Healthy Bites: What’s really in that drink?


Curious about the contents of 5-hour ENERGY drink, Sheila Andrus, art therapy junior, reviews its label.

Jammie Schrab
Mount Mary student dietition, health columnist

Drinks like Red Bull, Monster Energy Drink and 5-hour ENERGY have flooded
refrigerators in convenience stores and gas stations where people tend to impulse purchase quick “pick me up” items.

Advertisers utilize appealing marketing strategies, especially for teenagers and young adults, by designing the containers in trendy patterns and flashy colors.Advertisements promise these drinks are a cheaper, low-calorie, effective way to boost one’s energy and not gain excess weight.

However, they may not be as safe as consumers think. Labels created by unscrupulous advertisers can be deceiving. The first deception is the statement that the drink provides benefits, such as increased reaction time, increased focus and increased metabolism, all without herbal stimulants.5-hour ENERGY contains caffeine, which is a stimulant, but caffeine is not considered an herb.

This type of word play is deceiving.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring the accuracy and truthfulness of these claims; they are not approved by FDA.”

The fine print on the bottle does include a safety warning, which states a risk for a niacin flush. A niacin flush is described by the manufacturer as a hot prickly feeling with skin redness that will last for only minutes.

According to “Wardlaw’s Perspectives in Nutrition” by Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, Jacqueline Berning, Donna Beshgetoor and Gaile Moe, gastrointestinal tract upset and liver damage can also occur from excess niacin consumption, especially from non-food sources like supplemental ingredients in a beverage shot.

The next exaggeration is the claim that drinking 5-hour ENERGY is beneficial because it only has four calories. However, consumers forget that calories are the body’s only source of fuel.

Contrary to the claims, vitamins and minerals are helpers, not a source of energy. Specific helpers are needed for different metabolic reactions needed by the body to break down food and prepare the resulting particles to be in a form the body can use.

Not surprisingly, iron is not contained in energy drinks. Iron is an important mineral because iron is needed to completely break-down the glucose portion of sugar. In other words, when iron supplies are low, metabolism slows, leaving a weak, sluggish feeling.

The real danger here is these “quick-fix” supplements are considered safe until proven otherwise. The manufacturer is responsible for ensuring our safety. The FDA will only investigate after serious adverse reactions are consistently reported.

According to the FDA, “the agency does not analyze dietary supplements before they are sold to consumers.”

The downside is it may take several years for safety complaints to pile up and research to prove the supplement is not safe. In one such case, Fen-Phen, an effective weight loss supplement, took seven years to be removed from the market — seven years of complaints while people were unknowingly causing themselves permanent heart damage.

The FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Adverse Event Reporting System database collects reports of adverse reactions. CAERS currently has more than 90 reported cases of non-serious symptoms, such as feeling abnormal, and 13 reports of death allegedly related to 5-hour ENERGY drink alone. Twelve alleged deaths and other serious outcomes are reported related to Monster Energy drink.

As of Nov. 16, the FDA launched investigations into “…so-called ‘energy’ products which are relatively new to the market, and manufacturers of these products have labeled some as dietary supplements and others as conventional foods. FDA regulates both dietary supplements and conventional foods under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, but the requirements for them are different,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

All in all, consumers may want to ask themselves if these “quick-fix”drinks are worth the risky side effects in order to obtain a shortcut to potential excess energy and focus.

Choose to be well-informed before blindly trusting an advertisement.

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