Imagine a simple nutritional protocol that not only boosts your metabolism but also your energy levels! It is one I prescribe in my clinic daily — and I want to share it with you.

Even if you are in good shape and in relatively good health, you probably don’t have the vitality that came so naturally when you were younger. Many of my patients also complain about putting on weight even when they still exercise and eat as much as they did when they were younger.

Many people are resigned to these changes, assuming that slowing down and fattening up are inevitable parts of aging. Not so! You can’t turn back the clock, but you can rev up your metabolism so it is closer to where it was when you were younger. In recent years, I have had great success prescribing “metabolism superchargers” — critical nutrients that revitalize the body’s energy production. My patients tell me that these substances give them more energy, and I have seen many patients of all ages lose excess pounds.

THE ENERGY THIEVES

Your basal metabolic rate is the speed at which your body burns calories while at rest. When it slows, as it usually does with age, you burn fewer calories. Result: Your energy level begins to flag… and you gain weight.

But what is “energy” to our bodies? Here’s a brief (I promise!) biology refresher to help you understand. Our physical strength, stamina and vigor originate within cell structures called mitochondria. Mitochondria generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a chemical that affects our metabolism and produces energy — both the fuel that cells need to do their work and the vitality we feel in our bodies. As we age, mitochondrial function gradually declines…as does the actual number of mitochondria.

One reason: The numerous toxins to which the body is exposed over the years — including environmental metals and other pollutants… radiation… alcohol… infections… hormone imbalances, such as hypothyroidism… inherited mitochondria mutations… some medications… and, in elite athletes, the stress caused by chronically overexercising — ultimately damage some mitochondria and interfere with replication of new mitochondria cells.

Decreased mitochondrial function also contributes to diseases. The mitochondria’s slowed ability to make ATP is often a common denominator of two conditions that involve extreme fatigue — chronic fatigue syndrome and some cases of fibromyalgia. (There are many possible causes of fibromyalgia — and a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that ATP production may be one of them.)

Chronic heart disease often follows decreased ATP production, and it appears that heart failure is caused by a lack of ATP production in the heart muscle cells. Other age-related conditions seem to cause decreased ATP production as well — these include ischemic heart disease (due to blocked arteries)… angina… arrhythmia… Alzheimer’s disease… Parkinson’s disease…and Huntington’s disease.

Be on the lookout for more mitochondria research in the future — the National Institutes of Health Division of Strategic Coordination recently designated “Functional Variations in Mitochondria” as one of six priority areas for funding in the next five years.

THE NATURAL WAY TO BOOST YOUR ENERGY

Considerable research demonstrates that certain natural nutrients, taken as supplements, can increase energy by directly increasing mitochondrial functioning and ATP production. In other words, they can supercharge your metabolism. Healthful foods do boost metabolism, but not enough to make a real difference in energy or weight to people who need help in those areas.

My suggestion: For three months, take all of the following nutrients daily (there is no one energy supplement that combines these nutrients in the amounts I recommend). All are available at many drug stores and better yet most health-food stores. Then assess whether your energy has increased and whether it feels as if your weight has become easier to control with appropriate food choices and exercise. I find that most people experience an energy boost (if you don’t experience this, stop taking the supplements), and about 75% of patients find that this regimen helps with weight control. If you are pleased with your increased energy, you can continue to take these supplements indefinitely — as I do.

  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This nutrient is found in every cell in the body and is required for ATP production. It is a potent antioxidant, helping to protect mitochondria from damage. Researchers at the Southeastern Institute of Biomedical Research in Bradenton, Florida, examined 20 women with chronic fatigue syndrome who became so exhausted after even mild exercise that they required bed rest. Testing revealed that 80% of them were deficient in CoQ10. After three months of taking 100 milligrams (mg) of CoQ10 daily, they were able to exercise for twice as long, and 90% of them showed fewer symptoms of fatigue — or none at all. The generally recommended dosage is 100 mg once daily with a meal. For people with severe fatigue — those who have trouble carrying out daily activities — I advise taking 100 mg two or three times each day with meals. Continue the higher dosage for a few months. When your energy level improves, try to cut back to 100 mg daily. CoQ10 is a mild blood thinner so if you are on blood-thinning medication, it is particularly important to consult your doctor before taking this supplement.
  • L-carnitine. This chemical derived from the amino acids lysine and methionine exists in most cells and serves a dual purpose — it transports long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria to be used as fuel… and removes waste products such as lactic acid and ammonia. I was particularly impressed by the results of a study at the University of Catania, Italy, on the beneficial effects of L-carnitine. For the study, 66 centenarians were divided into two groups. For six months, one group took 2 grams (g) of L-carnitine once a day and the other took a placebo. The study authors concluded that the L-carnitine helped to reduce body fat… increase muscle mass… increase the capacity for physical activity… minimize fatigue… and improve cognitive functions, such as mathematic ability, memory and orientation (an awareness of one’s environment with reference to time, place, and people). My recommended dosage is 1,500 mg twice daily. Side effects are uncommon, but can include digestive upset — in which case, take it with food or reduce your dose slightly.
  • Resveratrol. Recently publicized as the “healthful” component of red wine in animal studies, this potent antioxidant has been shown to help increase the number of mitochondria in muscles and other tissues and to reduce fat deposits in the body. Resveratrol activates the SIRT1 gene, which promotes longevity, and also contributes to better glucose and insulin control in men with type 2 diabetes (which leads to better energy and weight control). In my practice, I am also finding that resveratrol helps with metabolism in general. My colleague, Carrie Louise Daenell, ND, in Denver, works extensively with fatigue and weight issues. She has her patients take all the nutrients discussed here and says that 75% of her patients improve in energy and weight — but, she adds, it is resveratrol that seems to give the greatest benefits for weight control. My recommended resveratrol dosage for adults to improve metabolism and weight control is 125 mg daily. It is generally well tolerated, though occasionally people experience nausea or loose stool — in which case take with food or start with a lower dose and build up over time.
  • D-ribose. This is a type of sugar found in all the body’s cells. It helps to restore energy by prompting the mitochondria to recycle ATP that has broken down… and it acts as another fuel source besides glucose, especially in the muscles and in particular the heart. In a study at The Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers in Dallas, patients with either fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome were given 5 g of d-ribose three times daily for between 15 and 35 days. Patients had few side effects, and 66% showed significant improvement in energy, sleep, mental clarity, pain intensity and overall well-being. My recommended dosage of d-ribose for the average person is 5 g twice daily. If you feel light-headed after taking d-ribose, take it with meals. Although d-ribose is a type of sugar, it is safe for people with type 2 diabetes.

You aren’t likely to hear much talk about mitochondrial dysfunction from practicing physicians in the conventional Western medical community. That’s because researchers are just beginning to demonstrate that it is very common and plays an important role in our metabolism, energy levels and weight. Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, new research is on the horizon. The recommendations you read here are well ahead of the curve, but you can adapt them into your life now. These, plus a healthful diet and regular exercise, should enable you to enjoy vibrant energy, a greater zest for life — and more happiness!