There is a general sense of lethargy in the Winter months, and this year, it has been exacerbated by the stay-at-home orders and other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. People are stuck in their homes, spending way too much time on devices for work, school, and general entertainment, and not getting enough outdoor exercise, particularly in frigid climates. The social isolation saps energy because of lack of contact with friends, family, and colleagues that break up the day, and provide a sense of connectedness. Furthermore, good dietary habits may erode when stuck in the house next to the pantry, and there is a tendency to overeat or eat the wrong goods. It is a perfect storm of energy depletion.
For those taking a standard multivitamin, there is the hope that vitamin intake might restore some of that energy. However, standard multivitamins tend to fall short in this respect, and it relates to their design. A standard multivitamin is crafted for a broad demographic group e.g., multivitamins for “all men,” “all women,” or “all seniors.” Does it make sense that everyone would have the same nutritional needs within the same gender or age cohort? Of course not: we all have different diets, fitness routines, health backgrounds, health statuses, medications, and more. Standard multivitamins are crafted to meet the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) scale – the amount of vitamin intake for a healthy person meeting a balanced diet. Yet, we live in an age when most people are living with one or more health ailments, and nearly nobody keeps a balanced diet. In fact, this is the age of skewed diets from paleo to ketogenic to vegetarianism. Filling gaps in the RDA scale results in low dosages, or watered-down vitamins. Most of the ingredients on the back label will show percentages of RDA at 20%, 30%, 40%, etc., but how impactful is the RDA scale at 100% at meeting vitamin deficiencies? These products are failing to dose in line with the leading clinical evidence of when a vitamin will make an impact on a person with particular health and lifestyle attributes. In turn, you get watered-down “A to Z” vitamin formulas that throw in everything, usually 30+ ingredients on the back label. Some of those ingredients can actually be harmful over time, like Vitamin A, or heavy metals like selenium, chromium, zinc, and more. If you were to drink a really watered-down alcoholic beverage, you might make the assumption that alcohol does not work and fails to get you intoxicated. However, if that same drink was properly spiked, you would certainly feel the effects. Standard multivitamins are the equivalent of a watered-down drink, and you are not likely to feel much of an impact on your energy levels.
The Linkage Between Personalized Vitamins and Energy
Imagine that you are wandering the vitamin aisles of your local retail store. It is an overwhelming and confusing experience to select your personalized vitamin regimen. There is minimal navigation help; most physicians and pharmacists have limited experience in dietary supplements and do not keep up with the latest research in the field. Several personalized vitamin brands have stepped into this void to create a highly navigated and personalized experience.
These brands will conduct an upfront assessment to determine your needs. These surveys will ask questions about diet, fitness, health, and cover topics including energy levels. Based on this information, these brands will recommend your pill pack or customized supplement. Some consumers prefer pill packs because they can shop from a variety of pills and add individual pills into their packs. However, these packs can get expensive, and may involve 10 or more daily pills. Many consumers cannot sustain a routine of 10+ pills at $100+ per month. As an alternative, some companies create all-in-one personalized vitamins. These customized multivitamins contain your specific formula. These brands will often up-dose ingredients that are reflected as potential deficiency areas, like energy boosting vitamins in response to fatigue issues. A personalized all-in-one vitamin is more sustainable and affordable for many consumers.
Addressing Energy Shortfalls
One reasons that vitamins for energy can be so useful is because they can also help combat the other natural tendency when feeling fatigued– to eat high energy (aka high calorie) foods. Getting the proper nutrients can reduce these cravings, for often unhealthy foods. It is very much our natural inclination this time of year to hunker down and eat large quantities of “comfort” (aka unhealthy) food. This may be our body’s cry for help.
So what else can we to boost energy? Getting enough sleep is certainly important. A healthy night’s sleep with regular sleep and wake times is imperative (often hard when it’s dark in the morning but consider a light box to help with this). Another way to boost energy is to remind your body that it should be awake at certain times. Exercise is a great way to do this. Believe it or not, being active actually boosts energy. It raises endorphins, adrenaline and other hormones that signal to your brain and body that now is a time for alertness. Regular exercise, albeit challenging in certain climates is so essential to maintaining your health and feeling energetic. Even a brisk walk can go a long way to help you feel more energetic by day and more restful at night. Do not forget to hydrate well and to get adequate electrolytes around the time of your work out.
Beyond these lifestyle tips, vitamins can be an instrumental aspect of your regimen to feel more energetic. These days we seem to constantly see and hear about “energy boosters” that can be found in everything from drinks to gums to vitamins and supplements. As with most supplements and nutritional products, you should beware of something that promises too much. A product that says it will give you boundless energy, a metabolism like a teenager, and of course a “fat burn” is a huge red flag. In fact, a promise to any one of these things should be warning. Many of the products promising these things are full of stimulant substances– these can include massive amounts of caffeine, stimulants (aka “speed”) and/or other products such as steroids, ground up animal glands and more that all cause your heart rate to increase and have effects similar to “speed.” The supplement industry is largely unregulated, so illicit substances have a way of finding their way into healthy appearing products. Regardless, these are not desired effects. And while they can simulate some type of “energy boost” in the short run, in the long- run, they are in fact, a recipe for disaster. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that over 25,000 emergency room visits happen each year due to supplement toxicity. A large part of this is due to these types of “energy” products. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
In addition to stimulants found in “energy” supplements, one must also be cautious about various “glandular formulas” aimed at thyroid boosting. These are products that may claim to boost energy, metabolism and combat “adrenal fatigue” that often contain ground up animal glands (thyroid, adrenal etc). There is no medical necessity for these products and great harm can come from their ingestion (despite that they can initially help improve energy). There are specific circumstances where thyroid hormone or steroids are needed to help replace a deficiency, but these are situations where treatment should be guided by a physician with FDA-regulated, prescription medication.
So what vitamins can you take for fatigue and lack of energy? The following, to name a few…
We naturally are deprived of vitamin D this time of year. This valuable vitamin (actually a hormone) is essential to so many aspects of keeping us healthy (immunity, muscle strength, mood and much more). Most people do need to take supplemental vitamin D to maintain a normal level and we recommend doing this year round as vitamin D is fat soluble and slow to build up. What we do not recommend is taking super high doses of D (unless under the care of a physician with careful monitoring) as one can take too much vitamin D and then experience signs and symptoms of toxicity.
Similarly, other vitamins that can be useful for boosting energy include certain B vitamins, namely B12 and B1. These are nutrients involved with nerve function. Many people are deficient due to lack of intake (especially vegetarians, but not exclusively) and supplementing them in safe levels is often useful.
Iron is also an important nutrient which many of us lack. Many of us are low in Iron because we do not eat red meat with regularity. In addition, women loose iron continually throughout their lives via having periods, pregnancy and nursing. Their total body iron stores often remain low for decades following these events. Men too can be iron deficient and this too is a common cause of lack of energy. It is of course important to see your doctor for any signs of major deficiency or GI bleeding. For many of us, we walk around not overtly anemic, but rather with low body iron stores that takes its toll.
What other vitamins can be useful for fatigue or low energy? It turns out that iodine may be helpful. Iodine supports thyroid health and your thyroid helps regulate your metabolism and in turn, energy levels. Getting adequate (but not excessive) iodine is important to keep your thyroid functioning optimally and there fore boosting energy and supporting your metabolism.
Magnesium may also be instrumental in helping with fatigue or low energy, but its role is less defined. We do know it is key in moderating muscle function and may also support the heart and blood vessels. It has many other uses that may then help carry over to effects on energy (such as improving sleep patterns, supporting heart health and more).
Calibrate Energy with Personalized Vitamins
Moderating energy levels with vitamins is about getting the right amount for your personal profile. Standard multivitamins fail to deliver the proper dosing because they are crammed with too many nutrients at low dosing levels. Adding on additional pills creates a handful of daily pills to swallow. Personalized vitamins can help you calibrate your energy levels with less pills. Look for a personalized vitamin that delivers customized nutrition in all-in-one delivery formats. These tailored supplements may be strongly geared toward energy issues if you report fatigue or related issues in your assessment. A personalized vitamin is a good start, but it should be combined with other lifestyle changes around sleep, fitness, and nutrition. Find a personalized solution that is affordable and sustainable to kick start your journey.