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You’re looking for a boost, and you’re wondering if vitamin supplements are all you need to lift that sagging energy level. Perhaps you’ve taken vitamins sporadically over the years and are thinking about taking them on a daily basis.
Second, the reason for your low energy may have more to do with shortcomings in your diet—you may not be getting enough of a certain nutrient. Let’s take a look at which vitamins give you energy and which foods offer them naturally.
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Vitamins That Give You Energy: The Four Bs and Iron
Key vitamins that boost energy include these four Bs: B1, B2, B6, and B12, each of them important 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 foods 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.
These types of foods also contribute iron, a critical nutrient that aids your body in getting oxygen through the bloodstream. Fatigue often follows insufficient oxygenation. An iron deficiency may mean that fewer blood cells are being made, resulting in anemia. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon; estimates show that around 25 percent of the world’s population is anemic.
To get more iron, make sure your diet has the foods mentioned above—particularly the “caveman diet” staples of meat and poultry—along with the following:
- Pumpkins seeds, which also supply vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, and zinc.
- Quinoa, a gluten-free food that’s also rich in magnesium, manganese, folate, and copper.
- And, yes, dark chocolate, which supplies copper and magnesium as well.
Low Energy? Diet Tweaks Will Help
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 getting the vitamins that give you energy.
SOURCES & RESOURCES
For more on vitamins that give you energy and other ways to overcome fatigue, please visit these posts.
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 you energy can be found within your own grocery shopping habits and weekly menus. (See also our sidebar below.)
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 2016, this post is regularly updated.