Have you ever heard that vitamins can give you energy?
As a medical practitioner, I was often confronted by patients complaining of fatigue or energy loss.
In the absence of diseases, sleep deprivation, not having a balanced diet, lack of physical activity, and stress overload are common reasons for tiredness and energy depletion.
However, deficiencies in certain vitamins can also be a reason why you are out of energy.
Table of contents
- Do vitamins improve energy?
- What are the best vitamins to boost energy according to nutritionists?
- Recommended Nutrient Intake ( RNI )
- Are there side effects to taking vitamins for energy?
- Vitamin deficiencies might not be the cause of your fatigue
- Natural ways to enhance your energy
Yes, but not directly.
Vitamins help your body get on the complicated process of making energy from food.
Although they don’t directly provide you with energy, a deficiency will make you feel lethargic.
How does your body get energy from food?
After eating, the digestive system breaks down the nutrients you eat; carbohydrates into simple sugars (glucose), proteins into amino acids, and fats into fatty acids.
Then, they enter the blood and the cells. In the cells, they are converted to energy by a series of enzymatic or chemical reactions.
The released energy is utilized for every cellular function in your body.
How vitamins give you energy?
Vitamins act as coenzymes which are substances necessary for the action of enzymes. Enzymes are proteins that regulate numerous chemical reactions involved in energy metabolism.
Vitamins gear up the process of energy production by acting as coenzymes.
What are the best vitamins to boost energy according to nutritionists?
The “B vitamins” are the best to boost energy as they are involved in every aspect of the energy production process.
These vitamins also harvest mental energy by affecting some vital functions and activities of your brain.
A well-implemented study by the National Institute of health in 2020 highlights that consuming adequate intake of B vitamins contributes to health benefits in the areas of mental and physical fatigue as well as cognitive function.
B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins and composed of eight essential vitamins:
- B1 (thiamin)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 (niacin)
- B5 (pantothenic acid)
- B6 (pyridoxine)
- B7 (biotin)
- B9 (folate)
- B12 (cobalamin)
- Thiamine ( vitamin B1 ) – “The Energy Booster”
Thiamine is a cofactor in the metabolism of carbohydrates which are used as a major energy source. Without thiamine, your body cannot convert carbohydrates to energy which powers all the functions of the body particularly, of the brain and muscles.
The brain is the hungriest organ in your body. As much as your brain loves energy, so do the rest of your nerves. Thiamine feeds your brain and nerves with energy and makes you feel more active, yields good memory, and clears the brain fog.
Thiamine also contributes to the jargon of neurotransmitters: chemical agents that help nerve cells communicate. Low levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin can make you feel low and lethargic.
All kinds of muscles require energy to perform contractions and movements.
Thiamine helps muscles properly function and drives away muscle fatigue.
And, more importantly, is the heart muscle. Without thiamine, your heart’s function can be compromised and make you feel extremely fatigued.
Foods rich in thiamine
Good sources include peas, some fresh fruits (such as bananas and oranges), nuts, whole grain bread, some fortified breakfast cereals and liver.
Did You Know?
Heating foods containing thiamine can reduce thiamin content because it is a water-soluble vitamin and a significant amount is lost when cooking water is thrown out.
Beriberi is a condition that causes muscle loss and diminished feeling in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy).
It can also cause congestive heart failure characterized by severe breathlessness and swelling of the lower limbs.
Another result of deficiency often seen with alcohol abuse is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome which may cause confusion, loss of muscle coordination, memory loss, and peripheral neuropathy.
- Riboflavin ( vitamin B2 ) -” The Detoxifier”
Riboflavin helps to break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates and keeps a steady supply of energy flowing through your body.
Interestingly, riboflavin also works as an antioxidant, fighting damaging particles in the body known as free radicals. The damaging effects of free radicals on your DNA and cells are known as oxidative stress.
A good researched scientific report in 2018 ascertained that oxidative stress is a convincing contributor to idiopathic/unknown chronic fatigue.
Role of riboflavin in energy production and combating oxidative stress confers it one of the best vitamins to boost your energy.
Dietary sources of riboflavin
Good sources are
- organ meats (kidneys and liver)
- lean meats
- Fortified flours and cereals
UV light can destroy riboflavin.
To protect riboflavin contents, keep the food out of direct sunlight.
Signs of riboflavin deficiency (also known as ariboflavinosis) are
- skin disorders
- hair loss
- redness and swelling of the mouth and throat
- angular stomatitis (lesions at the corners of the mouth)
- cheilosis (swollen, cracked lips)
- itchy and red eyes
- reproductive problems
- Niacin ( vitamin B3 ) – “The Memory and Focus Enhancer”
Niacin is a cofactor in over 400 enzyme reactions in your body, mainly related to energy production, and uplifts your energy levels.
Furthermore, your brain also needs niacin to get energy and function properly.
Adequate niacin provides you with better focus and memory and a clarified brain.
In 2017, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrients publicized that according to research findings, niacin intake in young adulthood conveys better cognition later in life.
You can get niacin from meat, fish, wheat flour, and eggs.
Your body can also make niacin in limited amounts from the amino acid tryptophan.
Corn and Niacin
Corn is a poor source of tryptophan, and niacin in corn is tightly bound to other ingredients.
Niacin is released from corn only if soaked in limewater overnight.
Rare but severe niacin deficiency can cause pellagra, characterized by diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia.
In the US, pellagra is <1% but in India and sub-Saharan Africa where corn continues to be the staple, deficiencies are still common.
- Pantothenic acid ( vitamin B5 ) -” The Stress Buster”
Vitamin B5 has a reputation for energy production from food and regulation of stress-busting hormones.
Vitamin B5 is essential for the adrenal glands to produce the stress hormone: cortisol and improves stress resiliency. Overwhelming stress is one of the main reasons for energy depletion.
Vitamin B5 is thus particularly salient if your energy levels have dropped due to intense stress.
It is present in almost all vegetables, wholegrain foods, meats, and fortified breakfast cereals.
Symptoms include fatigue, muscle cramps, headache, disturbed sleep, and numbness or burning sensation in hands and feet.
- Pyridoxine ( Vitamin B6 ) – “The Booster of both Energy and Mood”
Pyridoxine is a renowned vitamin to boost energy owing to its role in carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism and in creating hemoglobin and neurotransmitters.
Aid hemoglobin production
It is a vital part of making the oxygen-carrying molecule “hemoglobin” and helps oxygen delivery throughout the body.
Having enough of those oxygen-carrying molecules will help you feel less breathless while doing activities.
Improve the mood and lessen the depression
It is because pyridoxine is necessary for synthesizing the three neurotransmitters:
- Epinephrine ( critical for acute stress response )
- Dopamine ( reward neurotransmitter that regulates positive emotions )
- Serotonin ( which you know as a happy hormone)
A positive mood or emotion makes you feel better and boosts your mental energy.
The richest sources are fish, beef liver and other organ meats, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and fruit (other than citrus).
Deficiency of pyridoxine
Deficiency is rare, but drugs, such as isoniazid (anti-TB drug) , and penicillamine can cause deficiency.
Deficiency can result in peripheral neuropathy and anemia.
- Biotin ( vitamin B7 ) -” The Key to both Energy and Beauty”
The name “ biotin” comes from the Greek word “biotos” which means “ life-giving”.
As a B vitamin, biotin provides a valuable energy supply for your body,
maintains a healthy nervous system, and ensures our well-being.
Healthy skin, hair, and nails
One additional benefit of biotin is skin health. Biotin deficiency causes skin rash, hair loss, and brittle nails.
Healthy skin is a feed for your mental energy.
Egg yolk is a rich source of biotin.
Contrarily, raw egg white contains avidin that binds to and inactivates biotin in the intestine.
The clinical features of deficiency include dermatitis, alopecia, and paraesthesia.
- Folate ( Vitamin B9 ) – “The Creator of Healthy RBC”
Folate differs from other B vitamins in that it precludes anemia-induced fatigue by producing healthy red blood cells ( RBC ) to ensure body tissues are well-oxygenated.
Folate is crucial for DNA (genetic material) synthesis and repair within every cell. Accurate genetic material or information is the key to perfect cell production.
Lack of folate causes large unhealthy red blood cells which can not function properly and cause anemia, which may leave you lethargic and weak.
Folate is rich in broccoli,brussels sprouts, leafy green vegetables, such as cabbage, kale, spring, greens and spinach, peas, chickpeas and kidney beans, liver (but avoid this during pregnancy), breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid.
Gut flora can also produce folate.
Alcoholism, gastrointestinal diseases, pregnancy, and drugs: methotrexate, trimethoprim, and antiepileptic ( phenytoin, valproate) will put you at risk of deficiency.
Macrocytic anemia and pancytopenia
Sick and large red blood cells are liable to destruction resulting in macrocytic anemia. Folate deficiency can also reduce the production of all other blood cells resulting in pancytopenia.
Inadequate folate in pregnancy can cause neural tube defects.
As neural tube forms the early brain and spine in the fetus, the defects result in spina bifida (a spinal cord defect) and anencephaly (a brain defect).
- Hydroxycobalamin ( Vitamin B12 ) – “ The Maker of Healthy Blood and Nerve Cells ”
Vitamin B12 gives a boost to energy levels by helping transform the food you eat into energy that your cells can use.
Healthy blood cells
Like folate, vitamin B12 takes part in DNA synthesis in red blood cells and prevents anemia that can make you feel weak and fatigued.
Healthy nerve cells
Vitamin B12 is also required to help maintain your myelin sheath; an insulating layer around the nerves. Demyelination due to lack of B12 causes a variety of neurological damages which sometimes manifest as fatigue and weakness.
Good sources include dairy products, eggs, fish, meat, poultry, and some fortified breakfast cereals.
Vegetarians and vegans are at risk of B12 deficiency since animal foods are the only natural source of vitamin B12.
The effects of vitamin B12 deficiency include
- the hallmark macrocytic anemia as well as pancytopenia
- glossitis of the tongue
- angular cheilosis
- neurological problems such as vision problems, speech problems, memory loss, pins, and needles sensation, loss of physical coordination (ataxia), peripheral neuropathy,
Recommended Nutrient Intake of B vitamins
According to the World Health Organization (WHO):
|B vitamins||Recommended Nutrient Intake (RNI)|
|Thiamine (B1)||0.8 mg per 9.68 MJ (2000 kcal) energy intake|
|Riboflavin (B2)||1.3 mg men, 1.1 mg women|
|Niacin (B3)||17 mg men, 13 mg women|
|Pyridoxine (B6)||1.4 mg men, 1.2 mg women|
|Folate (B9)||200 μg for the general population In pregnancy, 400 μg daily until 12 weeks pregnant.|
|Cobalamin (B12)||1.5 μg|
Note: Pantothenic acid (B5) and biotin (B7) have no recommended nutrient intake values. You can get an adequate amount from the diet since they are present in many types of food.
Are there side effects to taking vitamins for energy?
They are generally safe since the B vitamins are water-soluble and the kidneys excrete excess in the urine. Vitamin B2 can cause yellowish urine but it is a normal phenomenon.
However, some B vitamins can have specific side effects when taken in excess.
Very high doses of vitamin B6 taken for several months can cause nerve damage, which may become permanent.
Reported cases are few but are always caused by overdosing on supplements.
In 2022, PubMed Central presented a case report of a newborn with diffuse tremor at birth, secondary to high doses of vitamin B6 taken by the mother during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Niacin flush appears as reddened skin flush on the face, arms, and chest and is a common side effect of taking high doses of niacin.
It is harmless but uncomfortable due to itchiness or tingling sensation.
A high dose of folic acid can be dangerous to those with B12 deficiency which is common in vegans.
It worsens B12 deficiency and gradually drives irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system.
Vitamin deficiencies might not be the cause of your fatigue
When people feel drained of energy, they often look for energy-boosting supplements. But it is not always true.
During my clinical practice, a male patient complained of fatigue and asked for energy-giving vitamins. After clinical assessment, he turned out to have symptoms of high blood sugar, and a lab test revealed elevated blood sugar levels.
Easy fatigability is common in diabetes.
Do not conclude your fatigue to vitamin deficiencies without consulting your healthcare provider because you might have other clinical conditions that make you feel lethargic.
Natural ways to enhance your energy
- Improve sleep quality
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet
- Drink more water and less alcohol
- Regular physical activity
- Ameliorate stress
A misconception about energy-giving vitamins is that people feel more energetic once they take those supplements. This feeling comes from the high amount of added sugars, caffeine, and other herbal stimulants that accompany the B vitamins in these products.
Moreover, vitamin deficiencies are commonly associated with other nutritional deficiencies. While most people take vitamins to replace the deficit, they overlook the major nutrients. Picture your body as a machine for energy production, with major nutrients as the raw materials, and vitamins as fuel. To attain the “energy”, the body must be healthy, and major nutrients and vitamins must be adequate.
Dr. Royal Lee, Master of nutrition said “ The body cannot make something out of nothing”.
The takeaway is maintaining a healthy lifestyle followed by taking supplements that you need is the righteous way to improve your energy levels.
Even so, it is fascinating that B vitamins are beneficial if you crave a boost for enriching both physical and mental energy.