5-Hour Energy Drink: Bile-Flavored Scam or Miraculous Nectar of The Gods?

5-Hour Energy Drink: Bile-Flavored Scam or Miraculous Nectar of The Gods?
Call me skeptical, but the first time I saw 5-Hour Energy Drink, I immediately dismissed it as a scam. I mean, all the telltale signs were present: 1. The price was relatively high. 2. The words "Energy Supplement" were present on the bottle. 3. The label appeared to have been designed by a semiliterate child and printed on a cheap laser printer in some meth addict's basement. 4. It was sitting on the counter at a filthy gas station next to a container of laser pointer keychains and Playboy bunny lighters. So I think you can forgive me for concluding that the whole thing wasn't on the up-and-up.
 
But in the interest of semi-science (internet science?) I decided to buy a few bottles of 5-Hour Energy Drink, do some research on the ingredients, and perform a few test-drinks to see what effect this shining example of Ostensibly Shady Energy Drink Marketing would have on my hypercynical, overly suspicious mind. The results of my experiment are contained in the following article, which is guaranteed to thrill, educate, and excite (provided your standards are low enough).

Note: This article was originally written in mid 2010, and I can't be bothered to keep it current, so if any of the cited information or links are out-of-date, this would be the reason.

BACKGROUND

5 Hour Energy Drink Bile Tasting Scam Dietary Supplement
The first thing you should know is that the FDA considers 5-Hour Energy Drink to be a Dietary Supplement. The gist of this label is that the FDA classifies Dietary Supplements as foods, not drugs. Meaning...
 
  1. Dietary Supplements are not officially tested for safety
  2. Dietary Supplements are not officially tested for efficacy
 
Thus: Any sketchy new-age asshole with a label printing machine can bottle pretty much anything he feels like, claim to have tested it (or not, it doesn't really make a difference), and sell it to the public so long as he slaps a "dietary supplement" label on it. And most people won't bat an eye when buying it because they assume, "Hey, it's in a store and the packaging looks all official-like and obviously this can't hurt me and I can take as much as I want because it's not a drug and is therefore just like eating an apple boy do I ever love apples oh my god Edna I have the jaundice."
 
Honestly, the only "real" regulatory action the FDA may take is to Ask Politely that the manufacturer pull any supplements which have been proven to be harmful. If they don't feel like taking a hit on a costly recall (and they usually don't) The Product Stays On The Shelf, ready to be purchased by morbidly obese women with degrees in numerology. So rest assured that if a dietary supplement was causing causing severe heart attacks accompanied by cranial and genital implosion, the FDA would [probably] step in [within 2-6 months] to ask that the manufacturer pull it off [most of] the [retail] market, which would ensure our [relative] safety [provided that the manufacturer chooses to comply with the request]. Phew! What a relief!
 
Needless to say, I was really looking forward to ingesting a few 5-Hour Energy drinks!
 

INGREDIENTS

5-Hour Energy Drink: Bile Flavored Scam Dietary Supplement
Sometimes for a laugh, I like to check out the list of ingredients which dietary supplement manufacturers claim to have allegedly included in their products. What's most interesting about 5-Hour Energy drink, is that in this case is that the only real "ingredient" listed (aside from random unnecessary vitamins) on the container is an "energy blend". This seems to be an aggregation of the eight most [possibly] active and [seemingly] important ingredients in the drink, conveniently mashed into a single meaningless clump.
 
So instead of a useful list showing each ingredient along with the amounts of each (the way most energy drinks do) you get this: "Energy Blend - 1870mg" and then a list of all the ingredients included in the blend, leaving you to speculate as to the portions of each. Does the blend include 1863mg of caffeine and 1mg of each other substance? 1/8th of each ingredient? Is a haphazard combination of these substances ingested by workers at the factory and subsequently vomited into each bottle? Nobody knows!
 
But hey, it's no big deal right? If you're going to ingest a highly concentrated cocktail of various unknown and mostly untested chemical stimulants, it's probably best to ensure you're getting indeterminate amounts of each. It adds to the excitement, and since it's not REAL medicine (like pills or surgery), there's absolutely no chance of harmful side effects or complications!
 
But even so, I decided to do some quick research on the ingredients, just so I could get an idea of the potential benefits (in any) the substances I might be ingesting in significant/dangerous quantities might construe. Here's what I found.

Taurine

5 Hour Energy Drink Doesn't Work?Seeing as this is an extremely common (and frequently advertised) ingredient in energy drinks, there's probably little doubt about its energy-bestowing properties, right? Well...if by "little doubt" you mean Some Doubt then, yes, you would be correct. But then again, even if there were some reputable study showing the benefits of certain taurine on energy or stamina, it would make little difference, seeing as NOBODY EVEN KNOWS HOW MUCH TAURINE IS IN 5-HOUR ENERGY. Yeesh.

Glucuronolactone

Now see here: The only evidence I could even find that people were taking this substance willingly (let alone studying it's effects) was In This Short Wikipedia Entry which only mentions an urban legend about its effect on brain tumors, and some absolute bullshit about it's supposed ability to "detoxify" the body. I also came across a few shifty characters in bodybuilding forums who were speculating on its performance-enhancing properties, but even they seemed skeptical. Take from this what you will.

Malic Acid

I can't find a credible source linking this stuff to anything other than "the ability to create the tartness in Sweet Tarts and other such candied". In conclusion: Malic acid may or may not be an ingredient in various things and I don't really know what it does.

Tyrosine, Citicoline, & Phenylalanine

A few reputable studies have actually been done on the effects of Tyrosine. However, None Of These Helps 5-Hour Energy's case much, as at best they show minuscule improvements at dosages far exceeding (10X or more) the amounts of Tyrosine a single 5-Hour Energy would contain even if the entire "Energy Cocktail" was made up entirely of these substances. As for citicoline and phenylalanine, I can find no evidence of anything related to fatigue or energy. Surprise!

Caffeine

Here is the ingredient which is 99.999999% likely to be the one and only cause of any energy boost you might feel after drinking a 5-Hour Energy Drink. The bottle makes the cryptic claim that 5-Hour contains (caffeine comparable to a cup of the leading premium coffee).

5 Hour Energy Drink CaffeineAnd while I'm normally a huge fan of the "solve a riddle to get an estimate of the dosage of the most highly active ingredient included in our product" the problem is that the caffeine content in "a cup of coffee" can range anywhere from 60mg to 175mg, depending on the type of coffee you're drinking and how it's been prepared.
 
So why even include the statement at all? First of all, I assume it's because many people (gasp) actually want to know the amount of caffeine in the products they drink and so 5-Hour Energy (and I am really tired of typing that) is throwing them a bone.

Second, if you said "may contain anywhere from 40-175mg of caffeine" people would begin to suspect that your company may just be some fly-by-night group of low-rent corporate thugs who've hatched a brilliant plan to bilk the ignorant among us by charging a 10 Billion percent markup on what is essentially flavored water with a random amount of caffeine added.
 
And we wouldn't want that now would we?

Update (02.09.11): An Independent Study Performed By Consumer Labs found that 5-Hour Energy "contained about 207 milligrams of caffeine" which is about the same as one would find an 8 ounce Starbucks coffee. Surprise, surprise.


THE EXPERIMENT

5 Hour Energy Drink Test
If we're going to be honest here, most people don't half a shit about which ingredients or chemical compounds are included in their energy drink. As long as it gives them a boost and doesn't kill them, they're satisfied. So for these people, I performed a simpler test: I drank a couple bottles of 5-Hour Energy to see what happened. I chose the regular strength (whatever the hell that means), Berry flavored (bile flavored) drink as it was the only one available. And just to be clear, I did this BEFORE I performed all my half-assed "research" and discovered the apparent worthlessness of 99% of the active ingredients, so don't go claiming all "preconceived notions" on me or anything.
 
So what happened? Let me tell you: Not much. I got a decent buzz for half an hour, followed by a few hours of increased energy and then a crash. It bears mentioning that the bottle claims "No Crash Later" but upon further investigation I discovered a footnote which explains that by "no crash" they actually mean "no SUGAR crash". This is an interesting claim to make, seeing as sugar crashes Probably Don't Even Exist, but I guess that's a story for another time.
 
I'd say that overall, the experience I had after drinking a 5-Hour Energy Drink was identical to (if not weaker than) the feeling I get from taking a 200mg caffeine pill (something I do fairly often). Which is to say it was a decent way of combating drowsiness for a few hours, but not anything special.
 
But of course, no matter what anyone says (uncredited idiots on no-name websites like this one included), there are still gonna be people out there who claim to get a "bigger buzz" from 5-Hour Energy drink than from regular energy drinks or caffeine pills. This is hardly surprising, but I would like to point a few things out to these people:
 
  1. 5-Hour Energy probably does contain a lot of caffeine. This caffeine is highly concentrated, and because of the "shot-like" nature of 5-Hour Energy, users are likely to drink the entire bottle at once. This might account for the difference in effect some people claim to feel between energy shots and larger energy drinks.
  2. Nobody even knows how much caffeine is in 5-Hour energy drink (it could be 300mg, it could be 40), so there's really no fair way to compare it's effects to other caffeine-containing substances.
  3. The Placebo Effect
 

IN THE END

5 Hour Energy Drink Scam
I am in no way disputing that 5-Hour Energy gives you "energy". Obviously it does. However, I would point out to you that a single 200mg caffeine pill will cost you about 10-20 cents, while a bottle of 5-Hour Energy drink is often more than $2.00. If this doesn't jump out at you as somewhat obscene, then by all means, go right out and throw your money away on a case of this foul-tasting dreck. But as a person who values practicality and good sense over vague unproven claims and marketing hype, I think I'll stick to popping pills.



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