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Health & Wellness  >>  5 Hour Energy Drink

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Are 5 Hour Energy Shots Safe?

Expert concerns about the popular pick-me-ups.

By Elizabeth Lee

Dr. Huntoon adds comments throughout the article for clarity

Tired, stressed-out college students and workers have embraced energy shots, which promise a quick, convenient boost with fewer calories and less sugar than full-size energy drinks.

Sales of the 2- to 3-ounce shots soared to $544 million in 2008, double those of the previous year, according to Information Resources, a Chicago-based market research firm. In fact, energy shots are the fastest-growing segment of the $4.6 billion energy drink market.

Living Essentials pioneered energy shots in 2004 with 5-Hour Energy, which still holds more than 75% of the market. Industry heavyweights such as Red Bull, Monster Energy, and Coca-Cola have since introduced their own energy shots. Their ingredients vary, but most contain caffeine, B vitamins, and taurine (an amino acid found in food from animal sources) as well as flavorings and artificial sweeteners.

The sugar-free shots are not only portable but also lower in calories than most energy drinks. The 2-ounce 5-Hour Energy shot, which is artificially sweetened, has 4 calories. A regular 8-ounce Red Bull energy drink, by comparison, has 100 calories, and a sugar-free Red Bull has 10 calories.
WHAT IS IN 5-HOUR ENERGY®?

5-hour ENERGY® contains a blend of B-vitamins, amino acids and essential nutrients. It contains zero sugar, zero herbal stimulants and four calories. Original 5-hour ENERGY® contains about as much caffeine as a cup of premium coffee. Extra Strength contains about as much as 12 ounces of premium coffee, while Decaf 5-hour ENERGY® contains only as much caffeine as a half cup of decaffeinated coffee.

Dr. Huntoon’s perspective is, “If you understand that a ‘calorie’ is defined as an amount of food capable of producing energy., then in order for the 5-Hour Energy Drink to be valid (or any of these type of drinks), it must have calories if it is to produce any energy for the consumer.” This is where the whole story falls apart. In order to produce energy, there must be some part of the ingredients that has the ability to be measured in calories. This would be different if it were an artificial stimulant or some form of chemical. According to the research, 5-Hour Energy Drink has 4 cal. per serving. This means if it is made from a protein, it would have 4 calories per gram of protein; if it is made from a carbohydrate, it would also have 4 calories per gram. Now if it was made from fat, it would have 9 calories per gram. Alcohol, pure alcohol, has 7 calories per gram. So if we look at 5-Hour Energy Drink, if there are none of these ingredients within it, where do the calories come from? And if there is no sugar, as their website claims, then it couldn’t possibly be made from anything natural nor anything your body need; and likewise it wouldn’t produce any energy; certainly none that would last a person for 5 hours. So in order for you to feel an “energy boost,” it must be coming from a stimulant. This must be where the caffeine comes in. But is consuming this much caffeine healthy for you?

CAFFEINE CONCERNS

The shots tend to have about as much caffeine as regular energy drinks, and it's the caffeine that provides most of the kick, experts say. Because of that, nutritionists urge caution, especially for those who also drink coffee or other caffeinated drinks.

Jim White, RD, a national spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says, "I’m seeing a lot of combinations -- coffee, 5-Hour Energy, green teas -- and if you add up all the mega doses of caffeine during the day, it can cause problems."

Specifically, too much caffeine can cause nervousness, trouble sleeping, nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeats, and higher blood pressure. Many makers of energy shots say children and those who are pregnant, nursing, or sensitive to caffeine should avoid the beverages. 5-Hour Energy advises no more than two bottles a day.

Energy shot makers are not required to disclose their products' caffeine content, although a group of scientists has petitioned the FDA to require that this information be listed on labels.

5-Hour Energy says only that one of its regular shots contains about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of the leading premium coffee -- which for an 8-ounce cup at Starbucks would work out to 180 milligrams. A 2010 test by independent reviewer ConsumerLab.com found it contained 207mg of caffeine—a massive amount per ounce, but less than the 260mg in a Starbucks tall coffee. (5-Hour Energy also comes in decaf and extra-strength.) Coke’s NOS PowerShot has 125 milligrams of caffeine, and Rockstar Energy Shot has 200 milligrams. A 12-ounce can of Coke, by comparison, contains 35 mg of caffeine. Some energy shots also contain guarana, a plant that produces caffeine.

Chris Rosenbloom, RD, PhD, a professor of nutrition at Georgia State University in Atlanta, says, "Caffeine in doses of 200 or 300 milligrams a day is moderate and fine. But if you’re starting to get way over that, I would cut back."

Caffeine and other stimulants in energy shots are of special concern for those who play sports, Rosenbloom says. Yet getting a quick boost before exercising is one of the key reasons consumers say they take energy shots.

"The point of exercise is to get your heart rate up and sustain your blood pressure. You don’t want to go into that already revved up," Rosenbloom says. "If you have any underlying health issue, taking the extra caffeine could trigger a heart attack, a stroke, and/or some kind of episode of really high blood pressure."

Some people drink energy shots to try to sober up after drinking alcohol so they can drive home.

Brent Bauer, MD, director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says, "Being a more alert drunk isn’t any safer than being a drunk. But that seems to be a growing use among some of my younger patients."

WHO DRINKS ENERGY SHOTS?

Young men are the most likely to consume energy drinks and shots, although the market among all adults ages 25 to 45 is growing. Young people ages 12 to 17 who consume energy drinks down an average of 5.2 cans a month. Adults drink an average of 4.6 cans.

"Our target market is working adults who experience fatigue and feel they can benefit from an energy boost," says Lynn Petersmarck, advertising director for Living Essentials.

BEYOND CAFFEINE

Nutritionists are also concerned about other ingredients in the shots and how they might interact. They would like to see more studies on the safety and effectiveness of the blends. Because they are marketed as dietary supplements, energy shots do not require FDA approval before hitting the market.

"A lot of these products contain multiple amounts of ingredients such as taurine and tyrosine and phenylalanine, and of course caffeine and guarana," White says. "There’s not enough research on how they’re going to react together, especially down the road."

Bauer says drinkers may get some energy benefits from taurine but not from high doses of B vitamins. 5-Hour Energy, for example, claims to provide more than 8,000% of the recommended daily intake for B12, which is found in animal products and helps form red blood cells, and 2,000% of the recommended intake of B6. Vitamin B6, also found in animal products as well as in beans, whole grains, and fortified cereals and breads, helps boost the immune system and produce red blood cells.

"None of them are going to boost energy unless you’re B-deficient," Bauer says.

In general, B vitamins aren’t toxic in large amounts, Rosenbloom says. They’re water-soluble, which means they pass out of the body in urine. But high doses of B6 can cause nerve damage, tingling, and numbness in the arms and legs.

Living Essentials' spokesperson Petersmarck says the products are safe. "Everything in 5-Hour Energy is already contained in foods, such as apples, avocados, grains, and nuts, or is naturally occurring in your body," she says.

Dr. Huntoon’s perspective would point out, “Perhaps everything in 5-Hour Energy Drink is already contained in foods, but because the 5-Hour Energy Drink does not exist in nature, the concentration difference found in 5-Hour Energy is significantly more concentrated and would over-stimulate the person and potentially create deficiencies of the other components necessary to process the high concentrations found in 5-Hour Energy. Because of this, Living Essentials’ spokesperson Petersmarck’s remarks are suspect and do not represent the product accurately. And if the stance by the company is accurate, why do they go on to the following?"

The company warns that children and those who are pregnant, nursing, or sensitive to caffeine should avoid the beverages. 5-Hour Energy advises no more than two bottles a day. The company also says those who are sensitive to vitamin B3 (niacin) may experience a niacin flush that involves a brief reddening of the skin and a hot, prickly feeling. One shot of 5-Hour Energy contains 150% of the recommended daily intake of niacin, which is found in animal products, beans, and fortified cereals and breads and helps the body convert food to energy.

BEHIND RED EYES

So what’s a person to do who suffers from carbohydrate excess followed by a reactive hypoglycemic state every afternoon? Instead of reaching for an energy shot next time you need a pick-me-up, try looking at what’s behind that tiredness, says Bauer.

"If you took it once or twice a year because you wanted to be more alert for an exam, that’s different than if you’re taking it two or three times a day," Bauer says. "If you need something chronically, then there’s something wrong. That’s your body telling you to change something, whether it’s your diet, your exercise, your stress level, your sleep."

If you want to boost energy levels naturally, try these expert suggestions:

- Eat several small meals throughout the day rather than three large ones.
- Avoid large amounts of sugar and fat.
- Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast.
- Take a quick exercise break, such as a short walk.
- Exercise regularly.
- Consider paced breathing, which can improve your heart rate and boost relaxation, or meditating for a short time.
- Reduce stress.
- Get enough sleep.

EFFECTS OF 5 HOUR ENERY DRINKS IN ADULTS

5 hour energy drinks can be very hard on an adult’s body. While advertising they contain 0 calories they claim to give energy. Calorie is a unit of measurement created to measure units of energy. Therefore what 5 hour energy drinks contain is a high dose of artificial stimulants. Prolonged use can have very unhealthy long term side effects such as adrenal fatigue which can prevent a person from responding to stress in an appropriate manner. Additionally their use can lead to heart problems, high blood pressure, nervousness, difficulty sleeping, rapid or irregular heartbeats, nervous system problems, and problems maintaining a healthy sleep cycle.

5 hour energy drinks work by hitting you with a high dose of artificial B vitamins. B vitamins help your body process energy-yielding nutrients. Which if you are deficient in B vitamins can cause a rush of energy. However the B vitamins in 5 hour energy drinks are artificial not natural which causes them to not work as well, and potentially leads to long term consequences.

Long term usage of artificial b vitamins prevents your body from using natural b vitamins. Your body becomes more acclimated to the artificial B vitamins. From there your body becomes less efficient with using its own natural B vitamins. This can decrease production of natural B vitamins because when you take artificial supplements your body stops making its own.

A person can become physically addicted to the artificial vitamins. At that point your body needs to detox before it would resume normal production with potential long term consequences if it is unable to fully transition back to managing using natural sources.. You would need to stimulate it with natural vitamin B to help this process along. The good news is in adults your body remembers how it is supposed to function.

EFFECTS OF 5 HOUR ENERY DRINKS IN CHILDREN

While 5 hour energy drinks function similar in children, they have a much greater chance to permanently trash their system. This is one of the factors that has lead to Adult Onset Diabetes, as it was previously known now being called type 2 diabetes due to its increasing prevalence in children.

Due to their still developing bodies, children will become addicted faster. Additionally, if kids are introduced too early, their ability to overcome their addiction will be significantly harder. This state will be all the body knows, as opposed to the adult body which knows what it is like to not be addicted. Adults have a far easier time transitioning back than a child would, as a child’s body lacks the years of knowledge of functioning normally.

Better to never have children exposed than to have to wean them of it. Withdrawal symptoms due to addiction will be harder and the chance of long term consequences greater. By preventing children from using these products until later in life you can prevent them from developing problems down the line.

THE MEDICAL PERSPECTIVE

Medicine does not have a formal opinion on this topic, although you may get the "It seems OK in moderation" response. Since it has caffeine in it and caffeine is a known stimulant, taking this regularly would not be in anyone's best interest.

If you feel you need 5 Hour Energy Drink because you are lacking the energy you feel you need, having a conversation with your Holistic Chiropractor who can help end your adrenal fatigue and restore your energy levels without the use of caffeine or other stimulants would be important. Afterall, everyone knows that if you keep the gas pedal of your car to the floor, eventually you will run out of gas. Your body is the same way, except it running out of gas may mean something more serious like a heart attack.

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