Revving Up

Catuaba, an herb from the Amazonian rainforest, has energizing properties.

November/December 2013

by Lisa James


By any measure, Americans are a tired bunch. In one poll, 70% hadn’t gotten enough rest every day for a month; in another, 60% admitted to driving while drowsy. And one study found that fatigued workers racked up more than $136 billion in lost productivity costs annually.

People can feel perpetually tired for a number of reasons; one of the most insidious is the decline in cellular energy production often associated with age. But there are herbs, including South America’s catuaba, that have shown promise in bringing a rundown power plant back on line.

Cellular Bombardment

Nearly every cell in the body contains tiny generating stations called mitochondria that bring together fuel taken from food with oxygen to produce energy. But there’s a catch: The very activity by which power is created results in the formation of free radicals, unstable oxygen byproducts that fly out of control. These rogue molecules can degrade mitochondria and impair energy production.

The body counteracts oxidation with antioxidants, substances that mop up free radicals before they have a chance to do their dirty work. However increasing age, among other factors, can reduce the body’s antioxidant capacity. In fact, many scientists believe mitochondrial damage plays a key role in the aging process.

Power Plant Defense

That doesn’t mean you need to simply accept dwindling vigor as a natural, and irreversible, function of age. The idea is to give the body the cellular fuel it needs to fight free radicals and resume high-level energy production.

Among the strongest defenders of the body’s energy-creation capacity are the medicinal herbs that healers around the world have used for centuries. One of them is catuaba, a small tree that grows in northern Brazil and is used by indigenous tribes as an aphrodisiac. Catuaba has been adopted by European herbalists who employ it for not only sexual difficulties but also nervous debility and exhaustion.

Modern research has confirmed these usages as well as catuaba’s ability to boost immunity. What’s more, catuaba may also protect the brain against free radical attack (Neurochemical Research 12/12).

Other herbs also promote higher energy levels. Eleuthero, American ginseng and rhodiola are all adaptogens, substances that fight the effects of physical and mental stress. Seen as tonics, or herbs that benefit the entire body, adaptogens promote a healthy immune response. Some herbs, such as guarana and green coffee bean extract, supply caffeine, which heightens alertness. L-theanine, a substance found in green tea, improves mental focus while providing a sense of calm.

Oxidation fighters are found in fresh produce, especially such colorful fruits as wild blueberries and tart cherries as well as the seeds from grapes and raspberries. These plants provide a wide range of antioxidants that can handle the variety of free radicals generated throughout the body. Other plants, such as turmeric and açai, help cool off inflammation.

Eating plenty of produce is crucial, but it helps to supply the body with extra plant phytonutrients in supplement form. It also doesn’t hurt to supplement with the B vitamins, known as “the energy vitamins” for their role in fostering energy production—especially since aging reduces the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B.

Looking to put more pep in your step? Catuaba, along with its plant cousins, may help boost your energy levels.

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