Thursday, July 14, 2011

Trendy bytes: Anti-energy drinks

Are anti-energy drinks the new way to relax?
Could anti-energy be the new energy?  Numerous beverage companies seem to think so, and that's why we might be seeing more anti-energy drinks, or relaxation beverages, spilling onto the market.  From Slow Cow to Mary Jane's Relaxing Soda, these new beverages are intended to help you unwind, de-stress, and in the word of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Relax!"

What are anti-energy drinks?
Think of anti-energy drinks as sodas with active ingredients, such as melatonin, kava, valerian, and even THC, that are intended to help consumers mellow out.  Being the geeky RD that I am, I did test a few of these out, which is so daring given my dislike of liquid calories.  The ones I tried tasted similar to energy drinks.  They're lightly carbonated and are usually sweetened with added sugars, like "evaporated cane juice" or high fructose corn syrup.  The sugar-free or zero-calorie versions typically use alternative sweeteners, like sucralose (Splenda) and stevia.  To me, they only tasted okay.

Do they work and are they safe?
Because they're so new, there seems to be little to no scientific research on the safety or efficacy of anti-energy drinks.  So from a scientific standpoint, their proposed benefits do not appear to be supported by research nor are they refuted by research either. However, there is some evidence on the effectiveness of some of the active ingredients.  The effectiveness will depend on the type and amount of the active ingredient.  Here's a list of some of the most common active ingredients in relaxation beverages and a description of their potential effects.
While some relaxation beverages may contain the recommended dosage of the active ingredient needed for the proposed benefits, many of them do not.  So whether or not these drinks will produce the desired effects is questionable.  My guinea pig husband and I both sampled a few of these drinks, and neither of us felt any more relaxed as a result.

In terms of safety, there are definitely some factors to consider. So far, short-term use of some "relaxing" ingredients seems to be well tolerated without harmful effects at prescribed doses.  However, prolonged use of these ingredients has not been well studied.  Also, combining these ingredients with other over-the-counter, prescription, or herbal sedatives or alcohol is not advised since their sedative effects may be intensified.  Due to safety concerns about excessive use, some relaxation beverages come with a recommended daily limit, which is usually no more than two drinks daily.  In addition, some of the drinks come with warnings advising against driving motor vehicles or operating machinery after consumption.  Concerns have also been raised about the use of these drinks by children, pregnant/nursing women, or those with health conditions, such as liver disease, anxiety, or depression.
What's the bottom line?
While the active ingredients in these drinks may have some legitimate effects on sleep and anxiety, there may not even be enough of them in the drinks to produce the desired effects.  On the other hand, there are also some reasonable safety concerns to consider.  If you really need to "slow your roll", I think that there are a lot of better ways to do it than by consuming an anti-energy drink.  Practice yoga.  Try deep-breathing.  Pray.  If a person really needs help relaxing or sleeping, then I'd suggest addressing the underlying causes of the problem first.  If the root cause of the problem is not being addressed, then the drink (given that it works) may only offer a band-aid solution, if anything at all.

Have you seen any of these drinks?  Do you think they'll catch on?

Photo credit: Francis Borgouin via Flickr


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