Many of us suffer from a lack of energy every now and then, especially when we haven’t slept well. There are many possible causes of fatigue, though one of the first to consider is nutritional deficiency. That’s right! If you’re feeling tired constantly in spite of getting enough sleep, consider whether you’re getting all the essential nutrients you require every day. After all, they are the building blocks our body needs to make energy and run efficiently.
When we eat, carbohydrates and fats get broken down to sugars, which the body then converts into energy by means of a process called the citric acid, or Krebs, cycle. For this, it needs vitamins and minerals, which act as co-factors. The energy produced is then used by the cells in our body for all the necessary metabolic processes which keep us functioning normally. This means that if we’re lacking some of the vital nutrients, energy production slows down, which means we may feel tired.
So let’s take a look at some of the vitamins and other nutrients we need for energy:
The B-vitamins as a group are essential co-factors for energy production. ¹ Vitamin B2, for example, is a precursor of two nucleotides which contribute to the production of cellular energy in the process of their metabolism.² Vitamin B3 is vital to the process of energy synthesis, as it is the precursor to many of the enzymes that fuel cellular energy production.³ Vitamin B5 is a precursor of coenzyme A, which we need to metabolise the carbohydrates, proteins and fats from our food. All these B-vitamins together are vital for our body to be able to efficiently store energy and release it when and where needed.¹ Interestingly, we also need some of these B-vitamins for our body to produce CoQ10, another nutrient required for mitochondrial energy production. ¹ Food sources of B-vitamins include brewer’s yeast, lean meat, legumes, eggs and rice. ¹ Though our daily requirements for B-vitamins should be achievable through a balanced diet, there are times when we may need a little extra. In those times a general B-Complex supplement or a multivitamin and mineralsupplement, may help get your energy levels back up.
Vitamin B12 is obviously also a B-vitamin and as such falls into the above B-group category. However, it also has another function which can make a difference to our energy levels. Vitamin B12 is required for the production of red blood cells. Low levels of this vitamin affects red blood cell multiplication ⁴ and since the red blood cells help to move oxygen through our body and to the tissues, a lack of B12 can lead to fatigue.
We get most of our B12 from animal foods ⁵, so vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of deficiency of this vitamin. The absorption of this nutrient is also quite complex, ⁵ meaning that people with digestive difficulties may struggle to absorb sufficient vitamin B12. Most vitamin B12 supplements are either a sublingual tablet or a spray to help bypass much of the digestive system and absorb quicker.
This nutrient supports energy production in the mitochondria, ⁶ as well as having antioxidant benefits and supporting a healthy heart. ¹ Unlike some vitamins, Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) can be produced by our body, however deficiency may occur with the use of some medications or if our body is unable to produce enough. Further, as we get older, levels of CoQ10 in the body tend to decrease naturally. ⁷ Deficiency symptoms include fatigue and muscle aches and pains. ¹ As well as through our body’s own production, we can also obtain CoQ10 through our diet. Food sources for this nutrient include meat and fish, with broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, nuts and soy also providing some CoQ10. ¹
If you do feel tired and need something extra, CoQ10 can also be taken as a supplement. One thing to remember about the supplements though – is they are generally recommended to be taken with food as this assists with their absorption. ⁶ We suggest you take CoQ10 in the morning with breakfast to give you that get up and go!
This mineral is very important in supporting oxygen transport through the body, as well as oxygen storage in muscle. ¹ Furthermore, it is also required for healthy immune, muscle and brain function as well as producing energy. ⁸ Now, as you can imagine, low oxygen circulation and storage leads to feeling tired. As such, a deficiency in iron can lead to fatigue, as well as pale skin and it can also affect thyroid function. ¹ According to the Australian bureau of Statistics, one in eight people do not get enough iron. ⁸ The main food sources include red meat, poultry and organ meats for haem iron (this is better absorbed than the non-haem form) and kidney beans, green lentils, tofu, chickpeas, egg yolks and spinach can provide the non-haem form. Another thing to consider with iron is that several factors can affect its absorption. These include tannins like those found in tea ¹, which can be an issue for those of us who enjoy their cups of tea, especially with meals. Phytates, which are found in whole grains and legumes can also reduce the absorption of iron ¹, as well as other nutrients. This is the reason why whole grains like brown rice and legumes (like your beans and chickpeas) should be soaked and washed before cooking.
While fatigue can be a symptom of iron deficiency, it is important to get your iron levels checked before you start taking any iron supplements, since excess iron is stored in the body and too much can lead to health problems as well.
Iodine is an extremely important nutrient for human health and vitality. We need it for our thyroid to make thyroid hormones, which are essential for regulating our metabolism and energy expenditure. ⁹ We may not need much of this nutrient on a daily basis (about 150mcg/day ⁹), but not having enough can still be detrimental, as it can affect our thyroid function.⁹ Unfortunately, here in Australia our soil is somewhat depleted of iodine. As such, foods that we get from the ocean, i.e. fish, shellfish and seaweed, are the best sources of this nutrient. ⁹ Further, bread in Australia is baked using iodised salt, as per regulations put in place in 2008 to combat a rise in iodine deficiency and associated health problems. ⁹ Iodine can also be obtained through a supplement on its own or in some multivitamins when dietary intake is insufficient. As the thyroid is a delicate gland, careful dosing with iodine is needed, so please seek the advice of your healthcare practitioner before supplementing with iodine.
Fatigue is a very non-specific symptom and often can be associated with low levels of certain nutrients. However, before supplementing it is always a good idea to get your nutrient levels checked by a doctor or health professional (this is particularly recommended in the case of nutrients like iron, B12 and iodine).