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Ten energy-boosting herbs and supplements

Pamela Bond

April 23, 2008

4 Min Read
Ten energy-boosting herbs and supplements

Go longer. Be stronger. Increase libido. The claims of anti-aging products are worthy, but do they work? Here, internationally renowned herbalist Christopher Hobbs, LAc, from Davis, Calif., and Robin DiPasquale, N.D., chairwoman of the botanical medicine department at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash., describe 10 promising energy-boosting herbs and supplements that you can share with customers. Before taking any herbs or supplements, people should get an assessment to find the reason for their energy decline and then look for long-term solutions. "I don't want to rev [patients]," says DiPasquale. "I want to find the cause of energy loss and recommend nutrients that will heal them. Otherwise, they will wear out and end up being less functional."

Caffeine is an obvious choice for jumpstarting our bodies, but who knew it could be good for you? Chocolate (cacao) contains theobromine, an alkaloid that acts like a mild caffeine, giving the body extra oomph. "I recommend this for some people who don't have chronic illness, but who can't get going in the morning," Hobbs says. A mug of sugar-free hot chocolate makes for an effective wake-me-up drink in winter: Simply mix one tablespoon of organic cocoa powder with one cup of naturally sweet soymilk or goat milk, and heat. In summer, your customers can make a morning smoothie of organic cocoa powder, a frozen banana, soymilk, honey, vanilla and flax meal for added body.

Green tea (Camellia sinensis) also contains caffeine—and plenty of antioxidants. "It's a great detoxifier and promotes weight loss," says Hobbs, who recommends green tea for healthy people whose energy lags occasionally, but not for those with serious illnesses, such as chronic fatigue syndrome.

Red ginseng (Panax ginseng) is among the qi tonics, herbs that help us produce energy from food. This herb can help build heat and fuel the sex drive of older people, Hobbs says. For the best value, Hobbs recommends making red ginseng tea from the crushed whole root, which should be hard, brittle and translucent red. Capsules, tablets and tinctures also are effective.

Another qi tonic, American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), lifts the spirits by supplementing the adrenals and counteracting stress. "It's my top choice for a reliable energy boost," Hobbs says, adding that among the ginsengs, this type has the most clinical studies to back up its effectiveness. The downside? American ginseng cools and tends to work better for younger people or warm-blooded older folks. "If someone feels cold," Hobbs says, "they should choose red ginseng."

Adaptogen herbs, such as eleuthero (Siberian ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus), help support the adrenals against chronic stress, as well as aid the body in utilizing glucose. Athletes often use eleuthero to add spring to their steps, but the herb also helps fix general energy drops and can increase sex drive, according to Hobbs.

Another adaptogen, rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), helps boost energy, combat stress, improve memory and treat depressive moods. Like eleuthero, rhodiola has been used by athletes to increase stamina, but unlike eleuthero, rhodiola doesn't help improve libido, according to Hobbs. "The tea is terrible and astringent, so people should take the standardized extract," Hobbs advises.

Green drinks, such as spirulina and wheatgrass, contain chlorophyll, which detoxifies the liver and digestive tract and can increase the body's oxygen supply. "Green drinks provide a lot of ATP activity," DiPasquale says. "ATP is where we get energy." DiPasquale recommends people take a green drink twice a day: in the morning, when adrenal glands are working at their peak, and between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to prevent a late-afternoon fade. "As we age, people don't put out cortisol [the stress hormone] when they need to and when they do, it doesn't stay around long, which leads to a crash," DiPasquale says. "A green drink helps get more oxygen to the brain, so you don't get sleepy."

Protein powder "helps you last longer throughout the day," says DiPasquale. Why? Because protein burns more slowly compared with carbohydrates. For an enduring lift, customers can start the day with a smoothie of protein powder; fruit, such as antioxidant-rich blueberries; ground flaxseed; liquid, such as milk, soymilk or juice; and nut butter for a thicker shake. Or they can eat a protein-rich energy bar at midday, DiPasquale says.

Co-Q10 works to produce more energy in two seemingly contradictory ways. First, it's an antioxidant that protects the body's cells from oxidative free radical damage. But the supplement also helps muscles pump blood more effectively and thus increase oxygen delivery. In other words, circulation improves. The result? "People will feel more alert and suffer less muscle fatigue," according to DiPasquale. She suggests a maintenance dose of 30 milligrams two to three times a day.

Fish oils, too, can increase energy by enhancing cardiovascular activity and reducing inflammation. For best results, DiPasquale recommends taking a combination of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic omega-3 fatty acids three times a day in the following proportions: 200 mg of EPA and 150 mg of DHA.

Pamela Emanoil is the managing editor of Delicious Living magazine and a freelance writer in Boulder, Colo.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 58, 68

About the Author(s)

Pamela Bond

Pamela Bond is the managing editor of Natural Foods Merchandiser. Before coming to NFM, Pamela wrote about natural health, food, supplements, sustainable agriculture, outdoor adventure, fitness, travel and other topics for national consumer magazines and websites. She is a former editor at Delicious Living, Alternative Medicine and Rock & Ice magazines. When not desk-jockeying, Pamela enjoys attempting to master new recipes, classic rock climbs and Handstand.

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