Health News Digest

energy drinks

July 11, 2016

A Look At Energy Drinks

By Michael D. Shaw

Although the term “energy drink” only made it into Merriam-Webster in 2012, the venerable dictionary notes that this expression first surfaced way back in 1904. But energy drinks (any of various types of beverage that are considered a source of energy) themselves are far older than that.

A forensic study published in October, 2014 indicates that Roman gladiators consumed an energy drink of vinegar and ash. Coffee—popularized by the Arabs in the 15th century—surely qualifies to be in this category. At around the same time, early explorers of North America described the native custom of drinking a potent concoction derived from toasted holly leaves and bark, incidentally with a high caffeine content.

Perhaps, the first energy drink marketed as such was Coca-Cola, introduced in 1886. After all, the original formula contained cocaine, well-known even then as a stimulant, and plenty of caffeine from the kola nuts. The cocaine was removed in 1903, more than a decade before the drug became illegal in 1914. One of the original claims made by Dr. John Pemberton (Coca-Cola founder) for his precursor product Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, was that it is “a most wonderful invigorator of sexual organs.”

To whatever extent this might have been true, when combined with the influences of racism, a rise in drug abuse, and yellow journalism, Pemberton decided to replace the cocaine with more sugar and caffeine. For his part, Pemberton was no stranger to hard drugs, having become a morphine addict due to a Civil War injury.

No doubt, caffeine is the most widely consumed central-nervous-system stimulant. The compound is said to be a competitive antagonist of adenosine receptors. For this reason, metabolism is increased in the brain, while blood flow is reduced. This explains the paradoxical effect whereby migraines caused by over-dilation of brain blood vessels are relieved with caffeine, even if conventional headaches can be triggered in some people.

The serotonin neurons may also be affected, resulting in increased alertness. Anxiety may increase, and sleep can be disturbed. Caffeine passes through the blood-brain barrier quickly, and its effects can occur within 15 minutes. The compound’s metabolic half-life ranges between five and six hours. As to establishing a “safe” level, this is very much an individual number, and for my money, the conventional wisdom pegs it lower than it needs to be—to skirt potential liability.

The iconic Jolt Cola (“All the sugar and twice the caffeine”) hit the market in 1985—at the same time that decaffeinated and sugar-free products were all the rage. The target demographic was students and techies pulling all-nighters. But, despite packaging redesigns and product placement in major movies, Jolt was unable to compete with the new wave of energy drinks including Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy, and disappeared in 2009.

While many current energy drinks contain plenty of caffeine, sugar, and sundry ingredients, there is also a movement afoot to tone things down a bit…

Listen to Noah Greenwood, founder and CEO of Mantis Energy:

“The right energy drink should give you an edge, not edginess. We believe that this rule applies to health and wellness in general, where consumers should not have to face the false choice of tiredness versus buying a product loaded with artificial flavors, high-calorie sweeteners, and harsh chemicals that compromise taste, and do nothing to promote an active and healthy lifestyle. The public deserves better—and we intend to honor their interests and accommodate their needs.”

Greenwood adds that his product has no sugar, provides a mere two calories, has a natural honeydew melon flavor, and lowered caffeine content. Now, you have a choice.