We find that during the winter months many people complain of fatigue or lack of energy. This is not surprising as there are fewer hours of daylight and the relatively colder weather seems to put many of us into “hybernation mode”. Patients often ask us “what vitamins can I take for fatigue?” The medical literature, and our experience as physicians, tells us there there are some supplements that can be safe and useful to take for energy while there are others that are best to avoid, as they can cause harm.
The idea that we have evolved to conserve energy this time of year makes sense. Our prehistoric ancestors had to weather a long winter with minimal food, so best to sleep it off and conserve energy until spring when food is abundant. Unfortunately, modern life doesn’t really jive with this scenario and most of us do not have bosses who are ok with us being on hiatus all winter. Certainly our children do not reduce their expectations for us at any time. So we are therefore a bit compelled to fight evolution on this one and try to push through, by rallying the resources we have to help give us the extra energy we need. While vitamins for energy may not be the only answer, they certainly play a role.
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) f0ods. 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? Certainly getting enough sleep is important. We by no means recommend sleep deprivation, but rather a healthy night’s sleep with regular sleep and wake times (often hard when it’s dark in the morning, but consider a light box to help with this). If you have trouble falling asleep, see this for help.
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. Don’t forget to hydrate well and to get adequate electrolytes around the time of your work out.
Beyond these lifestyle tips, vitamins can be an important part 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, 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. Needless to say, these are not desired effects. And while they can simulate some type of “energy boost” in the short 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”. 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 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. The best way to obtain vitamin D is with a high quality supplement as a part of a personalized multivitamin, based on your diet, lifestyle and health concerns.
Likewise, other vitamins that can be useful for boosting energy include certain B vitamins, namely B12 and B1. These are nutrients involved in 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. Many of us .just 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 useful in helping with fatigue or low energy but its role is less defined. We do know it is key in regulating 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).
Taking the right vitamins for low energy or fatigue can be a very helpful part of improving your health and quality of life. We all have certain vitamin needs, but they are not the same. Taking a personalized multivitamin is the best way to get exactly what you need based on your diet, lifestyle and health concerns. Taking the wrong products can actually be worse for your health and make you feel poorly. Take our brief survey to find out what vitamins may help you and obtain a doctor created, medically sound personalized multivitamin.
Romy Block specializes in Endocrinology and Metabolism and is mother to three active adolescent boys. Arielle Levitan is a Doctor of Internal Medicine with a special interest in Preventive Medicine and Women’s Health. She is a mother of three teen agers. As professional women with active family lives, they recognize that people often neglect their own health needs and are uncertain about what vitamins to take. Each person is different in her diet, exercise and health history, and will benefit from different nutrients. After years of advising their patients about the proper vitamins to take, Drs. Block and Levitan created Vous Vitamin® to provide people everywhere with quality vitamins that are suited to their individual needs. They are authors of the award winning The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health (She Writes Press, 2015).
The statements made in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products offered by Vous Vitamin® are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.