In 1912, scientist Cashmir Funk coined the term vitamine when he designated a group of compounds vital to life. ‘Vita’ means life and ‘amine’ means contains nitrogen. It was originally thought all vitamins contained a nitrogen component known as ‘amine’, but when determined not to be the case, they dropped the finale ‘e’ to form the word we’re familiar with today.
Vitamins are either water-soluble (B-Vitamins and Vitamin C), or fat-soluble (Vitamins A, D, E, and K). Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed by fat globules that travel through the small intestines and into blood circulating throughout the body. They’re stored by the body when not in use. The body can’t store water-soluble vitamins because they dissolve quickly. Any excess is excreted in the urine.
The following three vitamins help improve your energy levels, especially if you’re deficient. While they do much more, below I’ll focus on how they affect your energy.
1. Vitamin B-12
Vitamin B-12 is one of eight B Vitamins that help the body convert food into glucose, which gives you energy. It also aids in the production of red blood cells, helping maintain energy levels. A low red blood cell count could indicate anemia in which fatigue and tiredness are the main symptoms.
Stomach acid is necessary to absorb B-12. If you take antacids or protein pump inhibitors that suppress acid production, you are more likely to have a deficiency. It’s also common for older adults to be deficient, because as we age we produce less stomach acid.
If you have the following symptoms, you may be deficient in Vitamin B-12:
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness and tingling of hands and feet
- Low blood pressure
- Mood disturbances
- Loss of Appetite
- Weight Loss
- Soreness of mouth and tongue
You can get B-12 from meat, fish, eggs, dairy, poultry and fortified breakfast cereals. If your doctor has told you that you have a B-12 deficiency they may suggest you take a supplement, or get B-12 injections.
FUN FACT: The human liver can store Vitamin B-12 for up to two years. That’s why vegans may not notice deficiency symptoms until they’ve depleted their stores.
2. Vitamin C
While Vitamin C itself may not boost energy levels, it’s necessary to help the body absorb iron. As I mentioned above, low iron levels lead to anemia, where fatigue and tiredness are the most common complaints. Adding more Vitamin C to your diet, or taking supplements may help you regain your energy levels if you suffer from anemia.
Vitamin C also helps make the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, those responsible for regulating mood. People that suffer from depression often have an imbalance in these neurotransmitters. One of the many symptoms of depression is fatigue and low energy. It may benefit you to improve your levels of Vitamin C in conjunction with your doctor’s recommendations.
The following symptoms may indicate your deficient in Vitamin C:
- Tiredness and Weakness
- Muscle and Joint pains
- Easy Bruising
- Poor healing of wounds
- Dry Skin
- Scurvy (if deficiency is chronic)
To improve your Vitamin C levels through diet, you can eat the following foods:
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
FUN FACT: Vitamin C may help boost your love life by triggering the release of the hormone oxytocin.
3. Vitamin D
The main source of Vitamin D is the sun. The sun’s UVB rays turn a chemical in your skin into Vitamin D3. D3 is then carried to your liver and kidneys where it’s activated.
Foods such as fish, oysters and shrimp provide some Vitamin D through your mitochondria. Mitochondria are tiny factories that churn out energy. They take in nutrients from food, break them down, and produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the source of energy. Vitamin D improves your mitochondria’s ability to generate ATP, thus helping boost your energy levels. Some foods are packed with Vitamin D, so be sure to eat as many of them as possible.
Inadequate exposure to sunlight, age, digestive issues, and not eating enough foods containing Vitamin D are the most common causes of deficiency.
You may be deficient in Vitamin D if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Weight gain
- Low bone density or fractures
- Fatigue and Weakness
- Low calcium levels
- Changes in mood
The best way to improve your levels of Vitamin D is to get out in the sun for ten minutes every day, or use a lightbox for thirty minutes daily. For more severe deficiencies you should have your Vitamin D levels checked. If low, your doctor might recommend supplements.
FUN FACT: Vitamin D is not truly a vitamin. It breaks the rules for vitamins because it’s produced in the human body, it’s absent from natural foods except seafood and eggs, and even when it’s obtained from foods, the body must activate it using enzymes in the liver and kidneys before it can be used.
You can find the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for each of these vitamins here. Before taking vitamin supplements, always be sure to have your vitamin levels checked. While rare, overdose is possible for some vitamins.