In order to be truly healthy, you must be energetic. Having energy and vitality means having the ability to engage in our daily activities with strength and enthusiasm. As children, most of us jumped out of bed each morning with energy to burn. Imagine how it would feel to have even half that level of energy!
Why do energy levels seem to decline as we age? Part of the answer is that we experience a decline in levels of key energy factors in our cells, and that contributes to fatigue. The energy we produce in our cells fuels every thought, action, and metabolic response of our lives. Once we understand how to give our cells the proper fuel, we can restore the vitality we enjoyed as healthy children.
For starters, energy is supplied by the foods that we eat. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins supply us with the building blocks for metabolism and the production of energy. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes provide carbohydrates. They should make up about two-thirds of the foods found on our plate at any given meal. Proteins are found in legumes, nuts and seeds, dairy products, and meats. Fish is a particularly healthy protein source. Protein-rich foods and oils provide fats. Avocados and olive oil are examples of very healthy plant oils. Cold-water fish supply healthy oils, too.
Persistent fatigue is one of the most common complaints healthcare professionals hear on a daily basis. People often reach for caffeine or sugar in a misguided attempt to “medicate” their fatigue. These crutches actually make the problem worse. When we are looking to restore that youthful state of vitality, we may instead want to reach for the powerful energy nutrients: ribose, coenzyme Q10, and L-carnitine. These nutrients have the power to boost our energy levels by supporting better metabolism of our foods and protecting us from energy decline during exertion. They are not crutches like caffeine and sugar, but rather the authentic building blocks of energy, and our vitality depends on us having them in optimal supply.
Health begins in the cell. Our state of health at any given moment greatly depends on the energy output of the mitochondria, or “energy factories” within the cell. On a cellular level, we produce energy through a process called cellular respiration. In each of our cells, mitochondria produce the energy needed for that cell to carry on its duties. Better production of cellular energy translates to better levels of energy for our whole body. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the body’s energy “currency.” It allows us to have the fuel for everything from muscular strength and the beating of the heart to brainpower. The more ATP we produce, the more vitality we have. So ensuring better production of ATP is a way to ensure better levels of available energy and thus a stronger, better state of health.
Key nutrients and nutrient cofactors play fundamental roles in our ability to supply ourselves with optimal energy. One of these important nutrients is ribose. Ribose (often listed as d-ribose on supplement labels) is a simple five-carbon sugar that is produced by all cells. It is a structural compound necessary for the production of our genetic material, RNA and DNA, and it is a building block of ATP. Without ribose, it is impossible for our cells to produce energy.
Unfortunately, ribose may become depleted during physical exertion, or because of disease. Once we have depleted ribose in the cell, ATP will not be produced and the cell will not have enough energy reserve to carry out its activities. With suboptimal levels of ribose, we may face significant fatigue and inability to recover from exertion.
Supplementation with ribose has been shown to help replenish body stores and support better levels of energy in people who have chronic conditions. In one study, heart failure patients who took ribose were able to utilize oxygen more efficiently and experienced improvements in heart function. Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue patients also experience a lift in energy levels after taking ribose supplements. Ribose supplementation has also been shown to benefit healthy people who are looking for an energy boost. In another study, high-intensity athletes who took supplemental ribose had a much shorter recovery time after exercise than athletes who did not take ribose.
Another important energy nutrient is coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10. The conversion of energy from carbohydrates and fats to ATP requires the presence of CoQ10 in the mitochondria. But oxidative stress caused by free radicals can damage the cell. The cell uses an antioxidant defense system to protect itself against this oxidative assault. CoQ10 functions as both cellular fuel and a powerful antioxidant, supporting both the production of energy and a stronger antioxidant defense.
Your heart, brain, liver, and all of your muscles consume a great deal of energy. They are also easily damaged by free radicals. Aging is accelerated by oxidative damage and declining energy production. Therefore, CoQ10 may also be considered an anti-aging therapy.
Another nutrient that supports energy is L-carnitine. Fats in our foods provide fuel for the body, especially for muscles such as the heart and for vital organs such as the liver. In order for fat to be used as fuel, it must first be transported into the mitochondria. Carnitine shuttles the fatty acids from our blood into the cells and the mitochondria. The fats may then be burned for cellular energy. Thus, L-carnitine helps increase the use of fat as an energy source. Due to its role in delivering fatty acids to the mitochondria to produce energy, L-carnitine may be helpful for chronic fatigue syndrome, which involves a disturbance in the function of the mitochondria. The body normally makes all the carnitine it needs, but aging and some health challenges, including angina and chronic fatigue, can leave us depleted.
Finally, another nutrient to consider if you are feeling a lack of energy is magnesium. This important mineral is necessary for activating hundreds of enzymes that allow the carbs and fats in your diet to be used as energy. This makes adequate magnesium levels essential for fighting fatigue.
Depleted magnesium levels impact our energy metabolism and are associated with a need for increased oxygen during exercise. Researchers find that during moderate activity, individuals with low magnesium levels are likely to use more energy—and therefore to tire more quickly—than those with adequate levels. General fatigue and exhaustion may be signs of a magnesium deficiency. Blood tests for magnesium are often not accurate, so it’s important to include it as part of a high-quality daily multivitamin/mineral supplement. Don’t allow chronic low levels of energy to cheat you of the enjoyment of life. Research shows that increasing the energy available to the cells helps the body operate at its optimum level. Your vitality is linked to having the right fuels for your cells.