Mental and physical fatigue can really affect our productivity throughout the day, so it can be tempting to reach for a quick cup of coffee to perk us back up. Unfortunately, unless we help our body correct the imbalance which is causing us the fatigue, it won’t be long before brain fog, an inability to concentrate and general feelings of fatigue have us reaching for that next cup of coffee. There are, however, some herbs and nutrients that may help fight fatigue, both mental and physical.
Reach for some Rhodiola
This herb seems to have a long history of use – it is thought that the Vikings used it to improve their physical strength and has been mentioned by Dioscorides as far back as the first century AD. Rhodiola is most commonly used as an adaptogen, helping the body adapt to and cope with stressors and it has been shown it to have some benefit in combating fatigue, both physical and mental. One study showed improvement in mental fatigue and function after just a single dose of Rhodiola extract. In this instance, the effect lasted for four hours after taking the extract.³ Regular use has also shown benefit in the management of fatigue and mental function.
One particular study was conducted to assess the effect that treatment with Rhodiola rosea extract would have on symptoms of burnout. These include reduced work performance, lack of concentration, negativity, especially toward work and physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach upset.⁴ In this study, men and women between the ages of 30 and 60 years, with similar stress exposure were given 200mg of a Rhodiola extract twice daily for 12 weeks and they were then assessed for severity of symptoms and impact of these symptoms on life.⁵ All items tested showed significant improvement and results were evident as soon as one week after commencing treatment.⁵
Rhodiola could be a great option for those needing a boost during the day, and can be taken longer term for more lasting effects.
Awaken the Mind with Astaxanthin
This carotenoid gives salmon and krill their colour. It’s also in flamingo and quail feathers, giving them a lovely shade of pink. Astaxanthin is a very potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and can be helpful in improving circulation. Further, it can also be helpful in reducing fatigue, as became evident in a study conducted over the course of 12 weeks. A group of 39 people were assigned to either the group receiving an astaxanthin supplement or the placebo group. At the end of the study, the sense of physical and mental fatigue after performing corresponding tasks were significantly lower in the astaxanthin group.⁷
A 2018 study obtained a similar result when combining astaxanthin with sesamin, a compound found in sesame seeds. Patients who received the supplement recovered significantly better from mental fatigue than those receiving placebo.⁸ Keep Astaxanthin in mind next time you feel like you might be reaching for the coffee a little too much and shake that tail feather!
Tackle Fatigue with Theobroma cacao
Good news for chocolate lovers! Theobroma cacao, i.e. cacao, contains polyphenols which have shown promising results in reducing mental fatigue. In a study conducted in Melbourne, 40 participants were allocated into either a treatment group or a placebo group. The treatment group received a Theobroma cacao supplement standardized to contain 250mg polyphenols and 5.56mg caffeine, while the placebo group received a placebo tablet. The study ran for 30 days and subjects were assessed for mental fatigue and cognitive function. Results showed that the group taking the Theobroma supplement had reduced mental fatigue compared to those in the placebo group.⁹ Of course, it is questionable whether you would get therapeutic amounts of active constituents from chocolate confectionary. If you are hoping to get some benefit from eating chocolate, try having the kind that contains a minimum of 75% cocoa solids.
Get a Boost with Green Tea
Green tea is a popular beverage, particularly in Asian countries, where it has been consumed for centuries. It contains phenolic compounds, which give it many of its health properties, including the supposed ability to help improve mental fatigue. A study was conducted to investigate whether this is, in fact, a health benefit of green tea. Participants were asked to perform some fatigue inducing computer work for two hours and then they were split into two groups. One group received green tea and the other water. On the second day, the group that had previously gotten the water, now got green tea after computer work and vice versa. Results showed that in patients drinking the green tea, attentiveness was improved and fatigue was reduced.¹⁰ Next time you’re considering going for the 4th or 5th coffee for the day, why not consider having a green tea instead?
Lift Your Energy Levels with L-carnitine
You may have seen L-carnitine used in sports formulas, and that is because it was thought that it could help to enhance exercise performance. This was based on the fact that carnitine helps to transport fat across cell membranes in muscle tissue and it can facilitate energy production. However, while this is in fact a function of carnitine, the jury is still out on its use in energy enhancement. What there are studies for though, is the use of L-carnitine to help reduce fatigue. In one study, elderly patients suffering from fatigue were given either an L-carnitine supplement or a placebo supplement daily for 180 days. The patients receiving the L-carnitine showed a significant improvement in both physical and mental fatigue, as well as in their ability to partake in daily activities.¹²
In another clinical trial, 70 people between the ages of 100 and 106 were given either L-carnitine or a placebo supplement daily for six months. Those in the L-carnitine group showed a significant improvement in the ability to partake in daily activities, mental fatigue and physical fatigue. An improvement in cognitive function was also observed.¹³
Fatigue can really put a damper on your day, but there are things you can do to help – Go for an energizing walk, take a break and have a stretch, take some deep breaths, hydrate! Or, if it’s been a while since you’ve eaten, have a nutritious energy boosting snack. If none of those quite cut it, supplements are available that may help. Please speak to your doctor or other healthcare professional if you are concerned about your level of or the cause of your fatigue. Also always speak to your doctor before starting on a new supplements.
Vitamin supplements should not replace a balanced diet. If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional.
3. Panossian et al 2010, in Braun, L. & Cohen, M. 2015, “Herbs and Natural Supplements – 4th Edition, Chapter: Rhodiola”, pp. 834 – 843, Churchill Livingstone, Chatswood NSW, Australia.
4. Weber, A & Jackle-Reinhardt, A 2000 and Schaufeli,W & Enzmann, D 1998 in Kasper, S & Dienel, A 2017, “Multicentre, open-label, exploratory clinical trial with Rhodiola rosea extract in patients suffering from burnout symptoms”, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Vol. 13, pp. 889-898.
5. Kasper, S & Dienel, A 2017, “Multicentre, open-label, exploratory clinical trial with Rhodiola rosea extract in patients suffering from burnout symptoms”, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Vol. 13, pp. 889-898.
7. Hongo, N. et al, 2017, “Daily Fatigue-reducing effect of Astaxanthin – A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, parallel-group study”, PierOnline, Vol. 45(1), pp. 61-72. [Abstract].
8. Imai, A; Oda, Y; Ito, N; Seki, S et al. 2018, “Effects of Dietary Supplementation of Astaxanthin and Sesamin on Daily Fatigue: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, two-way crossover study”, Nutrients, Vol. 10(3), pp. 281.
9. Massee LA; Pase M et al. 2015, “The acute and sub-chronic effects of cocoa flavonols on mood, cognitive and cardiovascular health in young healthy adults: a randomized, controlled trial”, Front Pharmacol, Vol. 6(93), cited on 18/09/2018, http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/525/071531-525.html?ts=1537167617&signature=9ee9a5041000373e276cbc0b8ca9e3a2&ts=1537226594&signature=08b768a52dac3428a5bdb9cb91eabf5d
10. Eri, W; Kuchta, K; Rauwald, HW; Kamel, T; Imanishi J 2013, “On the fatigue reducing effects of Japanese green tea (Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze) from Uji”, Planta Medica, Vol. 79 [Abstract], cited on 18/9/18, https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-0033-1352372
12. Rampello, L. 2006, “L-carnitine reduces severity of physical and mental fatigue and improves daily activities in the elderly”, Southern Medical Journal, Vol. 99(3), p. 315.
13. Malaguarnera, M; Cammalleri, L; Gargante, MP; Vacante, M et al. 2007, “L-carnitine treatment reduces severity of physical and mental fatigue and increases cognitive functions in centenarians: a randomized and controlled clinical trial”, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 86(6), pp. 1738-1744.