actually contain vitamins and minerals to support adrenal function along with the herbs. They are very helpful in restoring depleted adrenal glands. Examples include Vitanica Adrenal Assist and RidgeCrest Herbals Adrenal Fatigue Fighter. You can find more examples in our Modern Herbal Medicine book.

Two formulas I've used a lot for rebuilding the adrenal glands are NSP's Adrenal Support and Nervous Fatigue Formula. Nervous Fatigue Formula is great for that “loss of heart” that results in feeling depleted and burned out. It can renew a person’s energy enthusiasm for life. I use Adrenal Support for people who are more deeply depleted, especially from long term stress. Both of these blends promote better sleep at night, while increasing energy during the day. They can also help to balance blood sugar, another endocrine imbalance that contributes to a lack of energy.

Balancing Blood Sugar

In order to maintain a stable energy level, the glandular system seeks to maintain a steady level of fuel to the bloodstream in the form of glucose or blood sugar. When blood sugar levels are too high or two low, energy production is disrupted. Refined sugar acts very much like caffeine in the body. It causes a quick stimulation to the body but doesn’t produce long-term energy.  It raises blood sugar too quickly, causing the body to overcompensate by producing excessive levels of insulin.

tempted.jpgThe rapid spikes in blood sugar caused by drinking coffee, sodas and energy drinks or eating candy, pastries and other high carbohydrate foods is followed by an equally rapid drop in blood sugar. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, causes a drop in energy in the afternoon that can make a person feel tired, irritable, and unable to concentrate.

Replacing simple sugars and carbohydrates with fresh, whole fruits and vegetables, protein, and high quality fats helps level out blood sugar and energy levels. If you tend to crave sweets, try taking a protein powder or algae supplement like NSP's Super Algae with licorice root at breakfast, again at lunch, and in the afternoon if you experience an energy slump.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep is the most natural way to recharge our energy stores. Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t getting enough. In 1900, the average American received 9.0 hours of sleep per night.  In 1963, the average American received 8.5 hours of sleep per night.  By 2002, the average American received only 5.9 hours of sleep per night Sunday through Thursday, and 8.0 hours on weekends.  This is an average of 7.0 hours of sleep per night in a typical week. As sleep studies show—and most of us intuitively know—this is not enough sleep to maintain optimum energy levels and good health.

When we don’t get enough sleep we start to suffer sleep debt. The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recently published a review of research about partial sleep deprivation and energy balance. The review found that reduced sleep disrupts appetite hormones, promotes greater food intake, reduces energy expenditure, and changes body composition to favor fat storage.  It’s interesting to note that the rate of sleep deprivation and the rate of obesity in the U.S. have increased at a similar rate over the past 30 years.good-nights-sleep.jpg

Symptoms of sleep debt include fatigue, cognitive decline, cortisol cycle disturbances, insulin resistance (metabolic syndrome), and immunodeficiency. Sleep debt can also lead to cardiovascular problems, including elevated hypertension and increased risk of heart attack. Sleep debt also causes a decline in problem solving ability, making it harder for us to deal with life’s problems.

The amount of sleep needed to recover from sleep debt is 10-12 hours per night for 3 consecutive nights.  If you have problems sleeping, make sure to darken your room as much as possible and avoid consuming caffeine or spicy foods in the late afternoon and evening. It may help to take a Sleep Formula to help you relax. Sleep formulas typically contain key herbs like hops, valerian, skullcap, passion flower and kava kava. You can find examples in our Modern Herbal Medicine book.

Other Considerations

Other lifestyle factors that reduce energy include poor digestion, food intolerance, insufficient protein in the diet, essential fatty acid deficiency, and iron deficiency in women. Plus, a lack of exercise actually contributes to fatigue.  The Copenhagen Heart Study found that brisk walking is the best way to build energy and improve cardiovascular health.  Start walking at a brisk pace every other day for 20-40 minutes.

Additional Help and Information

For more information on how to overcome fatigue and increase your energy naturally, the following sources may be helpful:

Modern Herbal Medicine by Steven Horne and Thomas Easley
The Comprehensive Guide to Nature’s Sunshine Products, 6th Edition by Steven Horne and Kimberly Balas
Healing is Voltage by Jerry Tennant, MD
AHG Symposium presentation by Paul Bergner on Chronic Fatigue (http://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/sites/default/files/bergner_paul_-_the_patience_with_chronic_fatigue.pdf)
Minerals: Right on Target by Steven N. Harvey