Supplements for Energy: How do They Work?
In today’s fast-paced world, more and more individuals are struggling with fatigue. Fatigue can be defined as a feeling of tiredness, exhaustion, or a need to rest or nap. Although fatigue is most often related to everyday factors such as overwork, stress, poor sleep and lack of exercise, it is important to remember that fatigue may also be caused by illness, prescription and nonprescription drugs, medical treatments and from nutritional deficiencies.
With feelings of low energy becoming more common, interest has increased in the use of vitamins, minerals, and other nutraceuticals for the attenuation of fatigue, because dietary supplements help support the structures, factors, and cofactors involved in energy production.
Optimal cellular function is a vital component of supporting and maintaining optimal health, energy, and vitality. Mitochondria are among the most important organelles within a cell and are essential for numerous cellular processes, most notably, energy production through cellular respiration.
Mitochondria produce energy by turning glucose and oxygen into ATP, the cellular energy currency. The central set of reactions involved in ATP production are collectively known as the Krebs cycle (or the citric acid cycle). Each step of the Krebs cycle requires vitamin-derived cofactors and minerals to operate. A deficiency in any one of these can have a significantly negative impact on energy levels.
There are three primary strategies to optimize mitochondrial function and maintaining or improving energy production:
- reducing exposure to damaging factors, such as heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, and cigarette smoke;
- providing the necessary nutrients to support mitochondrial function; and
- providing protection from oxidative damage (free radicals) by supporting endogenous antioxidants and/or incorporating exogenous antioxidants.
Although vitamins and minerals cannot be broken down to provide energy, they do assist in the reactions that release energy from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Vitamins and minerals regulate metabolism, form parts of coenzymes that are intimately involved in chemical reactions in the body, and many function as antioxidants. Thus, a deficiency of virtually any nutrient can decrease energy.
A few of the more common supplements used to boost energy are highlighted here:
Vitamin B complex consist of thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9), and cobalamin (B12). Although each has a specific role within the body, many have similar functions including involvement with carbohydrate, protein, and lipid metabolism, and the conversion of these substances into energy; acting as coenzymes in many chemical reactions, including the Krebs cycle; production of red blood cells and iron metabolism; proper immune system function; and the manufacture of hormones and neurotransmitters to name a few. For example, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH), the active coenzyme form of vitamin B3, is known to encourage energy production through increased ATP generation. Vitamin B12 serves as a cofactor for enzymatic processes involved in the formation of methionine (an essential amino acid), succinyl CoA (an important intermediate in the citric acid cycle), and tetrahydrofolate (needed for red blood cell production and DNA synthesis).1 In addition, vitamin B12 deficiency, which affects 10 to 30% of adults over the age of 50,2 presents with symptoms such as fatigue, malaise, cognitive impairment, depression, and anemia. Individuals who follow a vegan diet and those with gastrointestinal disorders (e.g., celiac disease, Crohn’s disease), also have an increased risk of deficiency.
Magnesium is required in over 300 biochemical processes in the body, including serving in mood stabilization, sleep and stress responses, nutrient utilization, and metabolism. Magnesium is also stored within the mitochondria and acts as an important cofactor for mitochondrial enzymes. 3 The use of Krebs cycle components including aspartate, citrate, fumarate, malate, and succinate as mineral chelates provides an extra boost to energy production as evidence suggests that minerals chelated to the Krebs cycle intermediates are better absorbed, utilized, and tolerated.4
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is found in virtually all cell membranes, particularly mitochondria, where it is a crucial component of the oxidative phosphorylation process (electron transport) and of the conversion of energy from carbohydrates and fatty acids into ATP.5 Over 90% of CoQ10 in human serum and biological tissue exists as reduced ubiquinol-10 and is concentrated in tissues with high-energy requirements, such as the heart and skeletal muscle. Doses of 300 mg have been used successfully to support energy production as well as physical performance during exercise.*6 Moreover, Ylikoski et al.7 found that more than 90% of subjects administered CoQ10 reported a beneficial effect in their energy levels and recovery time during and after exercise.*
Several botanical ingredients support HPA-axis function and may offer significant support for energy levels.* Most notable are adaptogens like Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), rhodiola (Rhodiola rosacea), and ashwaganda (Withania somnifera). In one randomized, placebo-controlled trial of 60 patients with stress-related fatigue, Rhodiola was found to support mental performance, particularly the ability to concentrate, as well as support a healthy cortisol response to awakening stress.*8 Ashwagandha has been used for over 4,000 years in India and is celebrated for its ability to support quality energy throughout the day and sound sleep at night.* Mucuna pruriens, is a vining tropical legume that produces a bean which contains high levels of L-dopa, a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. It has long been used to support mood and energy,* and because of its energy promoting effects, the beans are sometimes used as a coffee substitute.
Beetroot juice is a nitrate (NO3−)-rich supplement commonly used because of its high betacyanin and polyphenol contents that promote nitric oxide (NO) synthesis.9 Beetroot juice has been shown to increase levels of nitric oxide (NO), which serves multiple functions related to blood flow, gas exchange, mitochondrial biogenesis and efficiency, and muscle contraction, all of which may support energy levels.*10
Evidence demonstrates that supplements may help boost energy. Ultimately, the goal is to address the cause of fatigue and provide the body with the tools it needs to sustain long-term energy.
1 Evatt M, Mersereau P, Bobo J, et al. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2010.
2 Wong CW. Hong King Med J. 2015 Apr;21(2):155-64.
3 Kubota T, Shindo Y, Tokuno K, et al. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2005 May;1744(1):19-28.
4 Lindberg JS, Zobitz MM, Poindexter JR, et al. J Am Coll Nutr. 1990;9:45-48.
5 Maes M, Mihaylova I, Kubera M, et al. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2009;30(4):470–476.
6 Mizuno K, Tanaka M, Nozaki S, et al. Nutrition. 2008;24:293-299.
7 Ylikoski T, Piirainen J, Hanninen O, Penttinen J. Mol Aspects Med 1997;18:283–90.
8 Olsson EM, von Schéele B, Panossian AG. Planta Med. 2009 Feb;75(2):105–112.
9 Thompson C, Vanhatalo A, Kadach S, et al. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2018 Jun 1; 124(6):1519-1528.
10 Domínguez R, Cuenca E, Maté-Muñoz JL, et al. Nutrients. 2017;9(1):43.