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Energy! What Is It And How Can I Improve It

Charles Wispert
December 13, 2019

One of the most common symptoms I see on the patient questionnaires I have all my clients complete is lack of energy or fatigue. One of the most common goals my clients share is wanting to increase energy. That’s not surprising considering 1 in 5 doctors visits report symptoms of fatigue.

Energy in the human body is derived from the three micronutrients present in food, namely carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. I am pretty sure we all all familiar with those. During the digestive process, these complex molecules are broken down into smaller molecules for absorption. The body uses enzymes to break down proteins into amino acids, carbohydrates into simple sugars, and fats into fatty acids and glycerol.

How many of you have heard me say, our cells use the oxygen we breath and fatty acids or glucose to produce energy. That process is known as aerobic cellular respiration. Energy production relies on mitochondria, referred to as the body’s “powerhouses”, which are organelles found within the body’s cells. Optimal cellular function is a vital component of supporting and maintaining optimal health, energy, and vitality. Mitochondria are among the most important organelles within a cell and are essential for numerous cellular processes, most notably, energy production through cellular respiration.

Mitochondria produce energy by turning glucose and oxygen into ATP, the cellular energy currency. The central set of reactions involved in ATP production are collectively known as the Krebs cycle (or the citric acid cycle). Each step of the Krebs cycle requires vitamin-derived cofactors and minerals to operate. A deficiency in any one of these can have a significantly negative impact on energy levels. Did you catch that? That is a very important concept. Let me translate. In order for the mitochondria to produce energy, you have to have adequate amounts of certain minerals and vitamins. If you aren’t getting them from the foods you eat, you may need to supplement.

There are three primary strategies to optimize mitochondrial function and maintaining or improving energy production:

  • reducing exposure to damaging factors, such as heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, and cigarette smoke, certain medications/drugs: and
  • providing the necessary nutrients to support mitochondrial function; and
  • providing the necessary nutrients to support mitochondrial function; and
  • providing protection from oxidative damage (free radicals) by supporting endogenous antioxidants and/or incorporating exogenous antioxidants.
  • Pantothenic acids (vitamin B5)
  • Magnesium



The ATP produced in the mitochondria allows for the redistribution of energy used throughout the cell, supporting its specific functions. The complex set of reactions outlined above requires the input of various nutrients used as cofactors in the reactions, including:

  • CoQ10
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1)
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • Niacin (vitamin B3)
  • Pantothenic acids (vitamin B5)
  • Magnesium



Several causes of low energy levels have been suggested, many of which are correlated to mitochondrial dysfunction. Certain lifestyle factors may impair the integrity and function of your mitochondria, such as antibiotics and other medications, chronic stress, environmental toxins, elevated blood sugar, and sleep disturbances.

Mitochondrial dysfunction may be characterized in several ways, including:

  • Insufficient number of mitochondria
  • Insufficient cofactors required for cellular respiration (e.g., nutrient deficiency due to poor diet or certain medications)
  • Dysfunction in the synthesis of ATP
  • Damaged mitochondrial membranes



When mitochondrial damage or dysfunction occurs, the result is a decreased production of ATP and an increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Additionally, chronic inflammation may contribute to or aggravate fatigue.

Now that you know a little about how energy is produced in the body and some things that can interfere with energy production, what can you do to support energy production? Energy support may involve reducing inflammation and improving antioxidant status in the body. Lifestyle modifications include incorporating, healthy foods that give you energy, dietary supplements, regular physical activity, and minimizing exposure to environmental toxins.

Several dietary patterns may benefit individuals with fatigue, including the, anti-inflammatory diet, the Mediterranean diet and the leaky gut diet. The following table summarizes foods to enjoy and limit to help improve your energy levels.



Dietary supplements may support mitochondrial function and energy production in various ways. For example, certain supplements may provide nutrients used for oxidative phosphorylation, reduce oxidative stress, encourage the generation of new mitochondria (yes, under the right circumstances the cells can generate more mitochondria) and repair damaged cell membranes that may be interrupting the transfer of electrons.

Several dietary supplements may be beneficial due to their roles in energy production, including:

  • Alpha lipoic acid (ALA), an antioxidant and cofactor in mitochondrial energy production
  • B vitamins, required as cofactors for enzymes in cellular function and energy production
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), an antioxidant and cofactor in the electron transport chain
  • L-carnitine, involved in the transport of fatty acids into the mitochondria to be used as energy
  • Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR), a form of L-carnitine, which may be better absorbed and cross the blood-brain barrier
  • Magnesium, which optimizes mitochondrial function and is used in ATP production
  • Vitamin C, an antioxidant, which may preserve mitochondrial membrane potential and may improve mitochondrial function by providing hydrogen and supporting electron transport
  • Vitamin E, an antioxidant, which protects cell membranes from lipid oxidation



Most of my clients know that I am a believer in using supplements to support nutritional deficiencies. However, I warn against going out and buying all the above mentioned supplements to improve your energy symptoms. That is something we should consider doing together. We will add supplements as necessary while improving or working on other aspects of maximizing optimal energy production.

I also recommend exercise to help increase energy in my clients with energy issues. That advice sounds counterintuitive and seems to confuse most of my clients. How can I exercise if I have no energy, they ask. Here is what I do know. Exercise has been shown to induce mitochondria biogenesis, the process by which new mitochondria are produced. Yes, it is possible to increase the number of mitochondria. It is also possible to repair damaged mitochondria to become more efficient. A research panel appointed by the Mitochondrial Medicine Society recommends engaging in endurance exercise, which can increase the activity of mitochondrial enzymes in muscles. Examples of endurance exercises include climbing stairs, biking, dancing, jogging, swimming, and walking. For individuals with mitochondrial disease, a combination of progressive resistance exercise may be beneficial. Resistance exercises may include weight lifting, resistance band training, and body weight exercises (e.g., pushups, squats).

Many environmental factors have been established as mitochondrial toxins. These toxins induce mitochondrial oxidative stress. Environmental toxins associated with mitochondrial dysfunction include pesticides (e.g., Maneb, Paraquat, Rotenone) and heavy metals (e.g., aluminum, lead, manganese, methylmercury).

Minimize your exposure to pesticides by choosing organic foods as much as possible, carefully washing produce, and avoiding the use of pesticides in the garden. Installing a water filter can help remove heavy metals commonly found in tap water. The Natural Resources Defense Council has developed a guide outlining seafood types with low, moderate, and high mercury levels that can be used to minimize consumption of mercury from seafood.

Energy production is a multi-step process that occurs primarily in the mitochondria found in cells. Improving your energy levels may involve multiple factors, such as dietary modifications, dietary supplements, regular exercise, and reduced exposure to environmental toxins. Also remember these changes take months or longer each person is different. There is no one size fits all. That is why we I re-evaluate and make changes as necessary. In the next blog I will cover in more detail the minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients needed to support mitochondrial health and how the work.

Health and happiness,

Charlie

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