Being tired all the time makes life feel so much harder than it needs to be.
Back when I couldn’t survive without drinking coffee or eating something sugary every few hours to keep me upright, I wished I knew what to do to get my energy back.
Every activity felt 10x harder to do.
Getting out of bed and waking up felt like this:
Thinking about what to wear.
Summoning the energy to go to work and make it through the day all required more physical, mental and emotional effort than it should have.
I felt stuck in an energy-draining cycle that often left me in a pit of despair.
If you can relate, I’m so pleased you’re here!
The info I’m about to share was one of the game-changing steps I took to radically increase my energy and give me lasting energy throughout the day.
It also helped immensely with my brain fog, feeling of weakness and inability to exercise without feeling exhausted.
(PS: This step is one of the key steps in the Energy Mastery Method I walk my clients through)
A key factor in fatigue: mitochondrial dysfunction
Mitochondrial dysfunction was one of the main factors contributing to my exhaustion (alongside undiagnosed adrenal fatigue).
Essentially, I was lacking key nutrients needed for the energy production process that occurs in the mitochondria in the cells in our bodies.
Mitochondria are little organelles that act like the batteries of your cells, creating 90% of your physical energy.
They’re responsible for taking protein, carbohydrates and fat and turning them into ATP – your body’s energy molecule.
Fun fact: There are hundreds, often thousands, of mitochondria in each of your cells. So many, in fact, that they amount to about 10% of your body weight!
If your mitochondria don’t get the fuel they need, or there aren’t enough antioxidants to neutralise the free radicals produced as part of the energy production process (therefore damaging the mitochondria structure), their function declines.
This condition is called ‘mitochondrial dysfunction’, where less ATP is being created, resulting in fatigue.
Does mitochondrial dysfunction affect your health in the long term?
Being in good health isn’t merely about being free of disease.
Feeling vibrant and energetic regardless of your age, is.
One of the main reasons I help women eliminate fatigue is because I’m passionate about disease prevention.
You see, fatigue that persists over a long period of time is often the starting point that leads to a chronic disease.
Mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to many chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease and cancer (1).
So if you aren’t feeling energetic generally (excluding the times you haven’t slept enough and/or worked too much), it requires investigation and a plan to bring the body back into balance so you can get your energy back (such as in the Energy Mastery Method or Energy Assessment).
Prevention is so much easier (and incredibly less stressful!) than curing a disease.
There’s an ever-increasing list of chronic diseases, most of which can be prevented with the right diet, mindset and lifestyle strategies!
How do you know if you have mitochondrial dysfunction?
Here are some of the symptoms and conditions associated with mitochondrial dysfunction:
- Poor mental function / brain fog
- Poor physical exertion
- A feeling of weakness
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Joint and muscle pain
- Liver, kidney and pancreatic dysfunction
- Cardiovascular disease (mitochondria make up 70% of the content of your heart cells!)
If you have fatigue alongside some of these symptoms or conditions, it’s worth taking a targeted approach and focusing on improving the function of your mitochondria.
You can also get tested to understand how well your mitochondria are functioning and investigate your oxidative stress levels (AKA if you have free radicals that can damage mitochondria and impair function). These tests can be organised through a naturopath or nutritional therapist.
Eliminate fatigue – nourish your mitochondria
So if you want your energy back, one of your main aims will be to nourish your mitochondria.
There are key nutrients that support the healthy function of your mitochondria.
These following nutrients are either involved in the process of producing energy, or protect your mitochondria from free radical damage.
As always, start with changing your diet, then add supplementation if necessary (always speak to your primary healthcare provider before supplementing, especially if you take medication).
Carnitine is one of the most critical nutrients for mitochondrial function.
It’s involved in ATP production and is an antioxidant, protecting molecules in the energy production process from free radical damage.
Food sources: Red meat is the highest food source, especially beef and liver (organ meats like liver, heart and kidney are a fantastic source of nutrients that can dramatically increase your energy levels).
Chicken, fish, milk, avocado and tempeh are also options (although I find many of my clients have a dairy intolerance which also contributes to their fatigue, so if you think you might be intolerant it would be best to avoid milk).
General supplementation dose: 2g – 4 g/day of acetyl-L-carnitine in split doses.
Alpha lipoic acid
Alpha lipoic acid is a co-factor in the production of ATP and is also an antioxidant that protects the structure of the mitochondria.
Food sources: Red meat, organ meats (heart and liver), spinach, broccoli, peas, potatoes, yams, carrots, beets and tomatoes.
General supplementation dose: 300mg – 600mg/day.
CoQ10 is an enzyme that’s present in almost all cells in the body, especially in high concentrations in our hardest working organs such as the heart, liver, kidney and pancreas.
Our bodies can create this enzyme, however, our production decreases after the age of 30.
Food sources: beef, chicken, pork meat and organs (especially heart and liver) are the best sources, plus oily fish like salmon, trout and mackerel. Broccoli, avocado, beans, nuts and seeds also contain small amounts.
General supplementation dose: 90mg – 600mg per day of ubiquinol in a micellised form to enhance absorption.
This mineral is involved in the most fundamental step of energy creation – the creation of the ATP energy molecule – and the release of energy.
Food sources: leafy greens, almonds, eggs, cashews, parsnips, lima beans, cod, brown rice, ginger, seeds, cocoa, figs, kelp and soybeans.
General supplementation dose: 500-1200mg divided across the day. The best-absorbed oral forms are magnesium aspartate, citrate and bis-glycinate.
Applying magnesium to the skin is a very effective way to absorb magnesium, hence a magnesium chloride gel is also a good option. Simply apply to your body after showering.
The mineral manganese is needed to make superoxide dismutase, an antioxidant that helps neutralise free radicals that can cause damage to mitochondria. Manganese also plays a part in regulating the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates that are then converted into energy (2).
Food sources: Almonds, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, chestnuts, buckwheat, avocados, coconut, corn, kelp, olives, pecans, organ meats (liver), sunflower seeds, turnips, carrots, broccoli, legumes, spinach, dill, parsley, barley, dandelion greens, blackberries, beet greens, seaweed, bananas, and watercress.
General supplementation dose: 2mg – 20mg per day.
D-Ribose is a sugar that’s used to convert ADP (the precursor of ATP) to ATP. Our bodies can make D-Ribose, however, it’s a slow process, and often in fatigue, there isn’t enough D-Ribose to create ATP. Hence, supplementation has shown to be effective in those with chronic fatigue and mitochondrial dysfunction (3).
Food sources: Ribose forms part of vitamin B2, so is available in beef, chicken, mushrooms, eggs, oily fish like herrings, sardines and anchovies, yoghurt, cheese and milk.
General supplementation dose: 5g -15g per day.
ATP’s core components that help produce energy are the phosphorus molecules. Energy is stored in the bonds that attach the phosphorus molecules together, so having sufficient amounts of phosphorus is key for energy production.
Though it’s rare for a deficiency of phosphorus to occur (it’s the second most abundant mineral found in the body next to calcium and is abundant in food), it is possible. Supplementation isn’t usually necessary – just focus on eating more of the following foods.
Food sources: beef, beef liver, chicken, fish, brewer’s yeast, pumpkin seeds, wheat bran and germ, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, soybeans, almonds, cheese, walnuts, cashews, and walnuts.
Biotin is a co-factor for several enzymes involved in the breakdown of proteins, fats and carbohydrates to convert them into energy. Biotin is made in your digestive tract by your healthy bacteria, however, synthesis can be compromised by antibiotic use.
Food sources: Brewer’s yeast, pork, chicken and beef liver, egg yolk, soybeans, lentils, nuts, milk, whole grains (oats, barley, brown rice), bean sprouts, cauliflower, spinach and mushrooms
General supplementation dose: 0.5mg – 15 mg per day.
Iron is a critical mineral for several enzymes in the energy production cycle. If you suspect you’re low in iron, get tested before supplementing, as high iron levels can actually damage your mitochondria and therefore cause fatigue.
Food sources: Meat, liver, poultry, fish, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, eggs, soybeans, lentils, black-strap molasses, quinoa, kidney beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, black-eyed beans and turnips.
General supplementation dose: 5mg – 15 mg per day in an amino acid chelated form.
Copper is an essential component of an enzyme that works closely with iron to produce energy in the mitochondria.
Food sources: Oysters, beef liver, ginger, Brazil nuts, spirulina, asparagus, mushrooms, maca powder, soy, almonds, hazelnuts, split peas, buckwheat, chard, spinach, kale, peanuts, cod liver oil, lamb chops, sunflower oil, shrimp, olive oil, and garlic.
General supplementation dose: 2mg – 10 mg per day
Omega 3 essentials fatty acids
If you’re not getting enough omega 3 fatty acids, the fatty membrane of the mitochondria become impaired, slowing down the entire energy production process – resulting in fatigue.
Essential fats, mostly EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid respectively. Yes, they’re both tongue twisters!), have been successfully used in studies to reduce fatigue and protect mitochondria from damage by free radicals.
In particular, EPA induces mitochondrial growth, size and distribution, improving the health and quantity of mitochondria.
Food sources: butternuts, evening primrose oil, purslane, rapeseed oil, seaweed, sunflower oil, walnut oil, oily fish like salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel, tofu, cod liver oil, mustard seed oil and linseed oil.
General supplementation dose: 3,000 ‐ 4,000 mg fish oil, including 1250mg of EPA plus DHA per day.
Vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B5 help your body convert food into energy, and are cofactors involved in your cells’ energy production process.
Food sources: meat, fish, leafy greens, mushrooms, eggs, avocado, brown rice, beans and pulses, oats, nuts and seeds, and fermented foods.
General supplementation dose: B9 (folic acid) and B12 are also involved in energy production, hence a B-complex formula is an effective way to increase energy levels.
Dosage ranges vary for each nutrient:
B1: 5 – 150mg
Having enough antioxidants helps protect the mitochondria from free radical damage. The key antioxidants, in addition to alpha lipoic acid and carnitine, are Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
Vitamin C food sources: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, citrus fruits, pineapple, guava, pawpaw, potatoes, rosehips, parsley, aloe vera juice, berries, cabbage, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, goji berries, and blackcurrant.
General supplementation dose: 250mg – 2g per day.
Vitamin E food sources: almonds, apricots, beef, eggs, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ.
General supplementation dose: 100mg – 800mg per day.
Limiting other factors to reduce your oxidant load is also helpful, such as avoiding or limiting sugar, alcohol, smoking, and stress.
And now, a challenge!
For the next 7 days, focus on eating as many of these foods as you can, and you’ll start seeing big changes in your energy levels.
Let me know in the comments if you’re going to take on this challenge, and tell me: what’s the first energising food you plan to eat?
(Personally, I’d go for chicken liver fried with some garlic, mushrooms and onions with a side of sautéed greens. Yum!)
References and sources
- Neustadt J and Pieczenik S (2006). Mitochondrial dysfunction and molecular pathways of disease. Integrative Medicine. Vol. 5, No. 3. June/July
- Longman Li and Xiaobo Yang (2018). The Essential Element Manganese, Oxidative Stress, and Metabolic Diseases: Links and Interactions. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity Volume 2018, Article ID 7580707
- Osiecki, H. (2010) The Nutrient Bible. Eighth Edition. Eagle Farm: Bio Concepts Publishing.
- Murray, M.T. (2001) Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements: The Essential Guide for Improving Your Health Naturally. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- Murray, M.T. Pizzorno, J. (2012) The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Third
edn. New York: Atria Paper Back.
Melissa is a naturopathic nutritionist and health coach who helps exhausted women get their energy back. She consults with people worldwide via the web from her home in Melbourne, Australia.