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5-hour Energy

5-Hour_Energy

What should you do if you feel tired? Taking a nap isn’t always possible. The ever-inventive capitalist marketplace has come up with another option.

5-hour Energy is a flavored energy drink sold as 2 oz “shots.” It was invented by Innovation Ventures in 2004. It is intended to counteract the afternoon slump, to increase alertness and energy, to help you stay sharp, improve attention, leave grogginess behind and sail through your day.

Ingredients

According to the label, its ingredients are:

  • Niacin 30 mg — 150% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B6 40 mg — 2000% of the RDA
  • Folic acid 400 mg — 100% of the RDA
  • Vitamin B12 500 mcg — 8333% of the RDA
  • Energy blend: taurine, glucuronic acid, malic acid, N-acetyl L tyrosine, L-phenylalanine, caffeine, and citicoline. Total amount of blend: 1870 mg. The caffeine content is not specified on the label, but it is supposedly comparable to a cup of the leading premium coffee.

It contains only 4 calories, with no sugar.

A profitable business

Its taste has been compared to “chalky cough syrup,” but astute marketing has cornered 90% of the market and made millions if not billions for the company and its CEO, Manoj Bhargava, a mysterious entrepreneur who avoids the limelight. His paper trail consists primarily of 90 lawsuits.

Possible harms

The company warns that users may experience an uncomfortable niacin flush, that it should be avoided by people with phenylketonuria (PKU), by women who are pregnant or nursing, and by children under 12; and that large amounts of caffeine can be problematic for some people. The 8,333% of RDA of vitamin B12 might seem alarming but is probably safe, since there is little or no toxicity from high doses of B12; but one wonders why they chose to put so much in the product.

There has already been one lawsuit alleging that the product triggered a heart attack and that without the deceptive label the victim would not have used it. The case was voluntarily dismissed. There is a case report of an adolescent experiencing his first-ever seizure after consuming 5-hour Energy. There’s another report of a woman who damaged her liver and ended up in the hospital because she exceeded the dose recommended on the label.

Does it work better than caffeine alone?

Consumer Reports reported on 5-hour Energy. They had access to an unpublished double-blind study furnished by the company. I couldn’t find that study, but I did find a study where they compared 5-hour Energy to the vehicle alone, and not surprisingly the mixture containing caffeine was superior to the version with no active ingredients. Of course caffeine works better than no caffeine; the question is whether 5-hour Energy works better than caffeine alone. As far as I could determine, that has never been tested. Consumer Reports concluded that:

5-Hour Energy will probably chase away grogginess at least as well as a cup of coffee.

I think they got it just about right.

What do the other ingredients do?

  • Their claims for B vitamins amount to vague support claims, like “niacin is important for energy production.” There is no evidence that B vitamins would increase energy levels unless the user was suffering from a clinically-significant B vitamin deficiency.
  • They claim that citicholine plays a role in neurotransmission and can help support brain function. Citicholine has been used for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, head trauma, and thinking problems related to circulation problems in the brain, but there’s no evidence that it benefits healthy people who are tired.
  • They claim that tyrosine transmits nerve impulses to the brain. Yeah, so what?
  • They claim that phenylalanine enhances alertness, but I couldn’t find any studies in PubMed to support that claim.
  • They say that taurine plays a role in digestion and maintains the integrity of cell membranes. Yeah, so what?
  • For malic acid, they only say the body synthesizes it in the process of converting carbohydrates into energy. Yeah, so what?
  • They claim that glucuronolactone has been shown to reduce sleepiness, but the only study I could find tested it in an energy drink that also contained caffeine.

The majority of these claims had an asterisk to a footnote with the usual disclaimer: “* This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

How did they choose this mixture of ingredients?

I asked the company that question and did not get a response. There doesn’t seem to be any rationale for anything but the caffeine, and certainly no rationale for the specific amounts of each ingredient.

There is a small study suggesting that L-ornithine supplements might benefit people with physical fatigue, but that’s not in the 5-hour Energy formulation. Why not?

I can only guess that the formula was not created by rational design, but was brainstormed by non-scientists looking for anything they could add to caffeine that might impress the naïve consumer and help sell their product.

Why I’m not going to buy it

  • If you are getting tired during the day, instead of counteracting the fatigue with drugs it would be more useful to look for underlying causes: for instance, it might mean you are not getting enough sleep at night.
  • A nap or exercise might be a better choice than caffeine.
  • Coffee tastes good and the warmth is satisfying: I wouldn’t want to give up my pleasure. Sitting down with a cuppa to rest and change gears appeals far more to me than chugging a quick shot of an energy drink.
  • Coffee contains a lot of antioxidants and is thought to have health benefits that caffeine alone doesn’t. /li>
  • Just on general principles, it seems prudent to avoid high doses of unnecessary ingredients, especially when the particular mix of ingredients has never been properly tested for safety.

Why others might rationally choose to buy it

It’s a source of caffeine that is convenient to carry and to use and does not involve large amounts of liquid or calories. The other ingredients are unnecessary but probably not harmful. It costs less than a cup of Starbucks coffee.

“Try it for yourself”

I was urged to try it, but I’m going to pass. Trying something to see if it works for you sounds intuitively reasonable, but the history of science has taught us otherwise. Personal experience is often misleading and it contaminates our ability to judge something objectively.

 

 

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements

Leave a Comment (26) ↓

26 thoughts on “5-hour Energy

  1. DevoutCatalyst says:

    > should be avoided by people with phenylketonuria (PKU)

    The only person I know with PKU hasn’t the ability to heed this type of warning.

  2. Ziggy66 says:

    By “voluntarily dismissed” can we assume that there was a settlement with nondisclosure?

    One benefit you left out, you can enjoy really bright yellow urine!

  3. I work 15 hour days, and I wanted to lose weight, so I went on a 12 calorie diet and energized myself by consuming 3 of these energy drinks at 5 hour intervals. Worked wonders! I felt full of energy, no headaches, I also never got a cold or flu, and my asthma went away. And I lost 100 lbs. And my wife didn’t have any neural tube defects.

    ;)

    Kidding. My “pick me up” drink are the ice-cold Starbucks Mocha Frappucinos. I’m absolutely obsessed with them. First thing in my mouth in the morning!

  4. Draal says:

    My preference is a 200 mg of caffeine tab in the morning. Coffee is good and all but I don’t like the diuretic effect of coffee with the extra liquid. Makes me pee frequently. ‘Course my doctors are shocked at the 200 mg number (when they ask what medication I’m taking) but it’s no more than 9oz of Starbucks coffee (http://www.energyfiend.com/the-complete-guide-to-starbucks-caffeine). Finances also play a role. $0.08 per tab versus $2.15 for a cup of coffee or $3.19 for 5-hour energy. I’ll get a $0.99 diet Arizona instead if I’m thirsty.

    And has anyone seen the explosion of knockoff energy shots now available? It’s ridiculous. all these products have a hefty profit margin for both retailer and manufacturer, I’m sure.

    “Coffee contains a lot of antioxidants” – Yeah, so what? They’re not bio-available (usually <1% absorbed). After writing a couple book chapters on flavonoids and in my lit search, it became obvious that the antioxidants we consume have little or no affect on the body. The antioxidants that the body makes naturally is all that is relevant.

  5. Draal says:

    “One benefit you left out, you can enjoy really bright yellow urine!”
    -Riboflavin (vitamin B2), not an ingredient of 5-hour energy

  6. * I’ll have to find it when I’m not my iPad, but Journal Watch reviewed a study that suggested the more coffee you drink the longer you live, or something to that effect.

  7. colli037 says:

    quote: I’ll have to find it when I’m not my iPad, but Journal Watch reviewed a study that suggested the more coffee you drink the longer you live, or something to that effect.

    Or it just seems like you are living longer,

    t

  8. Janet Camp says:

    Marketing! Arghhhh!

    My son-in-law arrived very early for a fishing trip with my husband with one of these drinks and a Gatorade. I asked why he had them. “Energy and hydration” was the response. He got an earful from me. (Spare me the mother-in-law jokes).

    I’ll stick to my coffee and occasional beer, thanks.

  9. 8bitsdeep says:

    As someone who was just diagnosed with B6 toxicity, the 2000% DRA makes me worry more than a little bit. Too much B6 can cause nerve damage. Ironically, I was taking a B complex vitamin to help with neuropathy at the time, as recommended by my neurologist.

  10. 8bitsdeep says:

    As someone who was just diagnosed with B6 toxicity, the 2000% DRA makes me worry more than a little bit. Too much B6 can cause nerve damage. Ironically, I was taking a B complex vitamin to help with neuropathy at the time, as recommended by my neurologist.

  11. A major problem with products like these is that they perpetuate unsubstantiated (or falsified) claims. As Dr. Hall pointed out, B vitamins do not give people “energy” unless they have a documented deficiency. In fact, unless they are deficient due to extreme dietary habits, such as with vegans, B12 deficient people usually are not able to absorb B12 from the GI tract and therefore must be given B12 through injections or intranasally. Oral B12 should not really work for most people.

    The Vitamins in the product are hyped despite lack of efficacy. The apparent active ingredient (caffeine) is downplayed. This is disingenuous. They are profiting from false beliefs.

  12. Quill says:

    This is where some of Michael Pollan’s handy “Food Rules” come in very handy:

    “Avoid food products that make health claims.”

    “Avoid foods you see advertised on television.”

    And since these “energy” drinks are often sold in gas stations:

    “Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.”

  13. galaoxides says:

    It’s hard to imagine drinking 6 or more cups a day as a longevity regime, but here it is:

    “As compared with men who did not drink coffee, men who drank 6 or more cups of coffee per day had a 10% lower risk of death, whereas women in this category of consumption had a 15% lower risk.”
    (note that decaf or caf seemed to have similar impact).

    Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality
    Neal D. Freedman, Ph.D., Yikyung Park, Sc.D., Christian C. Abnet, Ph.D., Albert R. Hollenbeck, Ph.D., and Rashmi Sinha, Ph.D.
    N Engl J Med 2012; 366:1891-1904

  14. CarolM says:

    What a coinky-dink, I finally tried my first 5 Hr drink last Saturday. I work a day job and also play with a band, and by Saturday night I’m often quite tired and crabby. Being 63, I was worried the shot might cause heart palpitations but I did not really feel the meth-like rush I had expected, though I dragged out drinking the whole thing over an hour’s time. I was still wide awake at 5 am. A bit of diet Pepsi may have intensified the effect.

    So it wasn’t all that. I have relied on caffeine so much over the years, my system may be a little jaded. It’s nice to know it hasn’t been found to be terribly dangerous (yet) though I suspect it’s consumed by mostly younger people.

  15. dwpeabody says:

    As to the Caffeine making you live longer… 6 cups is pretty easy if you have an office job, I probably average 6 to 8 a day.

    If I had to guess, I would say that if there is a real effect from coffee increasing longevity it would be due to the water consumed and not the caffeine.

    I’m always skeptical of studies on coffee & tea as I tend to think of them as the last resort of the unimaginative graduate student.

  16. rivkahchaya says:

    Considering that the generic equivalent of No-Doz, 200mg caffeine pills, can be purchased at Walmart in 100 ct bottles for $2, I don’t understand why anyone drink 5-Hour energy shots. 5-Hour energy is really expensive. Coffee, I get, because people like the taste, and you can sip it over time, but the 5-Hour energy shots apparently are not to be savored, or flavored with hazelnut and cream. Do people just not know that you can buy caffeine pills? and for that matter, B-vitamin pills? and phenylalanine is pretty much NutraSweet. Yes, I know it’s been tweaked, but it breaks down easily if you heat it.

  17. Scott says:

    Because it’s a natural blend of herbs, not just caffeine!

    Hey, you asked why anyone drinks them – not whether it made sense.

  18. Lytrigian says:

    It’s hard to imagine drinking 6 or more cups a day as a longevity regime

    Not that hard to do. A cup of coffee is 8 ounces, so a single venti drip coffee from Starbucks is 2.5 cups right there.

  19. mousethatroared says:

    This is where some of Michael Pollan’s handy “

    “Avoid food products that make health claims.”

    I avoid foods that can make any claims what so ever… The minute my tomatoes start giving me investment advice, I’m out of there.

    Sorry, I know that not what he meant, but I got such a strong image, I couldn’t resist.

  20. ConspicuousCarl says:

    I was virtually forced to drink Red Bull once when it was being given away for free and I had nothing else to drink. I still drink it sometimes because I found that it kills my appetite for a few hours if I want to skip a meal (even though I am drinking the sugar-free 10-calorie version). Possibly the taurine? It’s a pretty strong effect. One 8-ounce can will almost completely remove my hunger. 2 cans right in a row will actually make me start to feel nauseous, so I don’t think it is merely a placebo.

    I used to drink Gatorade because it was something drinkable and it has about half as many calories as other drinks. However, I have recently been hooked on Crystal Light which has almost no calories, and tastes better than Gatorade.

  21. mdstudent says:

    I’m addicted to Pepsi

  22. DugganSC says:

    Thought this sounded familiar.
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/energy-drinks/

    There’s a section in the comments where someone points out the studies that show that coffee is, at worst, a mild diuretic, and actually doesn’t cause you to urinate more fluid, merely to urinate more frequently (compared to, say, drinking the same quantity of water, since imbibing fluid tends to have an effect of urinating more fluid of course).

  23. RD says:

    Thank you for the article! Its concerning how many products are coming out and how the public is not aware of the labeling differences in these products and other food products. Also it is hard to know the quality control in some of the products.

    At draal…. You posted: “Coffee contains a lot of antioxidants” – Yeah, so what? They’re not bio-available (usually <1% absorbed). After writing a couple book chapters on flavonoids and in my lit search, it became obvious that the antioxidants we consume have little or no affect on the body. The antioxidants that the body makes naturally is all that is relevant.

    This is very surprising! I knew that the absorption rate was low….maybe 5% but not as low as you posted. I am interested in your research. It makes a person start to wonder, what is it about fruits/vegetables/ whole grains that impacts health?

  24. jimws59 says:

    “Personal experience is often misleading.” Spoken like a true Borg.

    Your “yeah, so what?” responses to the claims made by the product are not only snarky but ignorant, eliminating any credibility this review might have had.

  25. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @jimws59

    Dr. Hall’s three “so what’s” are about three ingredients in 5-hour energy – tyrosine, taurine and malic acid. Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid, which means the body can produce it endogenously, therefore, suppllementation is completely unnecessary. Consume enough of it and it’ll just mean the amount produced by the body drops so the actual amount found in critical tissues remains the same. Taurine is a near-amino acid that is similarly synthesized by the body. Malic acid is found in fruits and is also made in the body.

    In other words, there is no need to acquire any of the three ingredients in refined form, and no reason to expect that there will be any substantial change in the body because of consumption. The “so what” specifically relates to the fact that merely because these molecules perform certain functions in the body doesn’t mean that consuming them will enhance those, or any other functions. If you’ve evidence to the contrary, that consumption of these compounds do enhance functioning, please present it.

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