What the doctor orders:Better fuel, meditation, maybe


In last month’s article, I talked about fatigue, it’s common causes, how to identify these causes and basic therapeutic approaches. This month I will discuss optimizing energy and performance.

The holistic approach to achieving optimal energy is multifaceted and, in some ways, subtle. It requires an exploration of the life factors that may hinder your energy levels from being as good as they can be and determining the therapies that will best address your individual and unique condition.


Better fuels equal more energy


The best way to increase energy is to use methods that do not have associated withdrawal symptoms. When taken away, stimulants such as coffee leave your body in a worse condition, and often produce headaches, fatigue and other withdrawal-related symptoms.

Sweets and sugary foods provide a hit of energy, but cause blood sugar levels to crash. The result: fatigue about an hour later.

For longer term energy needs, simple sugars are detrimental. In general, most energy bars and health bars are intensely sweetened and not supportive of long-term optimal energy. It is best to avoid candies, chocolate and other sweets.

Eating nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean sources of protein can supply the nutrients your body needs with little, if anything, to hold you back.


Supplements can boost energy and immunity


Your body’s energy and nutrient needs change depending on the different stressors in your life.

I recommend a high-dose, high-potency multivitamin as a nutritional safety net for many of my patients who want to increase their energy levels. Many nutrients have an antioxidant effect, which means they protect all the components of your body from both naturally occurring and toxin-related chemical damage.

Especially vulnerable are your cells’ mitochondria, where all of your body’s energy is made from glucose, fats, protein and oxygen.

It’s especially important to help your body out with additional doses of vitamin C. Research shows that, in stressful situations, doses of vitamin C above the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) decrease the physical effect that stress has on your body. This means that similar situations are experienced as less stressful with optimal vitamin C supplementation. Daily supplementation with 200 to 1,000mg seems to be about right.

In times of increased demand, magnesium levels fall because more is lost in the urine. Magnesium is an important mineral in neurological function, the body’s production of energy, and proper muscle function. Many patients find they are more relaxed when they take supplemental magnesium.

The RDA for preventing magnesium deficiency (not for optimal function) was increased a few years ago to 320mg and 420mg daily for women and men, respectively. Higher doses can be used, but excess magnesium (as well as vitamin C) causes loose and/or frequent stools and can cause poor absorption of other nutrients, so be careful!

In every cell of your body, the B vitamins — especially niacin and riboflavin — are key to the production of energy. Supplementation with B vitamins can substantially increase your energy. Some of my patients even use B vitamins when they have to stay up all night for work. For most folks, it is best to take high doses of B in the morning so you don’t disturb your sleep habits.


Stress, hormones and digestion


Stress — whether physical, mental, or emotional — affects hormone levels in the body. Stress can cause changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle and reproductive function. Stress causes the cells in the body to be less responsive to thyroid hormone, which affects energy, mood and weight. Stress even contributes to diabetes by reducing the body’s response to insulin.

If you have been under considerable stress for extended periods of time, laboratory testing might show sub-optimal functioning of various organ systems. This is most commonly seen in the endocrine (or hormonal) system.

Digestive dysfunction may also be caused by a demanding lifestyle. If your digestive system is not working right, it can result in poor nutrient absorption, sensitivity reactions to common foods, poor detoxification, and even auto-intoxication (gut imbalances that cause the production of toxic chemicals).

The hormonal and other physical changes caused by stress can be considerable. Improving function with herbs and supplements that support digestive and hormonal function can help. Consult a health-care professional for specific suggestions tailored to your body.


If your mind makes you weary


Some aspects of your demanding lifestyle may be beyond your control; they lie outside your sphere of influence. However, you can affect your perspective or attitude about life factors and this can decrease the stress you experience from them.

Meditation, prayer, coaching or counseling can dramatically change your emotional and physical responses to demanding situations and leave you with more energy and greater resources to deal with other life issues.


Richard Malik is a naturopathic doctor with a practice in Lakeville offering comprehensive health care for the entire family.

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