Fatigue is a common complaint that is often caused by simple factors like a lack of good quality sleep or fighting a viral or bacterial infection. Underlying health conditions can also be a cause so paying attention to your body and mind is valuable in maintaining optimal energy levels.
Often fatigue can be easily remedied through dietary improvements such as correcting a nutrient deficiency or modifying food intake, or identifying and treating an underlying medical condition.
Some of the most common causes of low energy include:
1. Nutrient deficiencies can leave people feeling extremely fatigued. Specific nutrient deficiencies that have been linked to fatigue include:
- riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- niacin (vitamin B3)
- pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
- pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
- folate (vitamin B9)
- vitamin B12
- vitamin D
- vitamin C
- iron (2,3).
3. When calories and/or nutrients such as protein are deficient, the body begins to breakdown fat and muscle storage to meet the bodies energy demands, producing fatigue.
4. Diets that are high in processed foods significantly impair energy levels in many ways. High sugar diets have shown to cause damage to sleep quality as well as contribute to chronically elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, which causes further fatigue (6).
5. A 28-day study of 82 people showed that when a diet is high in refined sugars and processed grains this caused 38% higher scores for symptoms of depression and 26% higher scores for fatigue, than when compared to a low glycaemic diet that was high in whole grains and legumes and low sugar (6).
6. Absence of good quality sleep will lead to fatigue. Deep sleep is restorative and essential to all aspects of health and wellbeing. During sleep periods, the body performs crucial processes, including the repair and regeneration of cells, tissues, and muscles, immune strengthening chemicals are released as well as important hormones. For example, levels of growth hormone increase as we sleep, and cortisol, which is linked to stress, goes down (1).
7. It is recommended that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep every night to support optimal health and wellbeing.
8. Excessive stress can lead to insomnia and fatigue and can negatively a person’s quality of life. Acute stress is the body's natural response to a stressor, however when stress becomes chronic, it is linked to fatigue and can damage health (4).
9. Stress-related exhaustion disorder (ED), is a clinical condition that is caused by chronic stress (long term activation of the stress response.) Long term stress can cause structural and functional alterations to occur in the brain and contribute to chronic inflammation, which may further impact feelings of exhaustion and fatigue.
10. Developing stress reducing strategies can help to decrease the risks that chronic stress may cause. Professional therapy, yoga, exercise, meditation, reduced screen time and increased time spent outdoors have all demonstrated benefit when trying to limit the effects of stress.
Unique superfoods that may help increase natural energy:
Korean ginseng: Ginseng has been shown to assist in reducing fatigue and enhancing energy levels. Ginseng contains substances such as oligopeptides and polysaccharides which can increase energy production in cells and help combat fatigue (8).
A review that consisted of 155 studies advocated that ginseng supplements may assist in lowering fatigue and have the potential to enhance physical performance (9). Another review that consisted of 10 studies showed that ginseng significantly improved symptoms of chronic fatigue in some individuals after only two weeks of the trial (10).
- Matcha green tea: Researchers have demonstrated that matcha may significantly improve energy, alertness, attention, reaction time, and memory, when compared to a placebo (11).
Matcha contains various compounds including caffeine and L-theanine, both studied for their energising effects on the brain. L-theanine has shown it can assist in preventing drops in energy levels that can follow caffeine consumption, promoting alertness (12, 13).
L-theanine has also been shown to increase alpha wave activity in the brain, which may help induce relaxation and decrease stress levels.
Multiple research papers have linked caffeine consumption to enhancement in brain function, citing improved reaction times, better attention, and enhanced memory (9, 10).
- Maca root: Maca is native to Peru where it has been traditionally used for over 200 years to enhance energy, mood, and mental clarity. A 2016 study of 175 people who resided in low or high altitudes showed that when prescribed just 3 grams of maca daily for 3 months, mood and energy scores were enhanced when compared with a placebo (12).
- Red reishi: This mushroom is known as the “mushroom of immortality” and has been prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine to boost energy and relax the mind. It is also believed to have apoptogenic (stress reducing) and immune enhancing actions. Researchers have found in past studies that fatigue can be reduced, and well-being improved after 8 weeks of taking a reishi supplements (11).
- Rhodiola: Native to the mountainous regions of Europe and Asia, the roots of the Rhodiola plant are considered adaptogens and contain more than 140 medicinal constituents. Rhodiola is now a well-known stress busting herb that has traditionally been used to treat stress and fatigue, enhance brain function, and improve physical performance.
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1. Brinkman JE, Reddy V, Sharma S. Physiology of Sleep. [Updated 2022 Sep 19]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482512/
2. Tardy AL, Pouteau E, Marquez D, Yilmaz C, Scholey A, 2020. Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence. Nutrients;16;12(1):228.
3. Nowak A, 2016. Effect of vitamin D3 on self-perceived fatigue: A double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial. Medicine (Baltimore);95(52):e5353.
4. Doerr JM et al, 2015. Reciprocal relationship between acute stress and acute fatigue in everyday life in a sample of university students. Biol Psychol;110:42-9.
5. Gavelin HM et al, 2020. Mental fatigue in stress-related exhaustion disorder: Structural brain correlates, clinical characteristics, and relations with cognitive functioning. Neuroimage Clin;27:102337.
6. Azzolino D, Arosio B, Marzetti E, Calvani R, Cesari M, (2020). Nutritional Status as a Mediator of Fatigue and Its Underlying Mechanisms in Older People. Nutrients;10;12(2):444.
7. Breymeyer KL, Lampe JW, McGregor BA, Neuhouser ML, (2016). Subjective mood and energy levels of healthy weight and overweight/obese healthy adults on high-and low-glycemic load experimental diets. Appetite;1;107:253-259.
8. Lu G, Liu Z, Wang X, Wang C, (2021). Recent Advances in Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer as a Herb for Anti-Fatigue: An Effects and Mechanisms Review. Foods;10;10(5):1030.
9. Bach HV, Kim J, Myung SK, Cho YA, (2016). Efficacy of Ginseng Supplements on Fatigue and Physical Performance: a Meta-analysis. J Korean Med Sci;31(12):1879-1886.
10. Arring N et al, (2018). Ginseng as a Treatment for Fatigue: A Systematic Review, The Journ Alt and Comp Med;24:7, 624-633.
11. Tang W, (2005). A randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study of a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract in neurasthenia. J Med Food;8(1):53-8.
12. Gonzales-Arimborgo C et al, (2016). Acceptability, Safety, and Efficacy of Oral Administration of Extracts of Black or Red Maca (Lepidium meyenii) in Adult Human Subjects: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Pharmaceuticals (Basel);18;9(3):49.
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