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Energy for Sale

Energy products abound -- in drinks, herbs, bars, and some stranger forms -- goo, anyone? -- but some are better at giving you a lift, and some are bunk. Part 2 of a three-part series.
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Sports, Fortified, and Energy Drinks continued...

For this reason, Camire says such drinks are more appropriate for athletes and not for people with regular, everyday activities. She also points to a recent study that shows the concoctions could cause gastrointestinal problems.

Some fortified and energy drinks have so-called propriety blends that sound mysterious. Moore says marketers play on the aura of secrecy to sell products. "There really isn't any magical formulation," she says.

If you look at the labels of energy drinks such as Red Bull, Red Stallion, and Sobe Adrenaline Rush, you will see that common ingredients include inositol and taurine. They don't have any special energy-boosting powers, says Moore, noting that our bodies already make inositol and taurine from the foods we eat. Inositol is a chemical found in foods including beans, brown rice, and corn. Taurine is an amino acid found in foods from animal sources.

Herbs and Supplements

Many energy products are infused with herbs that are supposed to give people an extra charge. Popular herbs include ginseng, guarana, yerba mate, rhodiola rosea, and cordyceps mushroom. They also come in supplement form.

How well do they work in increasing energy? Overall, it's uncertain, says Carol Haggans, MSRD, a consultant with the Office of Dietary Supplements, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. She says the evidence ranges from suggestive (some small studies say it might help), to contradictory (results of various studies differ), to nonexistent (no scientific studies have been done).

Of the herbs used for energy, ginseng probably has the most research, but the studies are contradictory, says Haggans. Plus, she says there are different types of ginseng, and the investigators don't always make it clear what kind was used in studies.

Asian ginseng, also known as Panax ginseng, is generally known as a stimulant and has been used by older people seeking more energy, says Andrew Weil, author of 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. The Asian variety also has a reputation as a sexual enhancer for men and has been used to improve athletic performance.

American ginseng, on the other hand, is used more as a tonic and is known to increase immunity over time, says Weil.

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