What vitamins help keep you alert?

By: Maria Trimarchi

Step away from the sodas and energy drinks. There are healthy snacks that can give you an energy boost when you need one -- without all the sugar.
Step away from the sodas and energy drinks. There are healthy snacks that can give you an energy boost when you need one -- without all the sugar.

When mid-afternoon sluggishness strikes, what do you reach for? A snack from the office vending machine? Maybe an energy drink? While they may give you a quick jolt of energy to make it through the remaining afternoon, beware of both.

A typical vending machine snack is going to score low in nutrition and high in calories and fat, including unhealthy saturated fats. Let's take a pack of frosted strawberry Pop-Tarts as an example: Those two pop-tarts have more than 400 calories combined, more than enough for two snack attacks, 10 grams of fat (including bad fats) and about 9.5 teaspoons of sugar [source: Sole-Smith]. And those energy drinks? You're looking at as many as 13 teaspoons of sugar in one 16-ounce can, and the caffeine equivalent of at least four servings of cola [source: Brody].


Instead of feeding your fatigue with unhealthy, empty calories, try fine-tuning your diet to keep fatigue at bay.

While most of us are able to get our essential vitamins and minerals from the foods we eat -- although maybe that perfect balanced diet of lean protein, healthy carbs and fresh fruits and vegetables is aspirational for many of us -- there are a few things that might cause a deficiency, from autoimmune diseases to certain types of anemia and other malabsorption problems (and as you've probably heard, that habit of skipping breakfast isn't helping). Symptoms of a deficiency vary depending upon what vitamin is lacking. For example, a severe deficiency in vitamin C causes scurvy. Deficient in vitamin D? You're at risk for rickets. A deficiency in B vitamins may zap your energy and cause mood changes -- everything from feeling tired, weak, light-headed, irritable, anxious, depressed and in a mental fog (among other problems).

Let's crack open those B vitamins, next.

B Vitamins: The Energy Vitamins

The B vitamins are considered "energy vitamins" because they play an important role in energy metabolism, which means it helps the body be more efficient in how it turns the fats, carbohydrates and proteins from the foods we eat into usable energy to get us through our day.

There are 11 components that make up what we usually refer to as B-complex vitamins, and your body has different uses for each. They include vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2, (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), B12 (cyanocobalamin) as well as the nutrient supplements biotin (known also as vitamin H), para-amino benzoic acid (PABA, or sometimes called vitamin Bx or vitamin B10), choline and inositol.


Let's look specifically at vitamin B12. It's estimated that as many as 15 to 40 percent of people in the U.S. have some level of B12 deficiency [source: Geagan]. B12 is important because it helps your body turn carbs into the glucose your body uses to keep you alert and active instead of fatigued and sluggish (B3 also has these energy boosting benefits). B12 may also help lift your brain fog and help your focus and memory.

Vitamin B6 is also being studied as another vitamin in the B family that may boost your alertness, and preliminary studies show it may help prevent the decline in our cognitive function as we age.

Your body also uses B vitamins in its production of new healthy cells and red blood cells, and they are critical to how well your immune system, cardiovascular system and nervous system function.

If boosting your Bs for energy doesn't seem to get you back on your toes, consider iron and magnesium supplements -- an iron deficiency (and iron-deficient anemia) can leave you feeling tired, with trouble concentrating, and magnesium, like those B vitamins, is needed in the process of converting food into energy.

Lots More Information

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More Great Links

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