There are many causes fatigue including lack of sleep, lack of exercise, toxins in the environment, poor diet, nutritional deficiencies, and other. Fatigue can be due to some underlying physical cause that needs to be properly diagnosed and treated by a physician. It can be anemia, fibromyalgia, celiac disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, and many others.
So if your fatigue is due to some underlying causes, then taking supplements may not help unless the root cause is treated.
On the other hand, if you are healthy with no illness, then certain supplements may aid supporting general energy levels. These supplements may not give you an immediate energy boost. They work at the cellular level, and when taken regularly may help with fatigue.
How the Body Generates Energy
First we have to understand how our bodies generate energy and then support this cycle. The body is made up of cells which has various functions. In order to perform these functions, your cell runs on cellular energy known as Adenosine Triphosphate, or ATP.
Nearly every cell in your body contains organelles called mitochondria, which are like the power-plants of the cell. It is the mitochrondria that generates this ATP energy. We have over 100,000 trillion mitochrondria in our body and they consume 90% of the oxygen we breathe. Some high-activity cells (such as muscles, brain, and heart cells) can contain hundreds or thousands of these mitochrondria in one cell. For example, 40% of the heart cell is mitchrondria. Referenced from the book The Blood Sugar Solution.
When mitochrondria are not working efficiently or you do not have enough of them in your cells, you get fatigued.
That is why your mitochrondria is so important. Regular exercise boosts the number and effectiveness of your mitochrondria. Inflammation and oxidative stress damages them.
So exercise is probably the best way to boost energy. It also increases blood flow to the brain for alertness.
Aside from lifestyle changes, there are supplements that help your mitochrondria. Coenzyme-Q10 is one of them. Coenzyme-Q10 is an vitamin-like substance that is naturally found in virtually every cell in your body. But it is especially abundant in the heart and liver. That is because coenzyme-Q10 supports the mitochrondria. And is also why supplement bottles of coenzyme-q10 will mention that it is "heart healthy".
Peter Langsjoen MD of the University of Washington writes that ...
"Coenzyme Q10 is the coenzyme for at least three mitochondrial enzymes (complexes I, II and III) as well as enzymes in other parts of the cell. Mitochondrial enzymes of the oxidative phosphorylation pathway are essential for the production of the high-energy phosphate, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), upon which all cellular functions depend." [reference]
You can think of coenzymes as helper molecules that aids in biochemical transformations.
Because Co-Q10 supports the mitochondria of the cells and it is the mitochondria that generates cellular energy, Co-Q10 is one supplement that can boost energy.
As we get older, our body is not able to generate as much Co-Q10 as before. Statin drugs decreases the body's level of Co-Q10 and those who are on them may want to supplement with Co-Q10. People over 40 may want to use the more active ubiquinol form of coenzyme Q10. Coenzyme-Q10 has many other health benefits which you can read more.
Alpha Lipoic Acid and Acetyle L-Carnitine
The book The Chemistry of Calm says that Co-Q10 works synergistically with alpha-lipoic acid and acetyle L-carnitine to address issues with low energy. [page 116]
Because of this, alpha lipoic acid and acetyle l-carnitine are additional supplements that may help with fatigue. Alpha Lipoic Acid and Acetyle L-Carnitine sometimes come together in the same supplement.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is also a very highly powerful anti-oxidant in its own right. One caution with L-Carnitine is that it may affect the thyroid. People with hypothyroidism may not want to use it because it may suppress conversion of T4 to T3 hormone in the thyroid.
Your body needs vitamin C, B6, B12, and folate among other things in order to make coenzyme-Q10. The synthetic form of folate is folic acid, which is B9.
Hence the B vitamins are very important and can help with fatigue. Since B vitamins are water- soluable, it is unlikely that one can overdose on them. If your body do not need them, it comes out in the fluid of your urine. But if your body do not have enough B vitamins, then your body can not make Coenzyme-Q10 and it also can not make glutathione which is your body's master anti-oxidant and detoxifier.
Thiamine (vitamin B1) is involved in running glucose metabolism and citric acid cycle. Watch the animation on the Citric Acid Cycle and you will see that the cycle increases the cell's ability to produce ATP energy and provide it with precursors that the cell needs to build a variety of molecules.
It is best to take a B vitamin complex -- meaning a supplement that has all the various types of B vitamins rather than just one particular B vitamin. This is because the various B vitamins work synergistically with each other.
The introduction of the book Brain Longevity says ...
"The complete family of B vitamins help your brain cells create energy. Additionally, the B vitamins, especially B12 and folate acid, work to lower and control levels of the heart-harmful amino acid homocysteine."
They Help Brain Health Too
The brain has a very high energy consumption. The brain is only 2% of the body by weight. But it can use up to 20% of the body's energy at rest. (This is assuming you are not actively using your major muscles at the time, otherwise your muscle will consume more energy.)
That is why all these: Co-Q10, Alpha Lipoic Acid, Acetyle L-Carnitine, and B vitamins are also known for supporting brain health as well as energy. An in particular, B vitamins is especially important for the brain.
Issues with Low Energy
Chris Kresser has a podcast in which he answers a listener's question in regards to low energy. He says three primary causes of low energy comes to mind:
- blood sugar dysregulation
- cortisol issues
- problems metabolizing fat or glucose
Among other things, he did mentioned B vitamins and phosphatidylserine in regards to helping with stress. And chromium and magnesium to help regulate blood sugar.
The citric acid cycle is the primary pathway for producing energy. This cycle requires nutrients such as B vitamins, chromium, magnesium, lipoic acid, Co-Q10, l-carnitine, and many others.
What about Caffeine?
Caffeine can temporarily boost alertness and energy. However, it has some pros and cons. There are some side effects of caffeine such as insomnia, nervousness, stomach upsets, and increased heart rate. Pregnant women should not take in excess. Plus caffeine may cause you to loss important nutrients and vitamins such as vitamin B, magnesium, and potassium.
Caffeine is not an essential element of the human body. So if you define "supplement" as something that supplements what is already in the body that is used regularly for functioning, then caffeine would not fit that description. But Co-enyzme Q10 and B vitamins are essential and are naturally found in the body.
Dr. Hyman says his his book the Blood Sugar Solution that caffeine can temporarily give a boost of energy, but then you become tired later. And he says that if you completely avoid caffeine, you probably will have more energy than when you were on it.
Article dated June 2012 is only opinion at the time of writing and is not medical advice. Author is not a medical professional and may receive compensation from the display ads within article. Consult with a medical professional if you have problems with low energy. Not all supplements are suitable for all individuals or circumstances.
BlissfulWriter (author) on April 09, 2012:
Thanks for reading and voting up.
rlaha from Spartanburg, SC on April 09, 2012:
Great hub! Thanks for sharing your knowledge about these supplements. I think honey and lemon in warm water in the morning is also a good energy booster. Voted up, useful and interesting.
jaswinder64 from Toronto, Canada. on April 08, 2012:
Good, informative and helpful article.