Energy.  It is something that most of us want more of. Fatigue and tiredness are complaints that many of my patients experience.  This sense of tiredness is often unexplained and is not necessarily connected to other health disorders.

So what is energy – that elusive thing that is hard for us to define or measure?

In real terms every cell needs to create energy for it to carry out its tasks.  Energy is derived from the foods we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. The word ‘energy’ is also used to describe what naturopaths call the ‘vital force’ which may also be known as the etheric, the spirit or life force. Other cultures call this energy by different names – chi or qi in Asia and prana in India.  It all means the same thing and represents the force that animates living things and gives us ‘life’.  When an organism dies it is the vital force that dies and the physical body is left over.  Without the life force, the physical body cannot function and the physical matter will decay.  The life force is more than chemical energy available to cells. It is a subtle flow of energy that is difficult to measure, but people often have a subjective view on it. This is often the energy that is low when patients complain of tiredness, fatigue and apathy. The life force can be affected by moods, sleep, stress and diet.  Many people find that spiritual practices enliven the spirit and increase energy in the body. Practices such as Qi Gong, Tai Chi and Yoga all work with the breath and subtle body energies and improve wellness and vitality.

Living organisms need food, air, water and various enzymes to help produce energy in their cells. The quality of a person’s diet will contribute to the available resources for the production of energy.  Both carbohydrates and fats can be used as fuel to make energy. Proteins, minerals and vitamins in the diet also make an important contribution to energy in the body.

One of the functions of proteins and vitamins is to help make enzymes to produce energy. Enzymes are molecules that can help produce a reaction in the body. For example the B vitamin, niacin, is part of a coenzyme that helps produce the energy unit of cells called ATP. Without this co-enzyme very little ATP would be produced and the organism would be low in energy. Also the nutrient, Co-enzyme Q10, is important for cellular energy and can be made in the body. But as we age our ability to make it is lowered.  Supplements of these vital nutrients (such as B vitamins & antioxidants) can be used to enhance our energy.  There are many herbs that have been traditionally used as energy tonics.  Some of these such as Siberian Ginseng and Rhodiola have been well studied and shown to enhance energy efficiency and stamina.  An individually designed programme utilising nutrition and herbal medicine can really improve energy and wellbeing.

Of course, to have good energy flowing through our body, both from a physical sense and a more subtle sense, we need to address physical needs but also emotional and spiritual needs. When we attend to our lives in a balanced and holistic manner, we should have abundant energy. Whereas when we are busy, rushing around doing too much, our bodies and minds get tired.  Mental and emotional fatigue often lead to physical fatigue. Obviously physical fatigue can be a sign or symptom of other health problems.  Failure to get adequate or quality sleep will also contribute to fatigue, tiredness and mood problems.  Conditions such as cancer, thyroid imbalance, adrenal exhaustion, anaemia and compromised immunity can all present with fatigue.  A thorough health assessment should be able to determine the causes of fatigue and tiredness. An increase in energy is often one of the first things to improve when people commence holistic treatments to address the underlying cause of fatigue.

As always, if we do all the right things our bodies will provide us with wellness and vitality. Energy comes from a healthy, whole food diet, regular exercise and a good balance lifestyle with plenty of time to cultivate peace of mind.