Beyond Caffeine and Coffee: How to Boost Your Energy

Published on December 01, 2013 by Dr. Colin O'Brien

There are dozens of reasons why you may be tired. In many cases, there is a clear answer as to why; maybe you’ve been running on 4 hours of sleep each night of the week, you’ve been working 12-hour days for the past month, or you have a 3-month old newborn (you get the picture). But sometimes the reason is not so clear. Despite eating well, getting high quality sleep and exercising regularly, you seem to be dragging on. So the classic solution, yet often the incorrect solution, is to seek the nervous system stimulant caffeine by drinking coffee…and more coffee and more coffee.

For the record, I am not inherently opposed to coffee. There is actually quite a lot of positive research supporting the consumption of coffee for various health concerns (including prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and various cancers). The problem arises when we drink 3-4 coffees per day just to get by. In other words, relying on coffee is not a great sign of health, whereas having a daily coffee for recreation is okay and may actually be beneficial for our health (Sidenote: the creams and sugars are not beneficial for our health, and there are illnesses that are better managed when coffee is removed from the equation, but these are both separate issues).

So what do we do when we notice that we need coffee just to get through the day or when even our three XL-sized timmie’s aren’t giving us that energy boost?

First and foremost, if you’re not doing all of those healthy things that I mentioned before (eating vegetables, sleeping 7-8 hours per night, getting 20 minutes of exercise per day, etc.), then that is the first and most important step toward boosting energy. All of those basics provide your body with nutrients important for energy and they also regulate hormones (cortisol, melatonin, thyroid, etc.) that drastically affect mood and energy.

At the same time, you need to see your doctor and have labs done to determine your iron, vitamin B12, and thyroid hormone levels. Deficiencies in any of these nutrients and/or hormones are very common causes for fatigue if they have gone undiagnosed (see article “Am I getting enough iron?”). As an FYI, a “normal” lab result for one person may be abnormal for another person. Thyroid hormone tests only assess a portion of the equation and they tend to leave out the possibility of impaired peripheral conversion or activation. In these scenarios, certain nutrients like zinc or selenium may be helpful.

Assuming you have ruled out the possibility of these concerns with your doctor, consider a deficiency of all B-vitamins. Many B-vitamins are depleted through poor nutrition and stress. These deficiencies may also be present as a result of conversion issues from common B-vitamin forms to their biologically active forms. For example, B6 is commonly supplemented in the form of pyridoxine HCl but it is actually used in the body as pyridoxal-5-phosphate. If your body cannot convert to this active form, it can’t use the vitamin in numerous cellular activities. (see “Bioactive Forms: of Nutrients: Not all Supplements are Created Equal” for more information). If your energy is low, a high-quality, biologically active B-vitamin complex can do wonders.

Next, it’s time to look at your stress and cortisol levels. What often happens is that we push ourselves so hard to stay on track and keep up with the demands of everyday life. Our bodies can only hang on so long until they finally crash. Cortisol (aka our “stress hormone”) is great at getting us through an acutely stressful situation, but with chronic stress it eventually flatlines. This is where many adaptogen herbs (“adaptogen” is the term for herbs that help our bodies “adapt” to stress) and nutrients can target this low or imbalanced cortisol level.

Panax ginseng is a well-known adaptogen for boosting energy, improving physical performance and improving mental performance under times of stress. AOR has combined this herb with potassium nitrate (to increase nitric oxide production) in EnergyNOx for improved delivery to the tissues. As another option, Rhodiola rosea has very similar and well-documented benefits to those of Panax ginseng.

For the very depleted individuals, AOR’s Ortho Adapt has been formulated with a variety of adaptogenic herbs, vitamins and glandular extracts to improve cortisol levels and boost energy in the face of stress. With herbs like Rhodiola rosea, Eleutherococcus senticosus (siberian ginseng) and Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice root), it also acts as an anti-microbial and blood sugar regulating aid. Ortho Adapt is a powerful energy booster in cases of cortisol depletion.

Lastly, nutrients such as ribose, aspartic acid and malic acid can also be considered when trying to remedy fatigue due to an unknown cause. These nutrients are involved on a cellular level in the production of ATP, the main energy molecule in the human body. They have been found to be particularly useful in individuals with Fibromyalgia Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, although many people without these diagnoses derive great benefit from their supplementation.

In summary, there is a lot that can be done to boost your energy! It just all depends what the problem is in the first place. This is where the work of a skilled practitioner can help focus on the most likely culprits via labs, physical examinations and clinical inquiry. As you’ve seen, there is a lot of information to sift through and a physician can help you sort it all out! Not to mention, if you are taking medications, then seeing a qualified practitioner to ensure there are no interactions or contraindications is a must.

What do you do to keep your energy levels high? Share with us in the comments below!

Images by © 2014 Michal Ludwiczak and ©2014 Erik Reis - IKOstudio via DollarPhotoClub

  • Marie-Claude Beaulieu

    Very well written article. Covering different aspects of lack of energy, necessary in making readers aware of checking deeper into the root cause of their fatigue. It would be worth mentioning as well how searching for the presence of food sensitivities is so important in eliminating our energy drainage.