Seven (Instant) Energy Secrets
I have known Patrick Holford, the UK’s leading Nutritionist, for many years and since tiredness is one of my most frequent topics from emails, I am sharing some of his great tips for overcoming it.
The complaint I hear more than any other is from people waking up tired, feeling tired much of the time or running out of energy and getting sleepy in the afternoon or early evening.
In fact, in our survey of over 80,000 people no less than 82% report a lack of energy. As a result, the ‘need’ for caffeine, especially coffee, has become a life essential for so many. Yet the research is clear that non-caffeine consumers are more alert on waking than caffeine consumers. So, what works better than coffee to give you a natural energy boost?
Do you want to stop feeling tired all the time? Discover the keys to boosting your energy level.
There are seven energy secrets and if you do all seven you are going to notice a big difference fast. I mean within a week and usually within three days. It helps to understand why these seven energy secrets work synergistically, each building on the other, so you all know that none are harmful or addictive, unlike coffee which ultimately robs your energy. That’s another finding from our ongoing 100% Health survey – the more caffeine a person consumes the more they complain of tiredness.
Secret 1: A low GL diet, with no sugar and chromium
We are solar-powered. We effectively ‘burn’ carbohydrate, releasing the sun’s energy within food, with oxygen, which comes from the breath. With more oxygen, people feel more energised and the simplest way to increase your intake of oxygen is through certain breathing techniques. At a subtler level the breath has a central role to play in both the traditions of the East, that focus on generating vital energy known as chi or ki, and the Indian tradition of yoga for generating prana. That’s why yoga and t’ai chi do help restore vital energy.
However, keeping an even blood sugar level, which is what my low GL diet is all about, is the first energy secret. If you haven’t got one of the low GL books such as The Low GL Diet Made Easy, that’s step 1. Part of this is avoiding sugar, which causes a yo-yo effect to blood sugar – the highs leading to fat gain and the lows to feel hungry and tired. The mineral chromium also plays a vital role in stabilising glucose (digested carbohydrate) supply to cells. It works even better combined with cinnamon (look for supplements containing Cinnulin®). If you crave sugar and feel tired it’s an essential.
Secret 2: B vitamins and C
However, before the carbohydrate you eat gets to meet oxygen for the final energy-making reaction, the ‘fuel’ has to be prepared and broken down, step by step. This is done by a sequence of enzymes that depend on a whole family of nutrients, especially B vitamins and vitamin C, as well as the minerals iron, zinc and magnesium – all of which are in my daily supplements in the Optimum Nutrition Pack.
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.
There’s another reason to take vitamin C to do with thyroid function (more on this later). You want 2 grams a day for optimum energy.
Secret 3: Co-Q10 & Carnitine
At the same time the energy within glucose is released within the energy factories (called mitochondria) inside every cell, so too are millions of harmful oxidant by-products. The ability to continually disarm these with antioxidants, and particularly an antioxidant called Co-enzyme Q10, makes a big difference to how you feel Coenzyme Q10 is a vital link in the energy equation. In cell studies it improves energy, reduces stress and acts as an antioxidant.
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. Being the biggest muscle in the body, the heart is particularly dependent on Co-Q, as well as the amino acid carnitine. Carnitine helps prepare fats for burning as energy and is also found in the mitochrondria. The combination of Co-Q plus carnitine is particularly effective as an energy booster, doubly so in anyone who has suffered from cardiovascular problems. You need 500mg of carnitine for an effect.
I recommend 60 to 120mg 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 Co-Q10 plus carnitine combo is particularly effective in people over 40.
Secret 4: The Energy Hormones
The hormones that keep you awake and alert are adrenalin and cortisol, both produced by the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys, and thyroxine. Much like the sugar story, the fact that caffeine raises adrenalin led to the idea that the more caffeine you take in, the more energy you’ll have. In our 100% Health Survey we found the reverse to be true – the people with the lowest energy levels had the highest caffeine intake.
Of course, we don’t know if they were consuming caffeine because they were tired or became tried as a result of high caffeine use – I suspect it’s a bit of both. It’s certainly my experience with clients that caffeine ultimately robs you of energy, although the short-term effect is energy boosting. The other critical hormone is thyroxine, produced by the thyroid gland, which ups energy production within cells.
Low thyroid function is a very common cause of fatigue, often boosted by a low dose of thyroxine. However, I’d prefer to first recommend you try supplementing the natural amino acid tyrosine, which is both the precursor for thyroxine and adrenalin, together with adaptogenic herbs.
You need 750 to 1,500mg of tyrosine for an effect, ideally taken on an empty stomach (eg before meals) or with a carbohydrate snack. Pantothenic acid is also needed for the production of adrenalin while vitamin C helps boost low thyroxine levels. A study in 2014 gave 31 people with low thyroxine levels 500mg of vitamin C or placebo. Thirty out of 31 had an increase in thyroxine. Taking in 2,000mg a day is even better.
Secret 5: The three Ginsengs – Korean, American and Siberian
Adaptogenic herbs helps to optimise cortisol levels. These include American and Asian ginseng, Siberian ginseng which is actually a different herb, and Reishi mushroom. 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. Korean ginseng has been shown to lessen fatigue in those with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and cancer-related fatigue.
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.]
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. While it can raise cortisol, it seems to work as an ‘adaptogen’, helping you to adapt by stabilising the stress response and reducing fatigue.
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 very 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.
Secret 6. 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.
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 improved by 56% in 4-6 weeks.
Reishi has been shown to improve sleep quality, particularly deep sleep, and exert a calming effect on the central nervous system when given to humans in observed studies. It also lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and improves immunity, which is why it is often recommended in relation to cancer.
Reishi mushrooms are available dried and in capsules. As a general health tonic 0.5 to 4 grams daily is recommended in three equal portions, with meals. The lower doses being effective if you combine with other adaptogens. You can get high potency ‘extracts’ which multiply its potency. For example, if you take a 10:1 extract 100mg is equivalent to 1g.
People with allergies to moulds or fungi should use care with Reishi mushrooms, although allergic reactions to them are generally rare. In clinical studies, Reishi mushrooms have been shown to be non-toxic in high doses, and severe side effects have not been observed. Mild side effects may include stomach upset, dry mouth, diarrhoea and skin rash, though these generally disappear after several days and when taking high doses.
Secret 7. Moringa
I first came across Moringa in Africa where it is taken, either as a powder or in teas, for a general health and energy boost and certainly a good substitute for caffeine. Studies show that it is incredibly highly concentrated in nutrients ranging from amino acids to carotenoids and flavonoids, as well as vitamins and minerals. It is also a very potent antioxidant and looks and smells a lot like barley grass. It also helps to stabilise blood sugar and helps boost immunity.
I am not sure simply the presence of all its nutrients explains its remarkable effect however I can find nothing harmful or suggestive of a caffeine-like constituent. One animal study reported enhanced sexual performance. The researchers found that Moringa had the effect of reducing cortisol, the stress hormone you don’t want too much of, increasing testosterone and also inhibiting enzymes that breakdown serotonin and dopamine and adrenalin, which could explain the energy and mood boost many people report. I have a cup of moringa tea with lemon and ginger most days. It does have a noticeable effect literally in minutes, especially if you add Moringa powder to smoothies.
Tiredness can sometimes be a symptom of adrenal fatigue, ardor low thyroid and supplementing with bioidentical progesterone is known to be helpful if this the cause and can be used alongside any such medication. Also remember that stress makes a difference to your energy levels and can affect your hormone balance too.