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Energy Supplements: Stimulants continued...

Bitter orange, an extract from the rind of a different citrus species than that used for classic orange juice, is another energy supplement unrelated to caffeine. Though it hasn’t been studied much, some experts are concerned about potential risks. Its active ingredient -- synephrine -- is chemically similar to ephedrine, the active ingredient in ephedra, which was pulled off the market in 2004 because of its life-threatening health risks. Some preliminary reports have documentation concerning heart and vascular effects with the use of bitter orange. Coates says that bitter orange may prove a less harmful successor to ephedra, but more research needs to be done.

Bottom line: Will these supplements boost energy? Yes. Stimulants like these will probably rev up your metabolism temporarily and give you a lift. Are their effects superior to -- or even different from -- what you’d derive from a cup of coffee? Probably not.

Energy Supplements: Substances that Affect Energy Metabolism

  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
  • B vitamins, like vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folic acid, thiamine, niacin
  • Creatine, carnitine, and amino acids like tyrosine, phenylalanine, taurine

Many energy supplements are derived from the nutrients, proteins, fats, and amino acids that are already in our bodies or that we get from food. And they do work -- in a sense. “Research has clearly shown that these compounds support the energy metabolism process,” says Shao. They affect how the body processes the nutrients we eat and converts them into energy.

But while these compounds have a role in the body’s metabolism, will taking them as supplements actually boost an average person’s energy? That depends.

If you eat a well-balanced, healthy diet, you likely get enough of these vitamins and amino acids from food, and probably don’t need supplements, says Coates. “If you’re not medically deficient in substances like CoQ10 or carnitine, there’s virtually no evidence that taking more will enhance your energy.”

But people who are deficient in CoQ10, carnitine, and B vitamins may benefit from the supplements, says David Leopold, MD, director of Integrative Medical Education at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine. “And deficiency is much more common than we think,” he notes.

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