The essential nature of vitamins and minerals for human health was demonstrated more than a hundred years ago. Recommendations for appropriate dietary intakes aim to ensure that most of the population receive amounts fulfilling their physiological needs.
Getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, maintaining low stress levels and getting enough sleep each night can all help maintain good energy levels, but can vitamins and supplements also help?
From a nutrition science perspective, energy is provided by food, which is the only form of energy animals and humans use to maintain the body’s structural and biochemical integrity. For the general public, energy is associated with the feelings of well-being, stamina and vitality that result in the ability to undertake their daily physical or intellectual activities and social relationships. Fatigue on the other hand, is often described as a perceived lack of energy or a feeling of low vitality.
Deficiencies in most vitamins and minerals have been associated with lethargy and physical fatigue, which can also be observed in marginal deficiencies, but these symptoms are often missed because they are nonspecific.
Some examples of vitamins and supplements that according to studies can help boost energy levels will be discussed.
Muscle fatigue is a common symptom in people who do not get enough vitamin D. More than 50% of people across the world are deficient in vitamins. Certain people are more at risk of being deficient than others, including:
- Older adults.
- People with darker skin.
- People who get less sun exposure, such as those in colder climates.
- People with obesity.
A study from 2013 found that people with low vitamin D levels had improved muscle efficiency after they received treatment for vitamin deficiency.
Some studies have found a link between depression and low levels of vitamin D. Fatigue is a common symptom of depression.
One review highlighted a Norwegian study in which more than 400 people with overweight received 20,000 or 40,000 international units of vitamin D weekly. Over a year, their symptoms of depression reduced significantly compared with those of participants taking a placebo.
B vitamins help create energy in cells. Having a deficiency in B vitamins can cause fatigue.
Older adults, vegetarians and vegans may be at higher risk of a vitamin B-12 deficiency, as it is only animal products or fortified foods. A B-12 deficiency can cause anemia, making people feel low in energy.
Another vitamin B, riboflavin (vitamin B2), can cause fatigue symptoms due to anemia. In a Chinese study that included 1253 adult individuals followed for 5 years, more than 97% had inadequate riboflavin intake at baseline and this was associated with an increased risk of anemia, which enhances the risk of fatigue symptoms.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that could help boost energy levels. Adaptogens are plant derived substances that help the body better manage stress.
The researchers behind a 2012 study found that ashwagandha root extract helped ease stress and anxiety. After 60 days, participants who took ashwagandha had a reduction in stress and cortisol levels compared with those in the placebo group. They also found ashwagandha to be “safe and well-tolerated.”
Results from another study suggest that ashwagandha may help improve endurance during exercise. The researchers found that ashwagandha improved endurance rates in elite cyclists when they took 500 milligram (mg) capsules twice daily.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an enzyme that exists naturally in the body, particularly in the heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys. It is an antioxidant that improves energy and strengthens the immune system.
In a 2014 review, researchers found a consistent link between low levels of CoQ10 and fatigue.
Most people can get enough CoQ10 by eating a balanced diet that includes:
- Oily fish.
- Liver or other organ meats.
- Whole grains.
People with certain health conditions and those not getting enough from their diet might wish to ask their doctor about supplementing with CoQ10. The recommended dosage is 30–90 mg per day, but a person can take as much as 200 mg each day.
Creatine is an amino acid that occurs mostly in red meat and seafood. Creatine supplementation increases creatine stores in the muscles and can help improve performance during exercise.
A review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that creatine was effective in improving performance in high intensity exercise as well as:
- Improving recovery.
- Helping prevent sports-induced injuries.
- Reducing the risk of heat-related illness, such as dehydration, when exercising.
A deficiency in iron can lead to a lack of energy and fatigue. People who have a higher risk of iron deficiency include those who:
- Are menstruating.
- Are pregnant.
- Are vegetarian or vegan.
- Donate blood regularly.
One study looked at unexplained fatigue in menstruating women. The participants who supplemented with iron over 12 weeks had a 47.7% decrease in fatigue. Those in the placebo group had a decrease of just 28.8%. Eating iron-rich foods with vitamin C can increase absorption, so people should be sure to consume enough fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits and leafy greens.
Taking supplements with vitamins and minerals is highly likely to result in health benefits in the areas of mental and physical fatigue, as well as cognitive and psychological functions.
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Tardy AL, Pouteau E, Marquez D, Yilmaz C, Scholey A. Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence. Nutrients. 2020;12(1):228. Published 2020 Jan 16. doi:10.3390/nu12010228.