Even though fatigue is the number one complaint that general practitioners hear from their patients, it can’t be solved by conventional medicine alone, says Erika Schwartz, M.D., an internist in West Chester County, New York.
Fatigue isn’t a disease, she explains. It doesn’t show up on diagnostic tests. No drug can cure it. There isn’t an operation that will cut it out of the body. Some conventional doctors, who are trained to detect illnesses with tests and solve them with drugs or surgery, may dismiss fatigue as incurable.
“Some doctors simply tell their patients that fatigue is as natural a consequence of growing older as gray hair and wrinkles,” Dr. Schwartz says. “They say to people, ‘You simply have to learn to live with it.’ That is sheer and utter nonsense.”
Instead, says Dr. Schwartz, lack of energy is a symptom of a fatigue-causing lifestyle, particularly a nutrition style that loads (and overloads) the engines of our bodies with low quality fuel.
“We are underfed and under fueled and unable to step up to all the tasks and opportunities at hand,” says Pamela Smith, RD., a nutritionist in Orlando, Florida. “We push our bodies
through the day without the right food as though we were cars that could run without gasoline.”
But, says Smith, it’s easy to banish fatigue and restore energy, because high-level energy is your natural state. “Energy is scripted into every cell of your body,” she says. “The question is: Are you allowing that energy to flow forth so that it literally moves fatigue out of the way?”
If you want to answer that question with a hearty “Yes,” try these energy-releasing remedies.
CARNITINE: A True Rejuvenator
“I call carnitine the capsule of youth,” says Dr. Schwartz. This amino acid transports nutritional fuel into the mitochondria, the energy factories in every cell. It also removes waste from the mitochondria so the operation of the factories isn’t slowed by toxins.
Without carnitine, the body can’t produce energy, and the typical
American diet doesn’t supply enough, says Dr. Schwartz. “I have seen the positive effects of carnitine supplementation in hundreds of my patients, who looked and felt reinvigorated within days,” she says. Dr. Schwartz recommends starting with 500 milligrams of carnitine in tablet form twice a day, at breakfast and at lunch. As with all supplements, she advises taking it with an 8-ounce glass of water for digestive comfort.
Dr. Schwartz advises her patients to take carnitine indefinitely, recommending a minimum of 1,000 milligrams a day for people over 40. The older you are, the more you need it, she adds.
COENZVME Ql0: The Perfect Complement to Carnitine
While carnitine carries fuel into the mitochondria, coenzyme QI0 (COQl0) helps the mitochondria use the fuel to make energy. Scientists have focused primarily on COQl0’S ability to revive the cells of the heart. Studies have shown that it may help reverse life-threatening congestive heart failure by restoring the energy of the muscle cells.
It appears, however, that COQl0 energizes all the cells in the body, not just those of the heart. “Without sufficient coenzyme Ql0′ you will not be able to produce enough energy to maintain optimal health,” Dr. Schwartz says.
To get a truly therapeutic dose from your diet, you would have to eat huge amounts of food-more than 6 pounds of beef, 14 pounds of peanuts, and 6 pounds of sardines daily-so Dr. Schwartz recommends a supplement as the best way to get enough. She suggests taking 30 milligrams twice a day, at breakfast and lunch. You can take this supplement indefinitely, she says.
MAGNESIUM: Relief for Tired Bodies
Many people with everyday fatigue would benefit from taking magnesium, a mineral that’s crucial for energy production. If you have a lot to do but can’t seem to rouse your body to action, try taking 400 milligrams of magnesium at lunch along with carnitine and coQ1QI says Dr. Schwartz.
GLUTAMATE: Beat Brain Fatigue
If you have mental fatigue that makes it hard for you to concentrate or think clearly, you may want to start taking a glutamate supplement. “Glutamate is an amino acid that helps stabilize blood sugar levels,” says Dr. Schwartz. “This prevents the sharp dips in blood sugar that can contribute to brain fatigue.” She recommends taking 800 milligrams of glutamate with breakfast and 400 milligrams with lunch.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS: Energize Your Mood
Fatigue and depression often go hand in hand. To help a blue mood, Dr. Schwartz suggests taking 1,000 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for normal brain function. Take the supplement every day at breakfast, she advises.
Foods That Fight Fatigue
“When it comes to having all the energy that you want and need, eating the right foods at the right times is as basic as getting enough sleep,” says Smith. But, she says, don’t worry about what you shouldn’t eat. Instead, focus on foods and drinks that power you with high-octane energy fuel.
WATER: Avoid the Main Factor for Fatigue
Dehydration-not drinking enough water every day-is one of the main reasons that people are fatigued, says Smith. “If you do nothing else in your quest for energy but begin to drink water each day, and drink a lot of it,” she says, “you will experience a phenomenal boost in your energy.”
Why water? It transports energy-giving nutrients, provides a cellular environment where they can work, helps oxygenate the blood, and maintains proper muscle tone. She recommends drinking between 64 and 80 ounces a day.
FOOD: Eat Often for Energy
Eating small amounts of food throughout the day helps keep blood sugar levels-and energy levels-from plummeting, says Smith. Those mini-meals should supply carbohydrates and protein for maximum energy, since the glucose from the carbohydrates and the amino acids from the protein individually will fuel you for only a few hours, she says. Plus, choose low-fat foods, since high fat translates into low energy. Here’s what a day of mini-meals might include.
- For breakfast, oats cooked in fat-free milk or juice, sweetened with apple juice or white grape juice, flavored with pumpkin pie spice and vanilla, and topped with fresh or dried fruit.
- At midmorning, a piece of fresh fruit or 1 to 2 ounces of low-fat cheese. . For lunch, a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread with Dijon mustard, a large green salad with chickpeas and feta cheese, or a piece of chicken with broccoli and a sweet potato. (“Always look for that balance of carbohydrates and protein, allowing carbohydrates to be burned for energy and utilizing the protein for building functions,” says Smith.) For dessert, fresh mango and strawberries.
- In mid afternoon, a snack of baked tortilla chips with bean dip and salsa.
- For dinner, fish or chicken, brown rice or a grain, a green salad, vegetables, and fruit-sweetened yogurt for dessert. . In the evening, a snack of whole-grain cereal with fat-free milk or soy milk.
Fill Your Life with Energy
Which would you prefer, sunshine streaming in the window or a windowless wall? Soothing music or a refrigerator’s whine? Delicious scents or the chemical smell of a copy machine? In each case, the pleasing choice is obvious. And when you choose a pleasurable, low-stress environment, you’re also choosing energy.
“You may be astounded by the enormously energizing effect of modifying your environment,” says Smith.
WARM COLORS: Energizing the Brain
Surrounding yourself with warm colors will send impulses to your brain that can boost your energy, says Smith. If it’s your workspace that you want to energize, start by cleaning up the clutter-the paperwork and newspapers-on your desk. You’ll eliminate cool whites, blues, and blacks that can cause energy to dip. Then add yellow, orange, or red, Smith advises. (The electromagnetic waves of yellow are the most energizing, followed by those of orange, then red.) Any warm color will do the trick: a plant with yellow flowers, a poster with sunny colors, a warm painting, or Mexican pottery, for example. One caution for extroverts: An excess of fiery colors can over stimulate and distract you. Choose calming blue or green.
NATURAL SCENTS: Stimulate Alertness
“Pleasant scents stimulate a nerve in the body that triggers wakefulness,” says Smith. You don’t need fancy potpourris or an aromatherapy dispenser, though. Just keep a basket of oranges or lemons on your desk and slice one when you’re feeling fatigued. (You’ll also benefit from the color of the fruits.) Or keep a mint plant nearby and break off a leaf to breathe in its aroma, she suggests.
SOUNDS: An Earful of Energy
“Noise is an invisible fatigue factor in today’s world,” says Smith.
She suggests using foam earplugs if you can’t eliminate energy-sapping sounds in your environment. You could also buy a “white noise” machine that generates the sounds of waves, wind, or waterfalls. Wearing headphones and listening to energizing music of your choice is another good option. “The best brain response will come from listening to music with gentle rhythms, such as that of the piano or flute, and without lyrics or loud drums,” she says.
Eliminate Fatigue Factors
If you’re feeling lifeless, you need to look at your whole life. Getting too little sleep and not enough exercise commonly causes fatigue, says Smith. But there are easy ways to remedy the situation.
SLEEP: Refresh Yourself
“Restful sleep can become part of your energized lifestyle prescription,” says Smith. To improve your sleep, here’s what she advises.
- Try to go to bed and get up at the same times every day, since the body craves regularity.
- Don’t have coffee after lunch since caffeine can sabotage sleep.
- Avoid high-fat food in the evening because fat can make it harder to get to sleep or stay asleep.
- Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet room; it’s the best environment for serious snoozing.
- Sleep on your side; you’ll breathe easier and reduce snoring, which can make for a restless night.
EXERCISE: 10 Minutes Equals 2 Hours of Energy
A brisk, la-minute walk can energize you for 2 hours, says Smith. She recommends taking three brief walks a day to keep your energy levels constant.
“You can walk almost anytime, anywhere,” she says. If you prefer a longer exercise session, add some stretching and weight lifting to your program to keep your muscles loose and toned, which is a must for maximum energy.
If you’re extremely fatigued, however, you may want to start with more restful types of exercise, such as yoga or the gentle Chinese exercises of tai chi, says DeAnna Batdorff, a clinical aroma therapist and Ayurvedic practitioner in Forestville, California.
“If your body is already depleted, aerobic exercise can leave you more tired than when you started,” she says. “But if you start with an exercise routine using yoga or tai chi, you’ll gradually build your energy over a month or so, and then you can add aerobic exercise to your routine.”