Battle Your Energy Drain
Healthy Alternatives to Stimulants
By Joel Thuna
All of us experience it – the dreaded energy drain. When we feel exhausted day (or night); when no matter how enticing that amazing restaurant, new movie, or friend get-together is, we just can’t get ourselves into gear and go.
What is harder to recognize is low-grade energy drain. In this case, you may not necessarily feel the classic signs of exhaustion — like achy muscles or that all-over tired feeling. What you experience is just the lack of motivation for many of the activities you used to love. Often this also manifests as difficulty concentrating, increased impatience and frustration with others. No matter what level of energy drain you experience there are ways to combat it.
First let’s look at what we traditionally use as “perk ups” – sugar and caffeine, also known as stimulants. As a class of foods and drugs, stimulants work but at a high cost. Sugar increases your blood sugar levels and gives you a temporary burst of energy, unfortunately when that burst fades, your energy level goes to levels lower than before the sugar and your body will now crave more sugar. It is a never ending (calorie rich and diabetes causing) cycle. With caffeine (coffee, tea and chocolate) the cycle is different. Caffeine raises your heart rate and blood pressure boosting energy and the effects last until the caffeine is fully metabolized. However, like sugar, once the boost is done, energy levels drop below pre-caffeine levels and your body begins craving more.
With any stimulant, repeated use leads to craving and to some degree dependence. How many people do you know who can’t get going in the morning without their caffeine or sugar fix? I’ll admit for many (including myself) there are times when it is mighty tempting to reach for that sugary crutch when you need a boost. Here are a few healthier alternatives:
- Reach for a protein rich food (yogurt, shake, bar, seed, nut, etc.). Scientists have found that protein activates our orexin cells. These specialized cells stimulate neurons to release neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, all of which promote alertness. As a side benefit, protein is lower in calories and doesn’t cause cravings or dependence. It’s a boost that is HEALTHY for you.
- Replace caffeine with spices, e.g., Ginger, capsicum, cinnamon, pepper and turmeric. Taking these spices boosts metabolism and circulation, increasing your energy levels. Unlike caffeine, they are also good for your heart, arteries, blood and digestive system. Additionally, they are potent anti-inflammatories, antioxidants and have strong anti-cancer activity. My preference is homemade (caffeine-free) chai or iced chai and I also have a never ending love of curries.
As the saying goes “laughter is the best medicine”. Now when you are feeling drained, it may not be easy to see the humour in anything but science has found that laughter is potent medicine.
Laughing triggers healthy physical and emotional changes in the body. It strengthens your immune system, boosts mood, reduces pain, and protects you from stress. A good laugh can bring your mind, body and mood back into balance. Humour lightens your mood, connects you to others, and keeps you focused, energized and alert. Even better, laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
Try and do whatever makes YOU laugh; silly jokes, weird cat videos, tv comedies or listening to Bob Newhart’s skit “the driving instructor”.
Try supplementing with adaptogens. These are the class of herbs that have specific properties to help your body with stress. They can help your body adapt to life’s ups and downs. Adaptogens help our bodies handle and recover from both short- and long-term physical or mental stress. Some also boost immunity, cardiovascular health and overall well-being. Research shows adaptogens increase energy levels and endurance, combat fatigue, enhance mental performance and memory, ease depression and anxiety, and help you thrive rather than just muddle through.
Some of the herbs with adaptogenic properties are: Ashwagandha, Imperial Ginseng, Siberian Ginseng, Chaga and Turmeric. With these I recommend taking certified organic capsules so that you know you are getting the cleanest herbs out there.
Exercise is amazing. Its list of health promoting benefits is truly never ending. Each and every one of us should incorporate some form of exercise into our daily routine to improve our health and our energy levels. You want to ensure you are doing the right amount of exercise, neither too little (which still has some benefit but far fewer) nor too much! Yes, I said it, you can do too much exercise.
Overdoing it can be just as harmful as not doing it at all. If you overdo it, you could damage your body and you could go too far and wear yourself out. In this scenario your exercise is taking all of your energy.
The key to a happy balance is to gradually increase the amount and type of exercise you do until both you and your body are comfortable with your level and intensity. Try talking with your healthcare provider about what type and level of exercise is right for you.
There are multiple vitamins and minerals at work inside your body. Some of them convert the food you eat into the energy that keeps you going. If you are eating a (mostly) well balanced diet you are probably getting enough of most of these vitamins and minerals with the exception of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is key to transforming the food you eat into energy you can use. It also keeps your body’s nerves and blood cells healthy and helps prevent a type of anemia that can make you weak and tired. In red blood cells, B12 and iron help carry oxygen throughout your body.
Unfortunately, many people are deficient in B12. Vegans & vegetarians (due to low intake), seniors and those with digestive conditions (reduced stomach absorption) are most deficient. There are 2 forms of vitamin B12; Active and passive. Active is well absorbed and works quickly as compared to passive, which has very low bioavailability and low absorption. To ensure you are getting enough, supplement with Sublingual Active vitamin B12 liquid.
We all need regular good sleep to stay healthy. There are two major types of sleep; REM (rapid eye movement) sleep or dreaming sleep, and non-REM or quiet sleep. Both affect energy levels in different ways.
One of the stages of quiet sleep is deep sleep. Deep sleep appears to be the one that plays the greatest role in energy, enhancing your ability to make ATP, which is the body’s energy molecule. REM sleep facilitates mental energy and helps with learning and memory. People who were tested to measure how well they had learned a new task improved their scores after a night’s sleep. There is also emerging evidence that getting enough REM sleep may help to preserve memory and cognitive function as you age.
To get a good night’s sleep, ensure that you clear your room of distractions (TV, Cellphone, Tablet) and that you are comfortable (temperature, layout, pillows, etc).
Together with healthy eating, the appropriate level of exercise, wise supplementing and a good night’s sleep, you can beat the blahs and have the healthy energy of your youth!
Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience.