Energy for Sale
Energy products abound: in drinks, herbs, bars, and even goo. But do they do anything?
Herbs and Supplements continued...
Of the herbs used for energy, ginseng probably has the most research, but
the studies are contradictory, says Haggans. Plus, she says there are different
types of ginseng, and the investigators don't always make it clear what kind
was used in studies.
Asian ginseng, also known as Panax ginseng, is generally known as a
stimulant and has been used by older people seeking more energy, says Andrew
Weil, author of 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. The Asian variety also has
a reputation as a sexual enhancer for men and has been used to improve athletic
American ginseng, on the other hand, is used more as a tonic and is known to
increase immunity over time, says Weil.
The herbs guarana and yerba mate are rich sources of caffeine. They
stimulate the central nervous system, much like coffee does. The caffeine
"may be helpful for mental alertness and possibly for weight loss,"
says Haggans. But there have not been many studies on the herbs, separate from
the effects of caffeine.
Rhodiola rosea has been used in Sweden and Denmark as an
anti-fatigue supplement. There is some evidence it improves aspects of mental
and physical performance, but other than that, we don't know a lot about the
herb, says Haggans.
Rhodiola is often combined with cordyceps mushroom, another herb that has
had little scientific research. Cordyceps mushroom by itself and the combined
formula of cordyceps and rhodiola have been tested on athletic performance, and
the results have been contradictory.
There are benefits to taking cordyceps mushroom, says Weil. It can
reportedly provide energy to older people who have been debilitated by age or
illness and to young athletes who need a boost in performance.
If you are considering the use of an herb or a supplement, it's best to
first check with your doctor. Some plant compounds, no matter how natural, can
interact with drugs and may have some adverse effects.
Asian ginseng, for example, can raise blood pressure in those that are prone
to hypertension, says Weil. Plus, Haggans says a recent study suggests the herb
may reduce the effect of Coumadin (a blood thinner) and other drugs. There are
also observational reports that yerba mate, when used in large amounts or for
prolonged periods, may cause cancer in the gastrointestinal tract.
Keep in mind, herbs are presumed to be safe until proven harmful. They are
regulated more like foods, as opposed to drugs, says Haggans. The dietary
supplement ephedra, used for weight loss or athletic performance, is one
example of a plant compound that was pulled from the market following numerous
reports of death and injury.
The Bottom Line on Energy Products
Energy bars, drinks, herbs, and supplements may be helpful in some
instances, but they are not sure-fire remedies for fatigue. And don’t
assume that any of this stuff is inherently healthy. If you’re just lying
around the house, you really don’t need a high calorie energy bar, nor do you
need to fret about your electrolyte balance. Experts say you should just
concentrate on a well-balanced diet.
"As long as you are eating a variety of foods -- in the spirit of the
food guide pyramid -- you're going to be able to meet your nutrient needs,"
says Moore. "As long as you do that, your body is going to be able to carry
out all of its functions in terms of transferring food into fuel with complete
If a healthy diet is not helping with energy needs, examine the amount of
sleep, exercise, and stress in your life. These factors, plus diseases and
medications, can affect energy levels.