The 8 Best Herbs To Restore Your Energy + Overcome Fatigue

The 8 Best Herbs To Restore Your Energy + Overcome Fatigue Dr. Will Cole

We all get rundown from time to time. But chronic fatigue that doesn’t go away, although common, isn’t normal. In fact, chronic fatigue syndrome affects an estimated 1 million Americans. And that doesn’t even take into consideration sleep disorders and those living with undiagnosed fatigue.

In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, it is my job to help people thrive, not just survive their day-to-day. Thankfully, there are many ways you can restore your energy levels naturally, including herbal medicines. So let’s dive deeper into the mechanisms behind fatigue and why herbs might be your best course of action to boost your energy levels without having to chug yet another cup of coffee!

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Reasons for low energy

Chronic fatigue can have roots in a variety of health problems, including:

  • Thyroid problems
  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Insulin resistance
  • Chronic viral infections
  • Medications
  • Nutrient deficiencies

So even though you might be used to feeling tired all the time, I can’t stress enough that this constant fatigue is not normal! In fact, it’s typically one of the first signs that you are dealing with something underneath the surface. 

Why herbs are better than caffeinated drinks

Did you know that the FDA considers caffeine a food and a drug? The reason behind this has to do with how it interacts with your adenosine receptors in your brain. By attaching itself to adenosine receptors, caffeine prevents adenosine - the neurochemical famous for making you sleepy (1) - from doing its job. The result? You feel more awake and alert. 

While this is good in theory, it’s not so great for a specific group of people depending on your DNA; more specifically, your CYP1A2 gene that determines how quickly you metabolize caffeine.

Every person inherits two copies of CYP1A2 - one from your mom and one from your dad. If you have two fast variants of the gene you are a fast metabolizer but if you have two slow variants, you are a slow metabolizer. This can make you more prone (2) to anxiety and jitters and increase your risk of heart palpitations, headaches, and panic attacks. 

Caffeine also has its downsides if you struggle with adrenal fatigue or other hormone imbalances as it can alter an already out-of-whack cortisol rhythm.

Herbs for energy on the other hand don’t have the same type of downsides as caffeine. Not only are they typically safe for most people, they are able to provide a boost of energy without all the jitters while also facilitating proper cortisol function to help overcome adrenal fatigue.

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The best herbs for energy

My patients often tell me that, “what herb gives you more energy?” and “what herbs help fatigue?” are common questions in their Google searches. They want to get away from chugging coffee all day long and actually restore their energy levels naturally without the jitters and other side effects.

Instead of using coffee and other substances as a bandaid, these herbs for energy actually help you address the underlying reason behind your chronic fatigue. In fact, most of these herbs are considered adaptogens - a family of plants and herbs that have a balancing effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-endocrine axis which influences multiple pathways in your body involved with fatigue.

1. Ginseng

Ginseng varieties - including Asian White, Asian Red, and American White - have been used for years as a clean energy boost. Researchers believe it has to do with ginseng’s polysaccharide content which works to increase (3) cellular energy production.

2. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha’s energy boosting benefits comes from its ability to balance cortisol and support the brain-adrenal (HPA) axis. In people with adrenal fatigue, cortisol is high when it should be low and low when it should be high, leading to trouble sleeping, difficulty waking, and the dreaded afternoon slump. That's why it's one of the main ingredients in my supplement The Brain-Adrenal Balancer, designed to help you cope with stress and restore your energy levels.

3. Maca

The maca plant is a type of cruciferous vegetable found natively in the Peruvian Andes mountain range. It is available in three different varieties: red, yellow, and black, each boasting slightly different health benefits. Red is the sweetest but most mild tasting. Yellow is the least sweet, and black is right in the middle. 

One of maca’s biggest claims to fame is its ability to help support energy levels without leaving you feeling jittery. Studies have shown that red maca has the best (4) energy boosting capabilities. 

4. Holy basil

Also known as tulsi, this adaptogenic herb is well known for its ability to help your body cope with stress while boosting cognitive function. Because of its balancing (5) effect on inflammation, hormones, and brain health, I made sure to include it as one of the main ingredients in my oceanic adaptogen blend with Agent Nateur, holi ( y o u t h ).

5. Rhodiola

Rhodiola is a superstar adaptogen for calming and rebalancing your body’s stress response. Not only is rhodiola able to lower your cortisol levels - your body’s stress hormone - it has also been shown (6) to increase your energy levels, stamina, and boost mental clarity. In fact, rhodiola’s benefits are so powerful, it has been widely used in Europe as a tool to help people overcome fatigue to increase work performance and endurance.

6. Peppermint

Aromatherapy is one way to harness the energy boosting capabilities of peppermint with studies showing that those who smelled peppermint essential oil had increased (7) cognitive function and better overall moods. Sipping a cup of peppermint tea can also be one way to boost your energy levels and avoid the midday slump.

7. Cordyceps

Although this is technically a mushroom and not an herb, cordyceps’ ability to alleviate fatigue can’t be ignored. Not only can cordyceps rebalance stress hormones to overcome adrenal fatigue, one study found that supplementing with cordyceps helped people improve (8) their workout stamina after just 3 weeks!

9. Schisandra

This berry is widely used for its adaptogenic properties in relieving stress and balancing cortisol levels. While more studies need to be done, initial research has found (9) a link between improved endurance and energy levels and schisandra supplementation

Other best practices to increase energy

If you are like most people you are asking yourself, “what can I take naturally for energy?” While these herbs for energy can give you a boost, there are many other tools you can incorporate into your daily life to help overcome fatigue once-and-for-all. These are some of my go-to recommendations.

1. Rehab your sleep

If you aren’t sleeping well, you aren’t laying the proper foundation for healthy energy during the day. Work towards cultivating a nighttime routine that allows your mind and body to calm down and ready itself for sleep. Turning off electronics 2 hours before bed, sleeping with a weighted blanket, magnesium supplements, and meditation, are all things you can do to help facilitate a night of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep.

2. Assess your diet

Everything from nutrient deficiencies to not eating enough calories or the right macronutrient ratio of fat, protein, and carbohydrates can contribute to feelings of fatigue and sluggishness. 

3. Focus on cellular health

Your cells are the building blocks of your entire health. If your cells aren’t healthy, you are likely tired and struggling with health problems. Focusing on increasing cellular energy production is one way to overcome fatigue. You can do this by supplementing with L-arginine, alpha lipoic acid (ALA), and CoQ10 that all help to boost your mitochondria and the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) - your cell’s high-energy fuel.

Seeking help from a functional medicine expert

There are so many reasons why you might be struggling with chronic fatigue. But in order to overcome it and boost your energy levels long-term, you first have to identify the root cause of your fatigue. Whether that is an underlying hormone imbalance, nutrient deficiency, or something else, in my telehealth functional medicine clinic we specialize in helping you sustainably restore your energy based on your individual health case.

If you want to learn more about how we can help you with functional medicine, check out our telehealth consultation.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.

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References:

  1. Bjorness, Theresa E, and Robert W Greene. “Adenosine and sleep.” Current neuropharmacology vol. 7,3 (2009): 238-45. doi:10.2174/157015909789152182
  2. Winston, A., Hardwick, E., & Jaberi, N. (2005). Neuropsychiatric effects of caffeine. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(6), 432-439. doi:10.1192/apt.11.6.432
  3. Wang, Jia et al. “Anti-fatigue activity of the water-soluble polysaccharides isolated from Panax ginseng C. A. Meyer.” Journal of ethnopharmacology vol. 130,2 (2010): 421-3. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2010.05.027
  4. Gonzales-Arimborgo, Carla et al. “Acceptability, Safety, and Efficacy of Oral Administration of Extracts of Black or Red Maca (Lepidium meyenii) in Adult Human Subjects: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study.” Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 9,3 49. 18 Aug. 2016, doi:10.3390/ph9030049
  5. Jamshidi, Negar, and Marc M Cohen. “The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2017 (2017): 9217567. doi:10.1155/2017/9217567
  6. "Rhodiola" National Center For Complementary and Integrative Medicine October 2020. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/rhodiola
  7. Moss, Mark et al. “Modulation of cognitive performance and mood by aromas of peppermint and ylang-ylang.” The International journal of neuroscience vol. 118,1 (2008): 59-77. doi:10.1080/00207450601042094
  8. Hirsch, Katie R et al. “Cordyceps militaris Improves Tolerance to High-Intensity Exercise After Acute and Chronic Supplementation.” Journal of dietary supplements vol. 14,1 (2017): 42-53. doi:10.1080/19390211.2016.1203386
  9. Kim, Young-Je et al. “Omija fruit extract improves endurance and energy metabolism by upregulating PGC-1α expression in the skeletal muscle of exercised rats.” Journal of medicinal food vol. 17,1 (2014): 28-35. doi:10.1089/jmf.2013.3071

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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.