What the HELL am I drinking? PART 1
The following is a list of the most popular ingredients, vitamins, and supplements found in your favorite energy drinks as well as what those ingredients do, or don’t do. This listing will be updated periodically as the archeologist and horticulturalists at the various energy drink manufacturing companies pull unidentifiable weeds from the Amazon river basin and throw them in your drink.
With that out of the way, here you go…
Medical and Legal Disclaimer
I AM NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR, HOLISTIC DOCTOR, OR A HORTICULTURALIST. THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS PROVIDED THROUGH VARIOUS SOURCES FOUND ON THE INTERNET AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS A DEFINITIVE OPINION AS TO THE EFFECT THAT THESE INGREDIENTS MAY HAVE ON YOUR BODY, MEDICAL OR OTHERWISE.
THE FOLLOWING SHOULD ONLY BE USED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES AND AS A STARTING PLACE TO PERFORM YOUR OWN RESEARCH.
PLEASE CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL BEFORE EMBARKING ON ANY DIETARY SUPPLEMENTATION PROGRAM.
In the vast majority of energy drinks or supplements caffeine is the primary stimulant used to provide the “boost” of energy these drinks claim to supply. Most energy drinks contain between 70 and 200 mg of caffeine as compared to a 5 oz cup of coffee which contains approximately 110-150mg for drip, 65-125mg for percolated, and 40-80 mg for instant.
It has been stated that one hundred milligrams (100 mg) can increase mental alertness while 238 mg can increase cardiovascular endurance. Medically, caffeine is useful as a cardiac stimulant and also as a mild diuretic (it increases urine production). Recreationally, it is used to provide a "boost of energy" or for a feeling of heightened alertness.
Caffeine is an addictive drug which operates using the same mechanisms that amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin use to stimulate the brain. Although caffeine's effects are much milder than amphetamines, cocaine and heroin, it is still stimulating the brain through the same channels, and that is one of the things that gives caffeine its addictive qualities.
Taurine is an amino acid that your body produces naturally in small quantities. It plays several important roles in the body. It may help with reactive oxygen, respiratory burst, and there is some evidence it is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It has also been linked to other metabolic functions but it is not clear. Why is it not clear, because it hasn't been fully researched and much of what it does is still unknown. Usually your body makes enough that you don’t need to supplement. It’s thought, but not proven, that under “stress conditions” like illness, physical exertion, or injury, the body does not create enough and supplementation can help.
The research on taurine is ongoing; particularly regarding the effect taurine has on exited brain states and on heart function. While the U.S. FDA has not taken a particular interest in taurine supplements as of yet, it is currently under investigation in other parts of the world and some drinks with it have been banned in France, Sweden, and Iceland.
Another issue of concern related to taurine is the question of how taurine reacts with other ingredients, like caffeine. When given to test rats in an experimental laboratory, it was found that the taurine caused anxiety, irritability, high sensitivity to noise, and self-mutilations. However, this data does not mean that the same effects will occur in humans—the differences between rats and people are obviously substantial.
On a positive note, taurine is found in many foods like seafood and meat and has the beneficial properties of system detoxification and cleansing. Additionally, there have been some very good studies about the effects of high concentrations of the substance. One study in a medical journal stated that high levels of taurine could help lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.
So the jury is still out on taurine. On one side you have a basket of anxious rats who mutilate themselves every time someone’s cell phone rings (although in this day in age I can empathize with this reaction to annoying cell phone ringers) and on the other side you have content humans with ideal blood pressure levels whose neurotransmitters and synapses are firing like the well honed pistons in a Ferrari.
Guarana comes from plants in South America. Amazonians have used it for a long time to increase alertness and energy. It’s more dense in caffeine than coffee beans (3-4% vs 1-2%). The fruit contains modest amounts of caffeine related compounds such as theophylline and theobromine. They’re found in coffees and teas, and are known stimulants. Guarana has been used in South America for a long time. Some studies have found that it may help to increase weight loss and increase the rate of fat loss.
Guaranine and guarana seed extract are the same thing as guarana.
The vast majority of "energy" in these drinks comes from a mixture of caffeine and guarana. The typical conversion found for converting mg of guarana to the mg of caffeine equivalent is 5%, i.e., 100 mg of guarana is roughly equivalent to 5 mg of caffeine.
Ginseng is an adaptogenic herb that stimulates and relaxes the nervous system, encourages the secretion of hormones, improves stamina, lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels and increases resistance to disease. It is used internally in the treatment of debility associated with old age or illness, lack of appetite, insomnia, stress, shock and chronic illness. It is suspected that ginseng helps to stimulate the hypothalamic and pituitary glands, which in turn secrete something called adrenal corticotropic hormone.
As with anything, ginseng should not be taken in excess (some studies have shown that the human body can safely ingest up to 2,700 mg per day). However, too much ginseng may cause headaches, restlessness, raised blood pressure and other side effects, especially if it is taken with caffeine, alcohol, turnips and spicy foods. Further, consuming caffeine with ginseng increases the risk of over-stimulation and gastrointestinal upset. Persons with uncontrolled high blood pressure should not use ginseng. Long-term use of ginseng may cause menstrual abnormalities and breast tenderness in some women. Ginseng is not recommended for pregnant or lactating women.
It has been proffered that ginkgo biloba is the longest-living organism on the planet. You would assume that Mr. Biloba is doing something right if his family has outlived cockroaches. Ginko biloba purportedly helps memory retention, concentration, circulation, acts as an anti-depressant, and has apparently had positive effects for people suffering from Alzheimer’s. 60mg is a standard supplementation dose, and you can supposedly safely take up to 240mg per day.
This is an amino acid typically secreted by the liver and kidneys. Carnitine has been associated with upping metabolism and energy levels. Because of the way it interacts with your body, it may act as a thermogenic and help increase weight loss and endurance during exercise. The research is inconclusive on whether the human bpdy needs to supplement its carnitine production. However, apparently one can ingest 2-6 grams per day safely. Although, there are different kinds of carnitine and you should make sure you are not ingesting D-Carnitine. D-Carnitine is “inactive” and may actually hurt endurance levels.
Glucose is the body’s preferred fuel. That’s why you get hyper with a lot of sugar. Energy drinks contain a ton of sugar. Sugar (glucose, high fructose corn syrup, etc.) is a carbohydrate which the body breaks down and uses for energy. Simple sugars such as artificial sweeteners and such are not the best or most efficient energy producing carb, but, you typically will not dunk your whole wheat bread in your energy drink like it is chicken noodle soup or mix your energy drink with white rice, so your left with what the manufacturer uses to sweeten the drink.
Antioxidants are things that help your body recover from any damage caused by foreign elements introduced into your body. Vitamins C and E, Vitamin A (aka retinol, beta-carotene), and selenium are all antioxidants. Antioxidants are known to help fend off illness and prevent cellular damage.
SEE PART 2 FOR MORE INGREDIENTS!!