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Do energy drinks work?

High energy or just high price tag? That’s the question fueling the energy drink debate

By Sally Wadyka Jan 3, 2013 6:19PM

The names alone are enough to make you feel a little amped up: 5-Hour Energy. Monster Energy. Rockstar Energy. Full Throttle. In fact, they all sound so potent that they actually scare me a little. (Well, that and the recent spate of wrongful death lawsuits hounding such products.) I couldn’t help but wonder, though, what magic elixirs could these drinks possibly contain that would create a buzz that goes so far beyond a basic cola or cup of coffee?

The marketing jargon clearly suggests that these drinks will boost your energy. (They’ll do things like “give you wings” or “unleash the beast,” while causing “no crash later.”) But the companies that make most of these drinks are a little more vague when it comes to the details of exactly how they make that happen.

There’s caffeine involved, to be sure. And in some cases, lots of it. But there’s lots of caffeine in the double-shot latte I drink every morning, too, so what’s the difference? That seems to be the million-dollar question. Or, more accurately, the $10 billion dollar question, since that’s the amount Americans spent last year slurping down energy drinks.

While my daily latte makes no claims beyond tasting good and giving me a much-needed morning boost, energy drinks are all about assertions of their unique abilities to increase energy, sharpen your mind and improve performance with “propriety blends” of caffeine, taurine, megadoses of B vitamins and other supposedly energizing ingredients. Those claims are starting to get them in trouble. In July, New York attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman subpoenaed several drink makers as part of an investigation into whether they accurately disclosed how much caffeine their products contain. And more recently, Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts asked the Federal Trade Commission to step into the fray. Markey sent a letter (PDF) to the Commission in November requesting an investigation into energy drinks -- and whether their claims constitute “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.”

Part of the problem is that these drinks fall into something of a legal limbo. Many of them are marketed as supplements, not food, which means they are subject to less stringent regulation by the FDA. So their special energizing formulas are largely unproven to provide what the labels claim.

If, like me, after a late night or when the afternoon brain fog sets in, you get the urge to reach for a little liquid pick-me-upI, just know that if you grab a drink whose promise sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

More on Healthy Living:

Addicted to energy drinks
Doctors warn about high levels of caffeine

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