Supplement Spotlight: Increasing Cellular Energy

This month I wanted to talk about energy.  Not energy as in a cup of espresso, but boosting the body’s overall energy reserves at the cellular level.


With age, many people experience a greater overall fatigue when compared with the energy levels they had in years past.   Many people turn to caffeine or energy drinks to give them an extra boost, but a better way to ensure lasting energy is to start at the cellular level.  Our cells contain mitochondria, which are basically the cell’s “powerhouses” which produce the energy molecule known as ATP.  Tiredness, fatigue, and exhaustion are a direct result of diminished ATP in the body.

One little known supplement that is fantastic for boosting the body’s stores of ATP is the mushroom cordyceps.  Cordyceps is a beloved medicinal mushroom from China and has been used for a number of ailments including cancer, diabetes, asthma, immunity, and fatigue.  Research has confirmed cordyceps’ benefit for raising ATP levels, even for subjects with conditions which are known to produce fatigue, like anemia.  One study on elderly patients found improvements in energy levels in 92% of the participants after 30 days.


Another great supplement for energy is panax ginseng.  Panax ginseng is another Chinese herb which has been used for centuries for energy production and stress.  Modern research has found that the reason ginseng is able to make such a difference in a person’s energy levels is its ability to increase ATP production.  It also appears that panax ginseng is able to help the cell’s mitochondria to work more efficiently.

Help for Stress Free Holidays

This month’s focus is on having a happy, healthy, and stress-free December. The holidays are a time of togetherness and love, but it can also be a time of heightened stress, anxiety, and depression for many. There are a number of very effective natural products which can help each of us to make it through these weeks in a calmer, more positive state.


Theanine for Anxiety

All of us at the store view theanine as one of the best supplements there is for stress and anxiety. It works best when taken on a regular basis, but is also very effective when taken occasionally for a circumstance that you know is going to be stressful (Christmas dinner, anyone?). It works by helping the brain to produce alpha brain waves, which encourages a state of calm, restful alertness. One of the best things about theanine is that unlike many other things for stress and anxiety, it will not cause drowsiness. I think theanine is one of those supplements we could all use this month.


5-HTP for Mood

5-HTP is an amino acid that’s great for giving yourself a mood boost. It works by increasing serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is known as the “feel good neurotransmitter”. Research has shown it to be as effective as prescription antidepressants, but without the side effects. Interestingly, other research has found that 5-HTP can help with weight loss, particularly “stress eating”, most likely due to its relaxing and mood boosting properties. The one caution would be not to mix 5-HTP with prescription antidepressants in the class known as SSRIs (Prozac for example) since they work similarly in the body.


SAMe for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or comes into full swing for many people during this month, since the days are the shortest they will ever be. Supplementing with extra vitamin D can be helpful (and really, everyone should be taking extra D in the winter), but the supplement we’ve found to be most effective for SAD is SAMe (pronounced “Sammy”). It works by enhancing feel good neurotransmitters and helping to maintain the proper structure of cell membranes. SAMe is nice because its effects can be felt very quickly, for most people within the first week, compared to prescription antidepressants which can take weeks to gain effectiveness. SAMe also has the side benefits of helping to reduce joint pain as well as detoxifying the liver. It is very effective, and has also been found to be useful for fibromyalgia symptoms since it helps with both depression and pain.


Valerian for Extreme Stress

Valerian is best known as a sleep aid, but in lower doses it works very well for stress, in fact, it is often known as “Nature’s Valium”. Research has found valerian to be similar in effectiveness to valium, but without the side effects. One of the owners, Theresa, went through a rough time a few years ago, and found valerian to be a real help.


Ginseng for Energy

If you find that December and all the planning that goes with it has sapped your energy, ginseng may help. A warm ginseng like panax or Korean ginseng is great for giving you an extra boost. Ginseng is an adaptogen, which basically means that it helps the body to adapt to stress while easing its negative side effects. Herbs like ginseng work best when taken on an empty stomach. Interestingly, panax ginseng has also been found to have benefits for mental functioning, diabetes, and erectile dysfunction.


Immune Shield for the Immune System

Getting sick around the holidays is often a common occurrence due to increased stress and social engagements. One supplement that greatly increases the odds of staying healthy is Irwin Natural’sImmune Shield- it’s a mix of a number of very effective herbs that help the body to fight off bacteria and viruses. If you do end up getting sick, you can take a higher dose to help yourself to get better faster. We all take it at the store and find it to be very effective. Another supplement to think of is vitamin D, which also is great for the immune system. Our bodies can make vitamin D from the sun, but most Americans become deficient in the colder months since they’re only outdoors for short periods.


Healthy Q & A: Energy


I feel like I'm tired all the time.  Is there anything you'd say that could help?


Tiredness can be a complex issue that usually is rooted in having too much stress.  Stress often robs us of sleep, which makes us tired in the morning.  Depression can have a hand in it as well, since stress and depression can go hand in hand, and work well together to sap energy.


The first thing I’d recommend are adaptogenic herbs like ginseng or ashwaganda.  Adaptogens literally help your body to “adapt” to stress, while reducing its negative side effects.  Stress, in and of itself in not necessarily a bad thing, but when the stress goes on for prolonged periods without respite is when problems develop.  Adaptogens work to help to bring the body into balance, both calming you down and giving you energy without being overstimulating or jittery like the energy from coffee.  Research has also linked ginseng to increased brain function and both ashwaganda and ginseng to increased physical stamina.


If difficulty falling asleep or insomnia is an issue, there are a number of herbs which can help.  Herbs like valerian, passionflower, and hops are all wonderful for helping with relaxation and promoting sleep. For anxiety, the amino acid L-theanine taken at bedtime or during the day can be very helpful.


For people suffering with depression, SAMe or the amino acid 5-HTP can be helpful.  Boosting your mood often helps to reduce fatigue and lethargy.  Both have added benefits- SAMe can help with seasonal affective disorder (which I’ll write about in more detail in next month’s newsletter) and 5-HTP can help with weight loss.


Finally, don’t forget exercise.  Exercising (especially in the morning) can help with increasing energy, reducing stress, boosting mood, and helping with sleep.  The park districts in the area have lots of choices for exercise classes, and there are often membership deals at fitness centers in the surrounding communities.  Also, even though October mornings can be brisk, getting outside for a walk, bike ride, or run can be wonderful.

Healthy Q & A: Radiation Treatment


My Dad who is 86 will be starting radiation treatment for cancer on one of his vocal cords.  My question is should he be taking any supplements or be applying any sort of lotions or creams on his neck?  He is in good health gets around great, and we would like to keep him that way.


There are a number of supplements which have been found to be beneficial in conjunction with radiation.  A good probiotic supplement can help to prevent the diarrhea that can sometimes be a side effect of radiation therapy.  Ginger can also help with the nausea that frequently accompanies radiation.


Another suggestion would be to supplement with curcumin, the beneficial extract from turmeric.  In animal studies, curcumin helped to prevent the skin damage caused by radiation and the curcumin supplements were associated with fewer burns and blisters.  You can read more about the study here.  Topical aloe vera gel or calendula cream can also be helpful in soothing skin irritated by radiation.


DHA, a beneficial component of omega 3 fatty acids, may also be helpful.  There was a recent groundbreaking study on breast cancer which found that DHA was able to sensitize tumors to respond better to treatment.  In the animal study, tumor size decreased by 60% at 12 days after irradiation in the group that was supplemented with DHA compared to 31% in the control group.  The research on DHA and cancer is still very preliminary, but very exciting.  You can read the study’s abstract here.


Other ideas would be panax ginseng, which could help to counteract the fatigue he may experience.  Eating a diet full of high antioxidant fruits and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) is a good idea as well.


Be sure to mention any alternative therapies you're considering with his physician.  I hope that helps!