Can B-Complex Vitamins Boost Your Energy?

Vitamin B12 pills
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If you feel tired regularly, you may consider taking a vitamin B complex in an effort to increase your energy. The question is whether this works or if you're wasting your time and money.

Finding the best answer for you begins with understanding the connection between B vitamins and energy. It also helps to know who may benefit most from a B complex, as well as a few natural ways to increase your energy beyond taking a supplement.

The B Vitamins

The B vitamins help your body convert the foods you eat into energy. They serve other purposes, as well, such as helping to form red blood cells which can help with clotting. There are eight B vitamins in total:

These can be found in a variety of foods, namely meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. You can also increase your intake by eating legumes, leafy greens, seeds, and food sources that are labeled as enriched or fortified.

Some people want to boost their B intake by taking a supplement, the hope being that it will make them feel more energetic. But the question is: Does this work?

Does a B Complex Help With Energy?

While it's true that your body needs B complex vitamins to produce energy from the foods you eat—not only to help power your muscles, but also for brain and nerve function—getting these vitamins in supplemental form is different than consuming them in food.

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements stresses that "supplements can't take the place of the variety of foods that are important to a healthy diet." So, energy should ultimately come from the foods you eat, most notably carbohydrates and, to a lesser degree, proteins and fats.

B complex vitamins only serve as a catalyst to convert these calories into energy, much in the same way that a match ignites the fuel in charcoal. More "matches" cannot create more energy if there is not enough fuel to burn in the first place.

Plus, once the body has all of the B vitamins that it needs for the day, the rest will be excreted in the urine since they are water-soluble. While they are stored in muscle to some extent, they aren't stored as readily as fat-soluble vitamins.

That's not to say that vitamin supplements won't make you feel better in some cases. If you have been diagnosed with pernicious anemia, for example (the type caused by vitamin B12 deficiency), an injected or oral dose of vitamin B-12 can help improve your red blood cell count and alleviate symptoms of fatigue. This is also true for those people who have had gastric surgeries, such as resections or bypass surgery.

One study found that taking a pre-workout supplement containing B vitamins may increase energy and reduce fatigue. But this supplement also contained caffeine, amino acids, creatine, and beta-alanine. So, it's hard to say what role the B vitamins played in the higher energy levels.

B Vitamins and Energy Drinks

Even though energy drink manufacturers often boast about the high content of B vitamins in their products, these nutrients aren't necessarily what boosts your energy. Usually, the increase in energy comes from the drink's caffeine.

Well-known brands of energy drinks contain anywhere from 71 milligrams of caffeine per can to as much as 242 milligrams. By comparison, four single espressos deliver 252 milligrams of caffeine, and few people ever dream of drinking that much in one sitting.

If you experience a boost of energy after drinking an energy drink, take a look at the product label. More likely than not, you'll find caffeine as one of the main ingredients.

Who Should Take a B Complex?

If you eat a reasonably balanced diet, you're probably getting all of the B vitamins you need. But there are also some people who might benefit from taking a B complex.

People Deficient in B Vitamins

Dietary deficiencies are relatively uncommon in the United States and, in the case of B vitamins, it can take weeks of deficiency before symptoms appear. However, some eating patterns can increase the risk of vitamin B deficiencies, such as a vegetarian diet, and deficiencies can also occur if food is scarce due to poverty.

If you believe that you may be deficient in B vitamins, your doctor can do a blood test. If a deficiency is diagnosed, a B complex supplement may be suggested to help correct this deficiency and boost your energy.

People With Certain Medical Conditions

If you have been diagnosed with pernicious anemia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or an autoimmune disease such as hypothyroidism or Grave's disease, you may benefit from taking a B complex. Your doctor can help you decide if this will help increase your energy levels.

People Taking Some Medications

Some anti-rheumatics, anticonvulsants, and sulfa drugs may interfere with the absorption of a few of the B vitamins (as can alcohol). So, if you are taking of these medications, your doctor may recommend a B complex to increase your levels.

People Who Are Pregnant

The B vitamins are especially important during pregnancy, supporting the mother's health and strength as the baby grows. Prenatal vitamins typically contain a number of the B vitamins, though they are meant to support a healthy diet and not replace it. Folic acid must be taken pre-pregnancy and during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects.

Ways to Boost Your Energy Naturally

If you want to boost your energy, you can do this naturally a few different ways.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Before turning to supplements, ensure that you are eating plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats (such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and monounsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil). Choose protein sources such as lean beef and pork, skinless chicken and turkey, and vegetarian proteins like dried beans and soy products.

Give Your Body Food (Energy) Regularly

Inconsistent meal patterns and prolonging hunger can cause your blood glucose to careen like a rollercoaster. Prolonging hunger can also cause a stronger desire for more calorie-rich foods. Eating consistently throughout the day can help prevent the lows that invariably accompany the transient highs in energy levels.

Increase Your Physical Activity

Regular exercise can also increase energy levels while stimulating the production of endorphins, improving your sense of well-being. Go for walks. Lift some weights. Move around more and you will likely notice that you have more energy.

Change Your Lifestyle

Poor sleep patterns and high stress levels can both zap your energy. Making lifestyle changes can help correct both of these issues. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time every morning, and engage in activities you love to reduce your stress levels.

When to See a Doctor for Low Energy Levels

If malaise and fatigue persist despite your best efforts, speak with your doctor to determine if an undiagnosed health condition may be to blame.​ They can run tests to determine the cause of your low energy levels.

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