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Can Supplements Improve Your Energy?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on July 21, 2021

Vitamins and minerals are substances your body needs to build energy, help you stay healthy, and function properly. To naturally maintain your day-to-day energy levels, it’s best to get your vitamins from your food. But if you’re not able to meet your daily requirement through food alone, you may reach for supplements to make up the difference.

But do supplements really boost energy? Some may make a difference, but others may need more research to back up the energy-boosting claims.

Vitamin B12

This is a type of nutrient that keeps you blood and nerve cells healthy. It also helps your body make genetic material (DNA). It’s naturally found in animal-based foods only. So, if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you may not be getting enough. This can also happen if you’re pregnant, anemic, or have trouble absorbing it.

If you lack vitamin B12, you may feel tired and weak. But supplements may not be a quick fix. Research shows that there isn’t enough evidence to prove they boost energy.

On average, an adult only needs 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of B12 per day. But your body stores up to 2,000 times your daily requirement, so it usually takes several years for deficiency to show up. Your doctor can do a blood test to see if you’re really deficient.

Supplements may contain much higher doses than the minimum requirement, but they’re still relatively safe. But they may interact with certain prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Check with your doctor before you take them.

Vitamin B12 supplements are available over the counter in pill form that contain just the B vitamins or as part of a multivitamin. They’re also available as prescription shots or nasal gel.

Vitamin D

It’s called the “sunshine vitamin” because your skin makes it when you’re exposed to the sun’s UV rays. It’s also found in foods like fatty fish and egg yolks. If you have low levels of vitamin D, it can affect your bone health, increase the risk for certain illnesses, and cause muscle pain and weakness.

The recommended daily intake for adults is 600 international units (IU). But many people don’t get the daily minimum: It’s estimated that nearly 1 billion people in the world have vitamin D deficiency. This is especially true for older people and people with darker skin tones.

If you think you’re low on this vitamin, let your doctor know. A simple blood test can confirm it. Discuss dosage options with your doctor before taking vitamin D. Supplements may interact with certain drugs like statins (taken for cholesterol), and steroids. Too much vitamin D can also be toxic for your body.

Iron

Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a type of protein in your blood that carries oxygen to the rest of your body. If your levels are low, it can leave you feeling tired, exhausted, and low on energy. This happens to about 1 in 6 older adults and about 16% of women with heavy periods. It can also happen to children. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia.

Your doctor will do a blood test to see if you’re low on iron. If you are, you may need to take iron supplements to boost hemoglobin levels and fight fatigue.

Magnesium

Your body needs magnesium for nerve and muscle function and to produce energy. You can find it in foods like nuts, seeds, whole grains, and dairy. If you have severely low levels of magnesium, it can raise your risk for diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart conditions.

But you don’t need a lot of magnesium per day. Just a few servings of magnesium-rich foods can help you meet your daily minimum. But high doses of magnesium in supplement form can cause side effects like diarrhea and nausea. Before you take magnesium supplements, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Zinc

This is a mineral that your body needs only in small amounts. It helps with DNA production, cell growth, and keeps your immune system healthy. You can get it from foods like meats, poultry, and seafood. The recommended minimum is 11 milligrams (mg) per day for men and 8 mg for women.

If you’re low on zinc, it’s available in supplement form as lozenges or pills. But if you take too much, it can cause nausea and diarrhea. It can also interfere with your body’s ability to absorb iron and copper.

Creatine

This type of protein is naturally found in your muscles.

Supplements are sold in powder or pill form, especially for athletes and others who do strenuous workouts. A few studies show that creatine supplements can help to improve muscle mass and performance for exercises that require short bursts of energy, like sprints and weightlifting. But there’s little evidence that creatine fights fatigue or boosts energy.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

CoQ10 is a chemical made by cells that your body uses for growth and maintenance. The dietary supplement is found in pill or liquid form. It’s known for its antioxidant properties. Many use it to lower cholesterol and help ease symptoms of illnesses like cancer and heart disease, among others. Some data suggests that it can lower fatigue, especially if you’ve done something physically demanding. But we need more research.

CoQ10 is generally safe, but it can interfere with other drugs, like the blood thinner warfarin, and cause bleeding. It may also make certain life-saving treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, less effective. It’s available over the counter, but it’s best to ask your doctor if it’s right for you.

Ashwagandha

Dubbed “Indian ginseng,” ashwagandha is a type of shrub found in India, Africa, and part of the Middle East. It’s used in ayurvedic medicine to improve energy levels and to ease pain, anxiety, and inflammation. It works by regulating cortisol, a chemical that your body releases in response to stress.

Ashwagandha supplements are available as pills, gummies, liquid, or powder that you can mix into liquids. You can take up to 500 mg twice a day. But while the herb is generally safe for use, it doesn’t work for everyone. If you have thyroid issues, are pregnant, or have an autoimmune condition, it can be harmful. Talk to your doctor before you add ashwagandha supplements to your diet.

Ginkgo Biloba

This herb is commonly used in Chinese medicine and is now a popular dietary supplement in the West. Some studies show that it can improve thinking, mood, alertness, and memory. But there needs to be more research. Because it can make you alert and boost your mood, it may boost your sense of overall energy.

Potential Side Effects of Supplements

Taking supplements can be as easy as popping a pill, but experts say while they are necessary if you’re low on a specific vitamin or a mineral, it’s always best to get the nutrients directly from food.

In some cases, you may need supplements if you:

  • Are deficient in a nutrient
  • Have trouble absorbing nutrients
  • Are pregnant
  • Have diet restrictions.

But just because a supplement is “natural,” that doesn’t necessarily make it safe. Many dosages can be more than your daily minimum requirement. This can be toxic and cause side effects that can include:

Dietary supplements can also interact with drugs and make them less effective. It’s always best to talk to your doctor, a dietitian, or a pharmacist about correct dosage and possible side effects before you take them.

If you’re feeling a dip in energy or are fighting fatigue, it may also be a sign of a serious illnesses, so ask your doctor about it.

It’s also important to note that the FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements the same way it does prescription drugs. If you have a bad reaction to a supplement, tell your doctor right away. If it’s an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Harvard Health: “Do ‘energy boosters’ work?” “Vitamin D,” “Zinc.”

National Institutes of Health: “Vitamin D,” “Vitamin B12,” “What You Need to Know: Dietary Supplements.”

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Coenzyme Q10.”

Mayo Clinic: “I've heard that magnesium supplements have health benefits. Should I take one?” “Special Report: Vitamins and Minerals: What You Should Know About Essential Nutrients.”

Consumerreports.org: “Should You Take Iron Supplements to Fight Fatigue?”

Cleveland Clinic: “What is Ashwagandha?”

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