Low Energy Causes May Be Rooted in These 3 Nutritional Deficiencies

Constantly feel like you have no energy? Nutrient deficiencies are common low energy causes, and a multivitamin is not enough to fix it. Here's how to regain your energy.

woman suffering from low energy

Lacking energy? Your fatigue causes may be rooted in vitamin deficiency.

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It’s not surprising that nutrient deficiencies are causes for low energy and fatigue, given that your body’s trillions of cells rely on vitamins and minerals to generate energy. What is surprising is that few doctors recognize the fact that fatigue and lacking energy is often an early symptom of multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Many health care providers also ignore the well-documented fact that lack of vitamins and minerals is a surprisingly common malady. This is true even in the developed world, where we are known as the “overfed but undernourished.”

Nutrients and Vitamins for Tiredness and Energy

A high percentage of adults in the United States eat less than the minimum daily allowance of many essential vitamins and minerals.[1,2] A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2011, for example, found that even when including vitamin intake from supplements and fortified foods, 97 percent of Americans don’t get enough potassium, 65 percent don’t get enough vitamin K, 60 percent don’t get enough vitamin E, 70 percent don’t get enough vitamin D, and around 30 percent don’t get enough vitamins A and C.[3]

Nutrient deficiencies are among the causes of low energy and fatigue because they slow energy production inside cells. This can result in excessive tiredness and lack of energy as well as many other symptoms. Here, we’ll take a closer look at three of the most important nutrients related to fatigue, low energy causes, and what energy supplements you can take.

1. B Vitamins

B vitamins are necessary for converting food into energy. The B vitamins are B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6, B12, folic acid, and biotin. If you’re lacking in B vitamins, either because your needs are increased or you’re not taking in sufficient amounts, the ability of your cells’ mitochondria to generate energy will be compromised. The mitochondria are the energy power houses of the cell. Due to their critical role in producing the energy that drives every physiologic process, mitochondrial function is an area of intense interest and study.

Lack of even just one B vitamin can compromise an entire sequence of biochemical reactions necessary for transforming food into energy. Vitamin B12 deficiencies, in particular, are highly significant fatigue causes, and 10 to 15 percent of aging adults have a B12 deficiency.[4] B vitamins can also prevent memory loss and even prevent stroke.

How to use B vitamins for fatigue: It’s safe, easy, and inexpensive to experiment with B vitamin supplements in order to determine whether B vitamin supplementation will help with your fatigue. Try at least 6 weeks of a high potency B complex supplement, along with an additional 2000 micrograms of sublingual (under the tongue) B12 every day.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral to the human body. It is involved in more than 300 metabolic reactions, a key reaction being energy production. Magnesium is required to form and store the energy molecule ATP. Magnesium deficiency impairs the energy production pathway required by mitochondria to generate ATP.

Deficiency of magnesium also reduces the mitochondria’s ability to resist to free-radical damage and results in excessive production of oxygen-derived free radicals and low grade inflammation.[5] Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress have both been identified as causative factors in several fatigue-related conditions such as depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.

As many as 23 percent of adults in the United States have low magnesium levels and fail to meet the recommended dietary intake of magnesium.[6] Almost half (48 percent) of the US population consumed less than the required amount of magnesium from food in 2005–2006.[7]

Low magnesium levels have been linked to an increased risk of chronic fatigue.[8,9] Repletion of magnesium in chronic fatigue patients shows clinical improvement in energy levels.

How to take magnesium for fatigue: Magnesium is another safe, inexpensive supplement for energy to treat your fatigue naturally. Look for magnesium bound to citrate or malate for superior absorption. Both magnesium and malic acid have been found to reduce fatigue. Take 300 mg magnesium citrate or magnesium malate twice a day.

3. Antioxidants

Antioxidants are chemical compounds that neutralize free radicals by preventing oxygen from reacting with other compounds. Examples include vitamins C and E, the mineral selenium, and the nutrient coenzyme Q10. Like the B vitamins, antioxidants are involved in mitochondrial energy production.

The ability of the mitochondria to function properly is compromised when they become damaged by reactive oxygen species (free radicals) produced as a consequence of increased oxidative stress and insufficient antioxidant defenses. This damage results in a decrease in energy production by some of the cells’ mitochondria.

Antioxidants like vitamins C and E, the mineral selenium, and the important nutrient coenzyme Q10 are needed to support healthy mitochondrial energy production. Antioxidant deficiencies, in a way similar to the B vitamin deficiencies, are therefore fatigue causes worthy of addressing. Supplementing with an antioxidant formula which contains high levels of these and other antioxidant nutrients can help with fatigue.[10,11,12]

Tips on supplementing with antioxidants: Make sure the antioxidant supplement you take contains natural vitamin E in the form of “mixed tocopherols” instead of just “alpha-tocopherol.” In addition to the combination antioxidant formula, try adding a separate CoQ10 supplement, aiming for a total of 300 mg CoQ10 per day.

The Bottom Line

You now understand why three common nutritional deficiencies that cause fatigue. For more discussion on fatigue and low energy causes as well as more powerful natural treatments for fatigue, see “Understanding Why You’re So Tired,” “Why Am I Tired All the Time?” and our entire Energy & Fatigue archive for an energy boost.

[1] Krebs-Smith SM, Guenther PM, et al. Americans do not meet federal dietary recommendations. J Nutr. 2010 Oct;140(10):1832-8.

[2] Sebastian RS, Cleveland LE, et al. Older adults who use vitamin/mineral supplements differ from nonusers in nutrient intake adequacy and dietary attitudes. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007 Aug;107(8):1322-32.

[3] Fulgoni VL 3rd, Keast DR, et al. Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? J Nutr. 2011 Oct;141(10):1847-54.

[4] Baik HW, Russell RM (1999) Vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly. Annu Rev Nutr 19: 357–377.

[5] Barbagallo M, Dominguez LJ. Magnesium and aging. Curr Pharm Des. 2010;16(7):832-9.

[6] Beckstrand RL, Pickens JS. Beneficial effects of magnesium supplementation. J Evid Bas Comp Alt Med. 2011;16(3):181-189.

[7] Rosanoff A, Weaver CM, Rude RK. Suboptimal magnesium status in the United States: are the health consequences underestimated? Nutr Rev. 2012 Mar;70(3):153-64.

[8] Cox IM, Campbell MJ, Dowson D. Red blood cell magnesium and chronic fatigue syndrome. Lancet. 1991 Mar 30;337(8744):757-60.

[9] Moorkens G, Manuel Y et al. Magnesium deficit in a sample of the Belgium population presenting with chronic fatigue. Magnes Res 1997;10:329-337.

[10] Mizuno K, Tanaka M et al. Antifatigue effects of coenzyme Q10 during physical fatigue. Nutrition 2008;24:293-299.

[11] Suh SY, Bae WK, et al. Intravenous vitamin C administration reduces fatigue in office workers: a double-blind randomized controlled trial. Nutr J. 2012 Jan 20;11:7.

[12] Coombes JS, Rowell B, et al. Effects of vitamin E deficiency on fatigue and muscle contractile properties. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002 Jul;87(3):272-7.

This article was originally published in 2012 and is regularly updated.

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