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National Heart Month: Heart Health and Omega-3

The heart is the most vital organ in the body, beating around 100,000 times per day to get blood pumping to all areas of your body, transporting vital nutrients and oxygen to enable optimal function. It is estimated that around one quarter of deaths in the UK each year are attributed to cardiovascular disease (CVD), with an equal gender split of those with a cardiovascular condition. So where does it all go wrong and, importantly, how can you protect your heart?

Some of the risk factors for CVD include poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and being overweight, as well as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. When considering these risk factors, it is clear that applying some healthy dietary and lifestyle techniques is likely to have a beneficial effect.

EPA & DHA reduce the risk of CVD, reducing high blood pressure and high cholesterol

It’s no secret that the Inuit consumed high doses of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), from a diet rich in oily fish. Interestingly, Inuits also had an overall reduced risk for coronary heart disease. Coincidence? Well, when we look at the research, we see that both EPA and DHA have been shown to reduce high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, risk factors for CVD.

You can obtain EPA and DHA from oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring, anchovies and sardines, with studies suggesting a decrease in CVD risk with the consumption of 2-5 portions of fish per week. The Food Standards Agency recommend 2-3 portions per week, due to sea pollutant levels; high amounts of fish in the diet could increase mercury exposure, which is also suggested as a possible contributor to poor heart health (1). For the few times per week that you do enjoy a portion (140 grams) of fish, consider broiling or baking your fish rather than frying it, as frying increases exposure to trans fats, which may increase cholesterol levels and negate any benefit for a healthy diet.

High levels of arachidonic acid (AA), an omega-6 long-chain fatty acid, relative to EPA levels, are an established risk factor for CVD. Whilst we obtain EPA from fish, AA is obtained from grains, as well as meat and dairy products produced from animals fed a high grain diet; for this reason, organic meat and dairy products are recommended as the animals consume at least 51% of their diet from pasture.

If you are not a fan of fish, or wish to further reduce your risk of CVD, consider supplementing with a purified fish oil supplement obtained from wild fish, such as Igennus Pure Essentials Super Concentrated Omega-3 Wild Fish Oil, containing 660mg of EPA and DHA per capsule (2). One capsule also contains 25mcg of vitamin D (2.5x the recommended daily intake), with deficiency of vitamin D also being linked to an increased risk of CVD (3). Unfortunately, the body’s ability to produce vitamin D from sunlight is vastly diminished in the UK, especially during the winter months, making this supplement ideal for protecting the health of your heart.

Whilst some vegetarian forms of omega-3 oils exist, many studies suggest that supplementing fatty acids from animal sources has a more potent effect than using a plant form of omega-3 oil (4). This is likely due to the body not being very efficient at converting short-chain fatty acids (ALA, SDA) to the beneficial long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA.

If you have been diagnosed with CVD, high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, consider a higher dose EPA and DHA supplement such as Pharmepa Restore and Maintain, as at least 1 gram of EPA and DHA per day is shown as beneficial in reducing levels of these important CVD risk factors (5). This is particularly beneficial for those prescribed statins, as studies suggest that DHA levels are depleted with use of statins whilst, simultaneously, supplementation of EPA when taking statins has a positive effect on cholesterol levels (6, 7).

Antioxidants, such as CoQ10, have a cardioprotective effect

Statins work by blocking the liver’s production of cholesterol, to manage those with high cholesterol levels. However, a common side effect of statins is reduced energy, as they also block the liver’s production of a naturally occurring substance – co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10). CoQ10 is required in every cell of the body for energy production, especially in the heart area where a lot of energy is required. For those taking statins, a supplement is highly recommended to support reduced energy levels, support the health of the heart and, as studies also show, it has a beneficial effect on blood pressure and cholesterol levels (8). Supplementing with Igennus VESIsorb Ubiquinol provides the body with CoQ10 in its ready to use form, allowing quick absorption and utilisation in the body. Ubiquinol is also a potent antioxidant, providing protection to the heart against the oxidative side effects of CVD, as well as stress, smoking, consuming alcohol, and a poor diet.

Other antioxidant-rich foods that can be included in the diet to protect the heart and other organs from oxidative stress include fruit and vegetables, especially brightly coloured berries and dark green leafy vegetables, green tea and cocoa, with green tea showing an additional cardio-protective effect by reducing total cholesterol and blood pressure (9).

Optimising the diet to protect the heart

Be aware of your salt intake. Whilst it is well known that a high salt diet can have a negative impact on blood pressure, many are still unaware of just how much salt you should consume each day, and of how much is contained within foods that are consumed. The British Heart Foundation recommends a maximum of 2.5 grams of sodium and 6 grams of salt per day for an adult, and much less for those under the age of 18. The common culprits of foods high in salt include ready-meals, take-away foods, tinned foods, salted crisps and nuts, and cooking sauces. Become familiar with reading food labels and keep track of how much salt you consume each day.

Adherence to both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet have shown promise in reducing risk for developing CVD, and for reducing cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Both diets recommend antioxidant-rich foods from fruit and vegetables, as well as good quality fats from fish and nuts, whilst reducing your intake of processed foods (high in salt), reducing refined foods such as cakes and biscuits, and recommending the consumption of whole grains.

Finally, get the heart racing

Whilst many positive changes to the diet can have a beneficial effect on the health of your heart, increasing your activity levels can also reduce your risk of developing CVD. Activity trackers, such as a pedometer or a fitness tracking watch, can be a fun way to ensure you are moving around and getting active each day. Some now even contain heart rate trackers, as well as the ability to track your food intake, useful for ensuring you don’t exceed your recommended level of sodium.

References
1. Genchi, G., Sinicropi, M. S., Carocci, et al. (2017). ‘Mercury Exposure and Heart Diseases’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(1), 74.
2. Lentjes M. A. H., Keogh R. H., Welch A. A., et al. (2017). ‘ Longitudinal associations between marine omega-3 supplement users and coronary heart disease in a UK population based cohort’, BMJ Open 2017, 7
3. Mozos, I., & Marginean, O. (2015). ‘Links between Vitamin D Deficiency and Cardiovascular Diseases’, BioMed Research International, 109275.
4. Liu L., Hu Q., Wu H., et al. (2016). ‘Protective role of n6/n3 PUFA supplementation with varying DHA/EPA ratios against atherosclerosis in mice’, The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 32, pp. 171-180.
5. Alexander D. D., Miller P. E., Van Elswyk M. E., et al. (2017). ‘A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials and Prospective Cohort Studies of Eicosapentaenoic and Docosahexaenoic Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Coronary Heart Disease Risk’, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 92 (1), pp 15-29.
6. Nozue, T., & Michishita, I. (2015). ‘Statin treatment alters serum n-3 to n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids ratio in patients with dyslipidemia’, Lipids in Health and Disease, 14, (67).
7. Yokoyama M, Origasa H, Matsuzaki M, et al. (2007). ‘Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on major coronary events in hypercholesterolaemic patients (JELIS): a randomised open-label, blinded endpoint analysis’, Lancet, 369 (9567), pp. 1090-1098.
8. Flowers N., Hartley L., Todkill D., et al. (2014). ‘Co-enzyme Q10 supplementation for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 12.
9. Hartley L., Flowers N., Holmes J., et al. (2013). ‘Green and black tea for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease’. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, 6.

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Top Nutrients for Heart Health

Collectively, conditions affecting the heart are the UK’s biggest killer. Almost 2.3 million people live with coronary heart disease (CHD), leading to annual NHS healthcare costs of almost £2 billion. Key risk factors for heart disease affect large proportions of the adult population – one third of adults have high blood pressure while 60% have sub-optimal blood cholesterol levels. Despite these alarming figures, many risk factors are within our control and making simple changes to our diet and lifestyle can have a dramatic impact on our health. As we mark National Heart month we turn our attention to key nutrients and nutrition supplements that play a strong role in maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle.

ALA Omega-3

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a type of omega-3 essential fatty acid (or ‘good’ polyunsaturated fat) that has been shown over years of research to help maintain normal cholesterol levels. Although cholesterol is a vital resource in the body, helping to carry out a number of important functions such as repairing blood vessels, creating hormones, production of vitamin D, and helping to transport vitamins A, D, E & K, it can become a risk when levels of LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol become too high. This can trigger a build-up of plaque in the arteries, which can eventually

making simple changes to our diet and lifestyle can have a dramatic impact on our health
Making simple changes to our diet and lifestyle can have a dramatic impact on our health

lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Dual cholesterol protection

Despite popular belief, only 20% of the cholesterol in our body comes from our diet whereas the majority, the remaining 80%, is produced by our own cells, mainly in the liver. ALA directly reduces production of cholesterol in the liver at its source, which is a highly effective way of normalising cholesterol levels.

ALA is also well known for reducing inflammation in the body, which helps to slow down plaque build-up in the arteries. Taking ALA daily is a great way to favourably balance the ratio of ‘good’ to ‘bad’ fats consumed in the diet.

Ubiquinol CoQ10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a naturally occurring enzyme with a multitude of roles in the cardiovascular system. CoQ10 acts within our cells in the mitochondria, the body’s energy ‘powerhouse’. Maintaining healthy CoQ10 levels fuels the mitochondria and supports the high energy requirements of our organs, particularly the heart. In addition to energy production, CoQ10 plays a vital role in oxygen utilisation to further support the functioning of heart muscle cells and maintain good circulatory health. CoQ10 also helps to lower blood pressure and is recognised as an effective cholesterol lowering ‘agent’.

Research studies show that people with cardiovascular problems often have low levels of CoQ10. Risk of deficiency is even higher with patients taking statins to lower cholesterol, since not only are they likely to have low levels of CoQ10 but statins also block natural ubiquinol synthesis in the body.

Ubiquinol versus Ubiquinone

There are two types of CoQ10 used in supplements: ubiquinone and ubiquinol. Ubiquinol is ‘body-ready’, which means the body doesn’t have to convert it into a usable form – a therapeutic advantage over ubiquinone. As an antioxidant, ubiquinol also offers protection against arterial plaque, thereby reducing heart attack risk and safeguarding heart muscle cells from free radical damage. Uniquely, ubiquinol also regenerates other beneficial antioxidants such as vitamins C and E.

Ubiquinone versus ubiquinol is just half the battle with CoQ10; addressing bioavailability is a further challenge, since therapeutic outcomes are achieved by raising blood plasma levels. Most ubiquinol supplements are oil-based, which means that large ubiquinol particles struggle to pass through the gut’s water layer barrier and are poorly absorbed. A special patented delivery system called VESIsorb®, utilised by CoQ10 manufacturer Igennus, optimises absorption by converting ubiquinol into water-soluble particles, ‘pre-digesting’ it so ubiquinol is effectively fast-tracked through the digestive system. VESIsorb delivers ubiquinol into the blood stream 2 times faster than standard oil-based forms, increasing tissue distribution throughout the body to achieve significantly higher blood concentrations that remain at therapeutic levels for up to 6 times longer.

Live cultures

Three specific live cultures L. plantarum CECT 7527, 7528 and 7529, help break down bile salts, which are made from cholesterol, therefore allowing its removal from the body. These friendly bacteria also metabolise dietary cholesterol in the gut, therefore reducing its absorption into the bloodstream. The AB-LIFE strains also produce a beneficial short-chain fatty acid known as propionic acid, which signals the liver to produce less cholesterol and also has an anti-inflammatory effect.

Top heart health supplements

A new and unique formula from OptiBac Probiotics is the first of its kind formulated for heart health. For your cholesterol is a pioneering, well researched multi-targeted natural supplement that combines unique live cultures with omega-3 ALA from cold-pressed virgin flaxseed oil – offering a multitude of benefits for managing healthy cholesterol levels.

Since not all live cultures are the same, OptiBac Probiotics focuses on specific strains of natural bacteria that have been clinically tested and proven to survive stomach acidity, bile salts and digestive enzymes in order to find the best live cultures for the job.

VESIsorb® Ubiquinol-QH from Igennus provides 100 mg of fast-acting body-ready ubiquinol CoQ10 for optimal therapeutic benefits. Taken daily, this advanced supplement offers comprehensive cardiovascular support, providing potent antioxidant activity and maximal energy production.

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Clarifying CoQ10 supplements

CoQ10 (coenzyme Q10) is a naturally occurring compound, synthesised endogenously and found in small levels in an average diet. Found predominantly in the mitochondria of the cells, this important enzyme plays a key role in energy production and is vital for ensuring normal everyday functioning. In addition to its role in energy production, CoQ10 is a potent antioxidant and is also able to regenerate other antioxidants including vitamin E, vitamin C and lipoic acid. Its ability to quench free radicals is, in fact, key to maintaining the structural integrity and stability of mitochondrial and cell membranes. [1] CoQ10 levels generally peak around the age of 20-30 and decline with increasing age. Significantly decreased levels of CoQ10 are found in a wide variety of diseases, especially those associated with oxidative stress [2] as wells in individuals using statins for cholesterol management. Also known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, statins treat elevated blood cholesterol levels by blocking cholesterol biosynthesis. In doing so, however, they also block CoQ10 biosynthesis, which may lead to symptoms of fatigue and muscle pain (known as statin-induced myopathy). [3]

Ubiquinone and ubiquinol

Ubiquinol
CoQ10 exists in two forms, as ubiquinone (the oxidised CoQ10, spent form) and ubiquinol (the reduced and activated, antioxidant form).

CoQ10 exists in two forms, as ubiquinone (the oxidised CoQ10, spent form) and ubiquinol (the reduced and activated, antioxidant form). In order for CoQ10 to play a role in energy production and exhibit an antioxidant effect, the body must metabolise it to its antioxidant form ubiquinol, a process inhibited with increasing age, nutrient deficiency and some health conditions. Taking CoQ10 as ubiquinone is therefore not as effective as taking CoQ10 as ubiquinol (Kaneka QH™) the ‘body-ready’ form which has only been available for use in supplements since 2006. Ubiquinol has numerous advantages over ubiquinone and comparing the two forms in therapeutic outcomes far surpasses its oxidised precursor.

Bioavailability

When addressing the issue of therapeutics, at first glance the dose of ubiquinol may seem particularly relevant; however, it is the blood plasma level achieved by supplementation that is the significant factor in determining the effectiveness of a treatment. [4] As a lipid-soluble nutrient, ubiquinol absorption and bioavailability is generally poor, with as much as 60% eliminated in the faeces. [5] Whilst the structure of ubiquinol renders it more water-soluble than ubiquinone, most common formulations of ubiquinol (found in powder form or dispersed in oil suspensions) are of relatively low bioavailability. [6] As clinical outcomes are dependent on increasing the bioavailability, solubilising ubiquinol is the only method to guarantee that therapeutically viable blood plasma levels are achieved.

VESIsorb® for unprecedented bioavailability

Ubiquinol that utilises the VESIsorb® technology offers unprecedented bioavailability to deliver plasma levels superior to all other forms of CoQ10. [7] When in contact with the aqueous contents of the stomach, this novel delivery system naturally self-assembles into colloidal droplets (micro-emulsion), engulfing the ubiquinol, which is then able to completely dissolve in water. By doing so, ubiquinol is effectively fast-tracked from the gut lumen, through the unstirred water layer barrier that lines the gut wall, directly into the enterocyte cell for immediate transfer to the circulatory system.

Igennus VESIsorb® Ubiquinol-QH

Igennus VESIsorb® Ubiquinol-QH ensures significantly higher plasma concentrations that reach therapeutic levels up to 2 times faster and are sustained for up to 6 times longer than any other delivery system or form of CoQ10. Unlike other delivery forms of CoQ10, this highly advanced delivery system achieves and maintains clinically effective plasma concentrations of CoQ10, supporting cardiovascular function, energy production, reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disease and provide potent antioxidant activity with just one 100 mg capsule daily.

References

1. Rauchova H, Drahota Z, Lenaz G: Function of coenzyme Q in the cell: some biochemical and physiological properties. Physiological research / Academia Scientiarum Bohemoslovaca 1995, 44:209-216.

2. Potgieter M, Pretorius E, Pepper MS: Primary and secondary coenzyme Q10 deficiency: the role of therapeutic supplementation. Nutrition reviews 2013, 71:180-188.

3. Watts GF, Castelluccio C, Rice-Evans C, Taub NA, Baum H, Quinn PJ: Plasma coenzyme Q (ubiquinone) concentrations in patients treated with simvastatin. Journal of clinical pathology 1993, 46:1055-1057.

4. Shults CW, Oakes D, Kieburtz K, Beal MF, Haas R, Plumb S, Juncos JL, Nutt J, Shoulson I, Carter J, et al: Effects of coenzyme Q10 in early Parkinson disease: evidence of slowing of the functional decline. Archives of neurology 2002, 59:1541-1550.

5. Wyman M, Leonard M, Morledge T: Coenzyme Q10: a therapy for hypertension and statin-induced myalgia? Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine 2010, 77:435-442.

6. Bhagavan HN, Chopra RK: Coenzyme Q10: absorption, tissue uptake, metabolism and pharmacokinetics. Free radical research 2006, 40:445-453.

7. Liu ZX, Artmann C: Relative bioavailability comparison of different coenzyme Q10 formulations with a novel delivery system. Alternative therapies in health and medicine 2009, 15:42-46.

 

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Can CoEnzyme-Q10 combat statin side-effects?

A new study (1) confirms long-standing concerns about the side-effects of cholesterol-lowering statins. The study suggests that statin drugs can cause significant problems with energy levels and general fatigue, especially in women.

Statins are routinely prescribed to individuals with raised cholesterol levels and are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the UK. These drugs lower cholesterol levels by inhibiting a liver enzyme (HMG-CoA reductase) which plays a role in cholesterol production. Unfortunately this enzyme is also important for the production of Co-enzyme Q10. CoQ10 is a nutrient found in almost every cell in the body and is essential for energy production in the muscles.

The study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, followed a group of individuals who were randomised to take one of two statins (simvastatin at 20 mg per day or pravastatin at 40 mg per day) or placebo for six months. Participants were rated at regular intervals through the study for their perceived fatigue on exertion, general fatigue and energy levels.

Overall, statins did indeed appear to cause a significant change in energy and worsen fatigue on exertion. Women were more affected than men.

In fact, 40% of the women receiving statins reported either a reduction in energy or a worsening of fatigue on exertion. 10% of the women reported that both of these issues were ‘much worse’.

Nuts contain CoQ10
Nuts contain Co-Enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) which is beneficial towards energy levels

Co-enzyme Q10 is essential for the ‘battery’ in each cell to power our muscles and organs. It is not surprising that depletion of CoQ10 can cause muscle weakness and fatigue. CoQ10 is also vital for heart function. According to one recent study (2), 71% of healthy people develop heart rhythm abnormalities when given statins.

It is important for those taking statins to be aware of the side-effects such as fatigue and muscle weakness, as these symptoms may only appear after some months or years after beginning statin treatment.

The good news is that those taking statins may be able to protect themselves from these side-effects by including good sources of CoQ10 in their diet. The richest dietary sources of this nutrient are organ meats such as liver and kidney, as these are the bodily organs that naturally store high levels of CoQ10. Other sources include oily fish, eggs, nuts and spinach.

For many individuals, dietary sources of CoQ10 may be inadequate to combat the draining effect of statins. In these cases I would recommend would be to supplementing 50 – 100 mg of CoQ10 each day.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References

1. Golomb BA, et al. Effects of Statins on Energy and Fatigue With Exertion: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial. Arch Int Med epub 11 June 2012

2. Silver MA, Langsjoen PH, Szabo S, Patil H, Zelinger A. (2004) Effect of atorvastatin on left ventricular diastolic function and ability of coenzyme Q10 to reverse that dysfunction. Am J Cardiol, 94(10):1306-10.

3. Image courtesy of Zole4

 

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CoQ10 aids male fertility

A new study involving 287 infertile men suggests that the nutrient Coenzyme Q10 improves both sperm quality and pregnancy rate.

The study, published in the International Urology and Nephrology Journal, assessed men with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratozoospermia (OAT), meaning that the men had unexplained reduced sperm count and reduced sperm quality.

CoEnzyme Q10
CoEnzyme Q10 may be useful in supporting male infertility and sperm motility

The trial measured the effects on pregnancy rate of supplementation with 300mg of CoQ10 twice a day for 12-months. Over the 12-month period, the overall pregnancy rate was 34.1%. In contrast, the pregnancy rate in non-supplemented infertile men during the same time is around 6.4%.

Sperm samples were also collected before and after supplementation. The results showed that supplementation with CoQ10 improved mean sperm concentration by 113.7%. It also improved motility (forward movement of the sperm) by 104.8% and raised the number of normal forms by 78.9%.

There are a number of reasons why CoQ10 may boost male fertility. In sperm cells, CoQ10 is concentrated in the midpiece of each sperm, acting as an energy promoting agent. The energy for movement and all other energy-dependent processes in the sperm cell depend on this crucial nutrient. CoQ10 is also an antioxidant, preventing lipid per oxidation thereby reducing damage to sperm membranes.

In cases where couples are having difficulty conceiving, it is very common for medical treatment to be focussed on the female partner only. This treatment pathway fails to address the health of the male partner which could be addressed with nutritional changes.  It does appear that couples are short-changed when they are referred for invasive medical treatments, when nutritional changes could in fact be a far less invasive and stress-free alternative. A recent review of male subfertility concluded that “The concept of unilateral care of the female partner, which has gained momentum in the reproductive health community, especially with the advent of in vitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection, is counterproductive, and should be discouraged.”

This trial was open-label, meaning some caution is needed in interpreting the results. However, the study will hopefully pave the way for future research in this area.

While couples may not wish to rely exclusively on nutritional supplements and dietary changes to address subfertility, this approach could be used alongside medical treatment to improve chances of success. “Medical treatment with nutraceuticals helps improve sperm parameters, and even if the response is not adequate, increases the response to assisted reproductive technology.” (2)

Coenzyme Q10 is present in beef, pork, oily fish and nuts. However, to reach therapeutic levels of this nutrient, supplementation would be necessary. The recommended dose range of CoQ10 for male subfertility is 60 mg to 200 mg daily.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References

1. The effect of coenzyme Q10 supplementation on partner pregnancy rate in infertile men with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratozoospermia: an open-label prospective study. MR Safarinejad. Int Urol Nephrol. Vol 44, no3 (2012) 689-700.

2. S. Kalra, B. Kalra, N. Agrawal: Nutraceutical Management Of Male Subfertility: An Update  . The Internet Journal of Family Practice. 2010 Volume 8 Number 2. DOI: 10.5580/1c4a

3. Image Courtesy of graur codrin

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Natural solutions for more energy

Are you the type of person that jumps out of bed every morning with a smile on your face as soon as your alarm goes off, ready and waiting to face the day? Do you remain full of energy and on full pelt for the rest of the day before having a great night’s sleep every night? Or are you more likely to hit snooze on your alarm as much as possible before you absolutely have to get up? Then day-dream about your bed as your energy levels drop through the floor throughout the day?! If you are more likely to be the latter, you are most certainly not alone.

A persistent lack of energy is one of the most common complaints in both men and women across the nation. Daylight, and more importantly sunlight, has a great effect on our overall energy levels.  Historically we are used to being outside all day benefiting from the effects of sunlight. Modern living, however, results in the majority of us spending large amounts of time indoors, deprived of sunlight and this causes problems with our body’s natural rhythm and well being.

Officially summer comes to an end this weekend with clocks going back an hour. This signals the start of dull days with very limited and less intense sunlight and even less opportunity to benefit from the sun. This can bring about a reduction in energy levels for much of the population and reduced daylight can, in some cases, cause Season Affective Disorder (SAD) – sometimes known as Winter Depression. As a result many people begin to dread the winter months. There are, however, many natural ways to combat low energy and SAD. Balancing your circadian rhythm is a great way to do this.

Below we have drawn up a brief guide on how you can boost your energy levels and prevent the frequent desire for those 3pm snoozes!

Early Morning (approx 6.30am – 9am)

A healthy start to the day
A boiled egg with wholemeal toast will provide you will a slow and sustained release of energy throughout the morning. (1)

Your Internal Bodyclock is in its “awakening” mode at this stage. Your metabolism is slow and rising. Your body temperature, blood pressure and cortisol levels are all also increasing, signalling to your body to wake up. You may feel ‘groggy’ first thing and crave that morning cup of coffee or a bowl of sweet, sugary breakfast cereal. This may give you a rapid increase in energy, but it will also leave you with an energy slump once the initial effects have worn off. This is where people can fall into the habit of regular caffeine or sugary snacks in an attempt to maintain this feeling.

There are better ways to boost your energy and replenish the low blood glucose levels that have developed during sleep. Try adding a slice of lemon to hot water – this has natural sugars and also helps cleanse the digestive system (having the effect of a bit of a mini detox) ready for the day ahead. Also opt for high fibre breakfasts such as 100% pure rolled porridge oats with a handful of fruit and seeds or a boiled egg with wholemeal toast. These kinds of foods will provide you with a slow and sustained release of energy throughout the morning, keeping you full for longer and reducing those energy slumps.

Try to get out in the daylight as much as possible in the morning as this will wake your body up for the day. The winter days will prevent many people from being able to do this, therefore you may wish to try using a sunrise alarm clock, like the Lumie Bodyclock Starter in the mornings. This will stimulate your brain into waking gradually, balancing your circadian rhythm and your cortisol levels, which has the added bonus of being able to also support your immune system and stress levels.

Morning until Lunch (approx 9am – 2pm)

As your cortisol levels are still increasing you are more alert and efficient and your mental capability has reached its peak of the day. This means your concentration, memory and focus are all waiting to be utilised. So use this time to get all your lingering tasks done!

You could also try using a SAD light for 30 minutes every day for energy stimulation. The effectiveness of SAD Lights is measured in lux, which is the level of light intensity that you would normally get from the sun. A SAD light with 10,000 lux is recommended for those who want to see the most benefits.

Also avoid drinking coffee at this time as this can cause the swift rises and falls in energy levels. Instead you could try green tea, which is packed with antioxidants and contains much less caffeine per cup. Other teas are also great options such as ginger tea, which is good for digestion. Peppermint, fennel and camomile are also good options.

Females should take extra care too. A lack of energy can be due to low iron levels and coffee has been shown to reduce iron stores in the body. Make sure your levels are topped up by eating foods rich in iron such as meats, some fish and leafy greens such as spinach. Consider taking an iron supplement and remember to take this with vitamin C to help its absorption. B vitamins are also great for energy – You could try adding a multivitamin with extra B Complex, such as Viridian High 5 Multi Vitamin to your daily routine.

Another helpful tip is to try to get outside during your lunch break – the fresh air and daylight can do wonders to prevent that mid-afternoon slump. When choosing your lunch, choose slow-release carbohydrates such as brown rice or wholemeal bread rather than refined carbs such as white bread or crisps. Also ensure you have some protein in your meal too – such as lean chicken, fish, beans or pulses.

Afternoon (approx 2pm – 5pm)

Your cortisol levels start to drop which can often lead to drowsiness or that mid-afternoon slump. It’s best to avoid the temptation for biscuits or chocolate for a sugar boost at this time. If you must have a snack, try a small piece of minimum 70% quality dark chocolate or some dried fruit, nuts or seeds. Make sure you prioritise your tasks for the afternoon so you know exactly what you need to achieve before home time. That way you can go home happy and content with the day. ‘A well spent day brings happy sleep’ after all. Also taking in deep breaths is great for energy levels and can help reduce stress and aid concentration.

Lumie Bodyclock Active
The Lumie Bodyclock Active, which gradually dims helping your brain to naturally switch off

Evening (approx 5pm – 10pm)

As the evening progresses your melatonin levels start to increase (the hormone that prepares your body for sleep) and your digestion slows. Try to avoid snacking in the evening and heavy meals before bed time. This will require a lot of digestion as insulin is less effective at night. Also your digestive system will struggle to cope with excess amounts of food before bed and this can lead to weight gain as well as disruptive sleep – contributing to an imbalanced circadian rhythm. It is best to avoid all stimulants such as coffee, tea and alcohol as much as possible at this time as these can also disrupt your sleep.

A bad night’s sleep can cause low energy the following day and contribute to reduced mental performance. This can cause stress and lead to a spiral of stress and disrupted sleep which is hard to get out of. If you have trouble drifting off at night, try a sunrise alarm clock with a sunset feature like the Lumie Bodyclock Active. The light gradually dims helping your brain to naturally switch off. If a sunset feature is not for you, then try spraying lavender on your pillow or rubbing some lavender sleep therapy balm on your body to help you switch off.

In addition to these helpful tips, specific nutrients that can support energy levels are:

  • Magnesium – found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale
  • Vitamin B Complex – found in brown rice and wholemeal bread. If you supplement this, it is best taken as a “complex” of B Vitamins
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) & Acetyl-l-Carnitine (ALC) – Found in green foods such as broccoli, spinach and some red meats
  • Co-Enzyme Q10 – found in fish, organ meats such as liver and whole grains
  • Iron – found in a multitude of food sources, such as red meat, beans and pulses, leafy green vegetables, tofu and fortified breads and cereals
  • Ginkgo Biloba – a widely available supplement or combined in an energy supplement such as Femergy

Consistent poor energy levels should be treated seriously. If you think the cause of your low energy levels is more than poor diet you should always consult your GP or Natural Health Practitioner.

 

Written by Katie Guest and Lauren Foster

 

References

1.  Image courtesy of Simon Howden.

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