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Energy Making and B Vitamins

Updated: Mar 18, 2021


We need energy to stay alive, grow and maintain our body. Our energy needs vary and are dependent on age, sex, activity level and state of health. Energy expenditure is the sum of the minimum energy you require at complete rest (basal metabolic rate, BMR) multiplied by a physical activity level factor (PAL) = amount of calories (kcal) you need per day. A standard adult with moderate activity would average at 1940kcal for women and around 2550kcal a day for men. If you wish you can work out your required calories you can visit: www.thecalculatorsite.com or https://www.calculator.net/calorie-calculator.html.

Isn’t Health much more than Calorie Counting?

Whilst dietary intakes have fallen year on year, energy expenditure levels have fallen to a greater extent. It is estimated that only 35% men and 24% women meet their physical activity requirements, with the incidence of obesity rising within our nation. Some ideas of 30minutes of expenditure include: cleaning, 75kcal., walking, 100kcal., cycling 180kcal., running (10 min per mile) 300kcal.

Many people try to reduce weight by cutting calories and varying macronutrient percentages, such as low carbohydrate diets or keto-diets, rather than exercising regularly. Losses will happen quickly with reduced a calorie intake but this can also come at a cost through a reduced micronutrient intake - the things we need to actually affectively burn energy. The potential downsides of include: low energy levels, poor mood, low blood sugar, higher acidity production and muscle wasting. Really the key to maintaining a healthy weight is having regular exercise and eating a wholesome, ‘clean-eating’, plant-based diet with balanced macros rather than opting for one macro over another. Oh, and, B vitamins which vital to our energy levels - let’s look at why.

Energy comes from the macronutrient food groups: carbohydrate, fat and protein; single units being glucose, fatty-acids and amino-acids, respectively. Our body is designed to use glucose as our primary fuel source, with the brain being particularly reliant on a constant supply. Fat is burned for sustained energy; often deemed the bad guy but ‘good’ fats are vital and are a main source of energy for the kidneys and skeletal muscle. It should be noted that protein is primarily used to repair and maintain the body, make immune cells, hormones or enzymes; only in times of starvation will the body chose to metabolise proteins.

Our Biological Currency Humans have a symbiotic relationship with nature. Plants harness light energy and C02 to produce plant sugars known as carbohydrates; as humans we metabolise carbohydrates and use oxygen to produce energy in a process called cellular respiration.

In cellular respiration, glucose reacts with oxygen to produce our biological energy called ATP from the oxidation of food. ATP is our main carrier of chemical energy. ATP stands for Adenosine Triphosphate (whilst the name sounds complicated but just a description of its parts - a protein, a 5 carbon molecule and three phosphates). Energy is held in the phosphate bonds and when ATP becomes energised a phosphate breaks off releasing energy becoming ADP (two phosphates - di-phosphate). ADP is then free to pick up another phosphate bond and the bond broken once again and so on, creating a never ending cycle of energy production to pay our cellular bills.

The phosphate in ATP is made from phosphorus which is a common mineral (from the soil) found in grains and animal products. Reactions need a catalyst (something to make them react) and that happens to be magnesium; found in the centre of plant cells so green vegetables are an abundant supply of this vital mineral. It is easy to see, even at this point, the effect that low magnesium could have on our energy levels.

The Energy Making Process - The Science Part

Imagine you are a cell and have been given a tasty glucose molecule - you would want to be able to extract all of the contained energy possible. Energy metabolism is reliant on the B vitamin derivatives and why people take B vitamin supplements to reduce fatigue and boost their energy levels.

At our smallest molecular level all organic living cells (including the foods we eat) are made up of the elements carbon (C), oxygen (O), hydrogen (H) and in some cases nitrogen (N). The energy is extracted by chemical digestion which breaks the food down into carbon skeletons. Glucose (a single unit of carbohydrate) contains six carbon atoms, six oxygen atoms and twelve hydrogen atoms, each bonded to one another. When the bonds are broken they release energy; our body breaks bonds by using water (H2O) or removing carbon in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Cellular respiration is actually in three parts: Glycolysis (where we 'split sugar' and convert it for use), Kreb’s cycle (structural changes to extract energy) and Oxidative Phosphorylation/Electron Transfer Chain (where we make profit on our energy).

First the 6-carbon glucose is split into two three sugar molecules. This process can happen with or without oxygen; in the case of the latter this is the process of fermentation or the reason for sore muscles due to lactic acid build-up. The split sugar then enters the cells powerhouse called the mitochondria. A conversion must take place where the sugar molecule is transformed into a molecule called Acetyl-Co Enzyme A; Vitamin B5 derivative (Pantothenic Acid) is required for synthesis. Vitamin B5, like most of the other B vitamins, is found in: animal produce, organ meat, whole-grains and vegetables such as mushrooms or avocados.

For the chain to continue into the Kreb’s cycle, TPP, a derivative of Thiamine (Vitamin B1) is required. The Kreb’s cycle harvests the remainder of extractable energy from what began as a glucose molecule by eight further structural changes, with losses of carbon dioxide and water from the broken bonds. Whilst much energy is given off as heat when the hydrogen bonds are broken they are transported on carriers called NAD and FAD. These carriers temporarily store the released potential energy. Flavin Adenine Dinucleotide (FAD) is made from Vitamin B2 Riboflavin. The carrier Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD) is made from from Niacin, Vitamin B3. Reduced nutritional intake can translate into reduce numbers of these energy transporters and therefore energy. Luckily, Riboflavin and Niacin are found in a variety of sources including whole-grains, fish, poultry, organ meat and dairy.One further of the uses of NAD is to protect cells from damage (oxidative stress) and another reason why the B Vitamin family is vital to our health and we often need more in times of stress.

In the fourth and final stage the carriers take hydrogen elements to the cell membrane of the mitochondria and pass through four protein complexes. Complex 1 and 2 are made out of vitamin B3 and B6 derivatives, Complex III contains iron and sulphur while Complex IV needs copper (the copper holds the oxygen in place when accepting hydrogen). Animal foods and legumes contain iron while copper is found in nuts, seeds or liver. Including these foods in our diet is therefore beneficial to energy production, and, again, a great example of why poor nutrition zaps our energy levels and alertness.

At the end of the chain the hydrogen is accepted by oxygen. The combination of hydrogen and oxygen creates water. This next part is a genius design! If oxygen was not at the end of the chain to accept the hydrogen we would literally combust (create cellular damage through oxidation) as a build up of hydrogen (H2) is reactive and acidic. And, if you have read my blog on antioxidants you will know that oxygen (O2) is also reactive. So, instead the body joins them together to produce a safe and hydrating substance (H20) - quite amazing.

But what about energy? At this point we are using the remains of the glucose molecule to create squeeze out every last drop of potential energy. The Electron Transport Chain is the process of gaining energy by transporting electrons (you need to think back to Chemistry lessons in school now)... Hydrogen is an atom. Atoms contain negatively charged electrons and positively charged protons. Electrons are passed through the protein complexes giving off energy which is captured. This energy is used to pump the protons into the membrane. The accumulation of protons creates a gradient where there are more positives inside the membrane causing them to diffuse out again to gain equilibrium. When they exit out of the membrane they pass through the enzyme ATP synthase creating a turbine effect; this enzyme adds a phosphate molecule to ADP molecules to once again form ATP.

This whole process can make anything up to 38 molecules of energy from just one glucose molecule, depending on our nutrient status. Not only has the body created an intricate system to make energy but it makes a profit from every last drop of potential energy. The body can also used fats and in times of starvation use proteins to make energy. Fats and proteins must be first transformed before they enter the Kreb’s cycle by a process known as beta-oxidation and oxidative deamination, respectively but the the process is the same. Between meals cardiac muscle cells meet around 60-90% of their ATP requirements through oxidising fatty acids, yet we often view fat negatively. Beta-oxidation requires Vitamin B7 (biotin), B9 (folate) and B12. B7, B9 and B12 are synthesised in our gut and so you can imagine absorption levels will vary depending on the health of our gut; those with digestive disorders may require a higher nutrient levels than those that are healthy. If you are very tired, older in years or even follow a vegan diet you may be lacking in B12. As B12 is synthesised by bacteria and found in animal foods, it can be difficult to obtain the required levels in poorly planned vegan diets; fortified foods can be a way round this however. It advisable to speak with your doctor and ask your levels to be checked if you feel your levels may be low.

B vitamins generally are found in meats (ideally aim for organic grass-fed), fish, eggs, legumes and pseudo-grains such as quinoa and buckwheat. If you want to increase the other nutrients mentioned in this article you can easily do so by doing a google search for ‘foods with the highest percentage of said nutrient’ and start including them in your diet.


B vitamin are water soluble, meaning excess can be removed via urine from the body and therefore supplementation is considered safe when taken as advised.Stress can deplete the B vitamin family and if you are fatigued B vitamins are worth a try. I avoid synthetic nutrients as a rule but I love Cytoplan’s Organic B Vitamins which are made from citrus, mango and guavas! A great natural source. If you order from the Leaf Retreat you can get 10% off, simply drop us a message for your code. You can view the product here: https://www.cytoplan.co.uk/organic-vitamin-b-complex

If you supplement and your urine turns a fluorescent colour don’t panic, this is simply unused B2 and/or B12. I don't recommend readily supplementing other single nutrients mentioned as nutrients should be in balance; excessive supplementation in a particular nutrient can lead to a deficiency in another. It is prudent to book a consultation with a nutritional therapist and assess your diet in the first instance.

What is a Healthy Diet? The key to a successful diet is eating wholesome foods and reducing commercial processed foods; eating too few calories can actually cause a slowed metabolism, nutrient deficiencies and binges that trigger weight gain. When you 'clean eat' you can lose weight while still consuming the correct amount of calories and obtaining the valuable micronutrients (such as those mentioned). I find moderation is best when it comes to macronutrients and I most often suggest 20-30% protein, 30-40% carbohydrate and then 30-40% fat, depending on lifestyle but opinions vary!

And a final mention - exercise. A vital part in keeping a healthy weight. We often feel more energised after exercise as increased oxygen is there to accept those electrons for one. Secondly, increased oxygen levels creates a growth in the numbers mitochondria; exercising increasing our ability to make more energy. Thirdly, exercise moves our lymph which eliminates toxicity (so long as we have enough fibre in our diet); when we lose toxins we also lose fat. The main goal of the body is survival and therefore toxicity is stored away from our major organs in fat tissue - lose toxins and lose excess fat.


And a random thought to leave you with because it is interesting: One theory suggests that our mitochondria may have evolved from bacteria! Mitochondria have circular DNA, much closer to bacteria that our linear form. There is some evidence to suggest we become a host for bacteria and they have since become dependent on our body for their respiratory needs!


Our body is really intricate in design and I think once you get the bigger picture you begin to see why nutrition does heal. This is only one example of the many mechanisms that take place, nutrients work in synergy within these systems; the balance of nutrients is actually equally important as the nutrients themselves but often gets overlooked but more on that in another blog! Invest in optimal nutrition to remain vital.

References Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition. New York: Garland Science; 2002. How Cells Obtain Energy from Food. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26882/ Huskisson, E, Maggini, S. (2007) The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Energy Metabolism and Well-Being The Journal of International Medical Research 35: 277 – 289 D Balnave (1977) Clinical symptoms of biotin deficiency in animals, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 30, Issue 9, Pages 1408–1413, Berg JM, Tymoczko JL, Stryer L. Biochemistry. 5th edition. New York: W H Freeman; 2002. Section 23.3, The First Step in Amino Acid Degradation Is the Removal of Nitrogen.Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22475/ Nabokina SM, Said HM. A high-affinity and specific carrier-mediated mechanism for uptake of thiamine pyrophosphate by human colonic epithelial cells. American Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology. 2012;303(3):G389-G395. doi: https://opentextbc.ca/anatomyandphysiology/chapter/24-2-carbohydrate-metabolism/ https://www.academia.edu/7492280/The_Role_of_B_Vitamins_in_the_Citric_Acid_Cycl https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/dynamic-adaptation-of-nutrient-utilization-in-humans-14232807/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5087279


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