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Are Energy Shots Safe?

Expert concerns about the popular pick-me-ups.

Caffeine Concerns continued...

Caffeine and other stimulants in energy shots are of special concern for those who play sports, Rosenbloom says. Yet getting a quick boost before exercising is one of the key reasons consumers say they take energy shots.

"The point of exercise is to get your heart rate up and sustain your blood pressure. You don’t want to go into that already revved up," Rosenbloom says. "If you have any underlying health issue, that could trigger a heart attack, a stroke, some kind of episode of really high blood pressure."

Some people drink energy shots to try to sober up after drinking alcohol so they can drive home.

Brent Bauer, MD, director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says, "Being a more alert drunk isn’t any safer than being a drunk. But that seems to be a growing use among some of my younger patients."

Who Drinks Energy Shots?

Young men are the most likely to consume energy drinks and shots, although the market among all adults ages 25 to 45 is growing. Young people ages 12 to 17 who consume energy drinks down an average of 5.2 cans a month. Adults drink an average of 4.6 cans.

"Our target market is working adults who experience fatigue and feel they can benefit from an energy boost," says Lynn Petersmarck, advertising director for Living Essentials.

Beyond Caffeine

Nutritionists are also concerned about other ingredients in the shots and how they might interact. They would like to see more studies on the safety and effectiveness of the blends. Because they are marketed as dietary supplements, energy shots do not require FDA approval before hitting the market.

"A lot of these products contain multiple amounts of ingredients such as taurine and tyrosine and phenylalanine, and of course caffeine and guarana," White says. "There’s not enough research on how they’re going to react together, especially down the road."

Bauer says drinkers may get some energy benefits from taurine but not from high doses of B vitamins. 5-Hour Energy, for example, claims to provide more than 8,000% of the recommended daily intake for B12, which is found in animal products and helps form red blood cells, and 2,000% of the recommended intake of B6. Vitamin B6, also found in animal products as well as in beans, whole grains, and fortified cereals and breads, helps boost the immune system and produce red blood cells.

"None of them are going to boost energy unless you’re B-deficient," Bauer says.

In general, B vitamins aren’t toxic in large amounts, Rosenbloom says. They’re water-soluble, which means they pass out of the body in urine. But high doses of B6 can cause nerve damage, tingling, and numbness in the arms and legs.

Living Essentials' spokesperson Petersmarck says the products are safe. "Everything in 5-Hour Energy is already contained in foods, such as apples, avocados, grains, and nuts, or is naturally occurring in your body," she says.

The company warns that those who are sensitive to vitamin B3 (niacin) may experience a niacin flush that involves a brief reddening of the skin and a hot, prickly feeling. One shot of 5-Hour Energy contains 150% of the recommended daily intake of niacin, which is found in animal products, beans, and fortified cereals and breads and helps the body convert food to energy.

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