A few ways that might help to keep ‘back to work’ lethargy at bay

Many people are currently heading back to work after an extended Christmas and New Year break.  It can be tough to get back into the swing of things after having time off and often people feel lacking in energy.  There are a few natural ways that can be useful to help provide a mood boost and prevent feelings of lethargy.

Back in September I wrote about the link between anxioxidant nutrients and symptoms such as stress, anxiety and fatigue.  It is important to keep your dietary antioxidant levels high, this will boost your immune system but may also help to combat fatigue.  The best way of providing the body with ample antioxidants is to eat a variety of colourful vegetables and fruits daily.  Get a minimum of 5 portions a day.  A good way to make sure you are always supplied is to take easy to eat fruits and vegetable stick to work with you.  Keep them at your desk and snack away guilt-free.  Blueberries, any berries in fact, are packed with antioxidants and also very tasty.  Clementines are easy to peel and readily available at the moment and most supermarkets stock carrot and celery sticks if you don’t have time to prepare your own in the morning.  You can dip these into a tomato-based salsa for an extra antioxidant hit. Any fruits and vegetables will work to boost antioxidant levels in the body – remember to eat a variety to provide an array of different antioxidants to the body.  Antioxidant supplements made from natural berries and herbs are now also available to buy but should not be viewed or used as an alternative to a healthy diet.

Magnesium is also considered a great lethargy buster.  Fatigue is thought by some in the medical field to be one of the typical early symptoms of magnesium deficiency (1).  Stress hormones can promote a reduction in tissue magnesium levels and mild magnesium deficiency may promote the feelings of fatigue.  Magnesium is an incredibly important mineral and acts as a multi-functional nutrient in the body where it is present in all cells!  It takes part in around 300 processes in the body and is vital to many bodily functions such as energy production, nerve function, muscle relaxation, bone and tooth formation, heart rhythm and aids in the production and use of insulin. 

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) of adults aged 19-64 (2) found that quite a shocking number of women in the UK are not achieving adequate daily magnesium intakes with 74% of women age 19-64 not reaching the RNI (reference nutrient intake) for magnesium and 85% of 19-24 year old women not beaching the RNI for this vital nutrient.  Many men (about 42%) too appear not to be reaching recommended levels.  Modern society does not eat as many whole grains, seeds, beans and nuts as in previous times and it is these sources that are rich in magnesium.  Processed foods contain little of this vital mineral.  Good dietary sources of magnesium include dried figs, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashew nuts, sunflower seeds and dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids!).  Wholegrains such as brown rice and oatmeal also contain good amounts.

Omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish such as salmon are vital for the brain and may help lift the mood.  Good dietary sources of omega 3 fatty acids include oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout and some nuts, especially walnuts, and flax seeds.  For people who don’t regularly eat fish considering a daily omega 3 supplement could be very helpful.  In fact I would suggest that the majority of individuals in the UK do not achieve good dietary Omega 3 intakes.  For vegetarians and vegans a flaxseed oil supplement can be useful and there are now supplements containing the longer chain omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, available which are made from algae. 

Ginseng is often taken as an energy boosting supplement.  Korean Ginseng, also known as Panax ginseng, appears to be helpful in treating and reducing stress-related fatigue (3,4,5).  A short term, one month, supplement with this herb could be worth a try.  Remember to read the label and stick to the recommended dosages.

Keeping blood sugar levels stable during the day will help prevent energy and mood slumps – a key here is to ensure you include a source of protein with each meal, this could include eggs, unprocessed meats and fish, beans, lentils or other pulses and nuts or seeds.  It is also important to avoid refined carbohydrates and minimise caffeine intake since this can disrupt hormones involved in blood sugar balance.  Eating a healthy balanced diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits and minimal processed and refined foods will help to keep levels of all nutrients and antioxidants high.  If you feel that you are in need of a boost or are consistently finding it hard to eat a diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits you could consider taking a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement to cover any dietary shortfalls.  Personally I like the food-state supplements which are easily absorbed by the body and derived from natural sources.  Multi-nutrient supplements that also contain probiotics (‘good’ bacteria) are also available.  A study (6) found that such a supplement could help to reduce stress and exhaustion as well as improving the immune system.  Remember that a nutrient supplement can never be considered as an alternative to a healthy diet. 


(1)Saris N-E L et al.  2000.  Magnesium:  an update on physiological, clinical and analytical aspects.  Clinica Chimica Acta.  294:1-26, 2000.
(2)Henderson L et al.  2003.  The National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Adults aged 19-64 years.  HMSO London.
(3)Bannerjee U et al.  1982.  Antistress and antifatigue properties of panax ginseng:  comparison with piracetam.  Acta Physiol Lat Am.  32(4):277-285.
(4)Reay J L et al.  2005.  Single doses of Panax ginseng (G115) reduce blood glucose levels and improve cognitive performance during sustained mental activity.  J Psychopharmacol.  19(4):357-365, 2005.
(5)Reay J L et al.  2006.  Effects of Panax ginseng, consumed with and without glucose, on blood glucose levels and cognitive performance during sustained ‘mentally demanding’ tasks.  J Psychopharmacol.
(6)Grunenwald J et al.  2002.  Effect of a probiotic multivitamin compound on stress and exhaustion.  Adv Ther.  19:141-150
Written by Ani Kowal