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You’re looking for a boost, and you’re wondering if there are over-the-counter energy vitamins. Perhaps you’ve taken them sporadically over the years and are thinking about taking them on a daily basis, hoping to feel more energetic.
First, realize that extreme fatigue may be a symptom of a medical condition. A consultation with your physician can help you determine whether there’s a medical reason for your tiredness.
Second, the reason for feeling low on energy may have more to do with shortcomings in your diet; you’re not getting enough of a certain nutrient. Let’s take a look at which vitamins give you energy and discuss how to get more of them.
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Vitamins That Give You Energy: The Four Bs and Iron
The main vitamins for energy are B vitamins—B1, B2, B6, and B12. These are critical in the metabolism of your cells and the formation of red blood cells. They play a part in how your body processes the nutrients you eat and converts them into energy.
B12 is especially important. A diet that’s too light in B12 can result in noticeable fatigue and mood changes. Long-term B12 deficiency can contribute to permanent nerve damage.
We get B12 naturally from poultry, pork, beef, seafood, and dairy products. Leafy green vegetables, peas, lentils, and beans also have B12 along with other B vitamins, as do whole grains. You’ve also noticed, no doubt, a wide range of breakfast cereals boasting that they’re fortified with vitamin B12. Make sure your diet includes these types of foods; they also contribute iron.
Iron is critical because it aids your body in getting oxygen through the bloodstream. An iron deficiency may mean that fewer blood cells are being made, resulting in anemia. Fatigue often follows insufficient oxygenation.
Are There Supplements That Give You Energy?
If you’re considering B-vitamin supplements or iron supplements to help you meet your daily needs, your physician or nutritionist may be able to help you avoid the cost of regular vitamins via simple diet changes. Your diet is the easiest place to start in making sure you’re getting the vitamins that give you energy.
A 2013 study by Annals of Internal Medicine delivered a strong message about supplements: Titled “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements,” it steered consumers away from OTC vitamins. Within the study was this summary: “Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided.”
At the time, a Gallup poll showed that 50 percent of Americans were regularly taking a multivitamin or specific type of vitamin or mineral supplement, and that 48 percent were not.
Who’s most likely to be on a vitamin regimen? Older Americans. Some 68 percent of senior citizens (age 65 and above) take vitamin supplements, according to Gallup. And women are more likely to take vitamins or mineral supplements regularly than men, 54 percent vs. 46 percent.
The money spent on vitamin and mineral supplements add up to more than $21 billion spent annually in America. Before contributing to that expense, however, realize that vitamins that give energy can be found within your own grocery shopping habits and weekly menus.
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ENERGY SUPPLEMENT TIP
Orli R. Etingin, MD, Director, Iris Cantor Women’s Health Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, answers a common question about energy supplements.
Q: I’ve been feeling very tired, and I was thinking of trying an energy supplement. What are your thoughts on energy supplements?
A: If you haven’t consulted your doctor about feeling so tired, please do so. Excessive fatigue with no obvious cause (such as insomnia) should be investigated. Your doctor will be able to rule out possible underlying causes for your fatigue, such as an infection or illness. Heart, kidney, and liver diseases can cause fatigue, as can thyroid disorders and cancer.
Regarding energy supplements, there is little scientific evidence that they work, despite the claims you may see on packaging and in advertisements. Any energy supplements that do have an effect on energy levels tend to do so only for short periods of time, and usually it’s because they contain sugar and/or caffeine and other stimulants. Also, keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and research has shown that many supplements contain less or more of the ingredients listed on the label, as well as potentially harmful substances, which makes their safety questionable.
Instead of spending your money on energy supplements, take a look at your diet; fatigue is sometimes related to poor nutrition. A registered dietitian can work with you to formulate an eating plan that includes sources of natural energy, including complex carbohydrates found in whole grains and starchy vegetables such as corn, beans, and winter squash. These foods are broken down slowly, providing a steady supply of energy. Conversely, eating simple carbs and sugars may give you an energy boost because your blood glucose rises rapidly, but it also drops quickly, leaving you feeling tired.
Originally published in May 2016 and updated.