Are you addicted to the caffeine in coffee and energy drinks?
Most of us in today’s fast paced world are dependent to some degree or another on caffeine and artificial energy stimulants, including sugar. While it’s true that research shows some benefits to caffeine, overuse is a real concern. Specifically, I have become increasingly alarmed by so-called energy drinks. With as much as 300 milligrams of caffeine per can, plus herbs like guarana and other stimulants, they definitely boost energy — for a while. But in the end, the body always seeks balance, and coming down from a sky high energy boost can easily drop you into a fatigue abyss.
A report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that the number of energy drink-related emergency room visits doubled from 10,000 to 20,000 between 2007 and 2011. While this is still a relatively small number, the increase is cause for concern. The report calls energy drinks “a rising health problem.”
At the milder end of the spectrum, energy drinks can cause high blood pressure, anxiety and feelings of panic. More extreme cases feature irregular heartbeats, seizures and even heart attacks. These symptoms aren’t really surprising, since one energy drink has the caffeine equivalent of up to five cups of coffee. And for people who have underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension or diabetes, the effects can be deadly.
Mixing alcohol into the equation makes matters worse. Stimulants reduce your perception of intoxication. As a result, people tend to drink more, leading to dangerous blood alcohol levels.
Understanding Personal Energy
You may want and need more energy, but do you really understand the biological systems that help maintain healthy vitality? In traditional Chinese medicine, the key to maintaining energy is called “kidney essence.” This roughly equates to the adrenal system, which governs hormone function. Hormones play an essential role in energy metabolism, blood sugar regulation, fat storage, cardiovascular function and the conversion of fat and protein into fuel.
The adrenal system represents the macro perspective. For a micro point of view, look to the mitochondria, structures that produce much of the energy cells need to function. Cells that require more energy, such as neurons and muscle cells, contain more mitochondria. These microscopic cellular machines make a big difference for overall energy.
The first step towards maintaining energy entails adopting a healthy diet. Think lean protein, sprouted whole grains, raw nuts, lots of vegetables and brightly colored fruit like berries, and lots of fresh, filtered water. Steer clear of processed foods and sugar: They can generate glucose spikes and crashes, while fueling inflammation and even damaging mitochondria.
Activity is also crucial. A number of studies have shown that exercise boosts overall energy levels. In fact, exercise can actually increase the number of mitochondria in cells.
And be sure to get enough sleep. While it may seem easier to find the next energy boost in a cup or a bottle, the old fashioned approach to energy is generally the best. Sleep does more than remedy mental fatigue; it allows the body the opportunity to repair and synchronizes its circadian rhythms for optimal vitality.
Natural Energy Supplements
Understanding how the body creates energy helps determine which supplements best suit those needs. Looking first at the adrenal system, I recommend Korean ginseng, the medicinal mushroom cordyceps and B vitamins. These botanicals will also increase sexual energy.
Next, look at mitochondria and healthy digestion. This could best be described as an energy pathway: When you eat a meal like lunch, the body extracts necessary raw materials from the food in the digestive tract and then the mitochondria convert these materials into cellular energy.
Poor digestion is like a neglected automobile engine that needs a tune-up: Fuel is being burned inefficiently. I recommend a formula containing digestive enzymes, nutrients, medicinal mushrooms and herbs to boost digestion. In addition, a number of supplements increase mitochondrial energy, including astragalus, Siberian ginseng, the medicinal mushrooms coriolus, shitake and maitake, and acetyl l-carnitine.
To support circulation, choose Salvia miltiorrhiza, nattokinase, hawthorn and gingko along with the medicinal mushrooms reishi and cordyceps.
Will these supplements produce the same rush as an energy drink or a double espresso? No, they won’t. However, the idea is to maintain constant, stable energy, rather than provoke peaks and crashes. Ultimately, healthy energy metabolism means we don’t need the extra stimulants to begin with. We simply allow our bodies to function efficiently.