Is 5-hour ENERGY Bad for You?

If you were pondering about the different aspects of this drink, here is some information on the pros and cons of 5-hour ENERGY that can help you out.
Medha Godbole Nov 8, 2018
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Living Essentials, the company sells nearly 500 million bottles every year, it's on checkout counters in every major store across the country, and had a revenue in excess of a billion dollars last year. It comes in little, bright-red bottles, promises to keep you alert without crashing, and at $3 for a 2-ounce bottle, it ain't exactly cheap either.
If you haven't guessed already, we are talking about 5-hour ENERGY, a heady blend of vitamins and caffeine that its creator and owner Manoj Bhargava likes to call a 'focus drink', to differentiate it from the energy drinks in the market. Yet, it remains to be seen whether this dietary supplement is safe to drink and what, if any, are its long-term effects?

What do 5-hour ENERGY shots Contain?

5-hour ENERGY is marketed as a dietary supplement rather than as a food or drink, and is not intended as a replacement for traditional nutrition sources. The official website states the following ingredients as part of one regular energy shot:
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3)
  • Folic acid
There is also a blend of chemicals like:
  • Citicoline and tyrosine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Taurine
  • Malic acid
  • Glucuronolactone
5-hour ENERGY does not contain any herbal stimulants, it has zero sugar, and only 4 calories per bottle. The company claims there is only as much caffeine in one standard shot as there is in a large cup of premium coffee of the leading brand.
The exact formula remains a trade secret, but the company insists the product is absolutely safe. The brand is a popular supplement for long haul truckers, construction workers, and also for professionals who need to be alert and productive over extended time periods.

How Can it Help?

5-hour ENERGY has ingredients which have been known to provide certain health benefits when taken in the correct dosage.

Vitamin supplements: Vitamins such as B6 and B12 are essential for the formation of amino acids in the human body that help in the formation of new cells, and are usually found in foods such as poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables.
Niacin, or vitamin B3, breaks down fats and carbohydrates to generate energy, and is also a crucial element produced by the human body, ingested through foods like meat, broccoli, dairy products, and vegetables. Similarly, folic acid is also instrumental in formation of new cells in the body.
Stimulants: 5-hour ENERGY contains chemicals that act as stimulants. Citicoline and tyrosine are purported to enhance blood flow and nerve response in the brain. Phenylalanine is an amino acid known to increase alertness, and malic acid is a natural chemical found in meat and vegetables, which helps in digestion and release of energy.
● Caffeine: However, the most effective chemical in the drink is without a doubt, caffeine, which boosts energy levels and alertness within minutes of entering the bloodstream.
No sugar: The real advantage lies with the zero-sugar tag, responsible for the 'no crash ' characteristic marketed by the brand. This is because energy drinks with sugar provide an initial rush, raising blood sugar levels, but soon cause an headache, as the body metabolizes the excess sugar.
Although these vitamins and chemicals are helpful in many ways, most, with the obvious exception of caffeine, are produced by the human body or imbibed through foods. 5-hour ENERGY promises an instant boost, which is not possible from normal consumption of these chemicals.

Does the Drink have Negative Effects?

Doctors and health professionals are of the opinion that the drink is merely a caffeine delivery system and little else. The only active ingredient in 5-hour ENERGY, that is medically proven to increase levels of alertness and concentration, is caffeine. The rest are all vitamins and chemicals that occur naturally.
High vitamin and caffeine levels: According to research undertaken by independent labs, 5-hour ENERGY contains levels of vitamins thousands of times over the prescribed limit, along with caffeine, which, at 600 mg, is nearly twice the recommended daily intake.
Although, extremely low levels of B-vitamins can cause exhaustion and breakdown of metabolism, no research shows that such high levels are radically beneficial.
● Overdose: Another concern is that small bottles may induce people to consume more than what they should. However, the company recommends limiting the intake to 2 shots a day with several hours in between.
Extremely high levels of vitamin B12 can result in diarrhea. One serious effect of excessive caffeine consumption is an arrhythmic heartbeat, which requires immediate medical attention. It can also cause insomnia and restlessness.
● Niacin flush: Niacin is another ingredient which may cause a reaction in people sensitive to high doses. This is called a 'niacin flush' and symptoms include red and itchy skin and a prickling sensation that may last for nearly 30 minutes.
Other risks: The drink also contains preservatives such as EDTA and sodium benzoate. Sodium benzoate, which combined with vitamin C, may trigger the release of carcinogens and may become a long-term cancer risk. It is advised not to mix or combine 5-hour ENERGY with citrus juices, or other products containing caffeine.
It also contains phenylalanine which can be a health risk to people with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria. Also, pregnant women and nursing mothers, and children below the age of 12, should not consume this drink. Individuals on medication such as antidepressants should avoid this drink too.
Although the product is not approved by the FDA, as it is a dietary supplement and comes under the purview of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which in turn is FDA regulated, there have been no incidences of serious health ailments connected with its use.
However, one must always use better judgment when consuming supplements and boosters. If you are trying it for the first time, take about half a bottle and see how you feel. If there is no flushing, reddening of the skin, or itching, you are probably safe from niacin flushes which can be a minor cause of concern.
Usage depends on person to person, but if one leads a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, the use of any supplements, however good they might be, is rendered unnecessary.
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