Examining the Claims of 5-hr Energy

Wed, 10 Oct. 2012 - 1:29 a.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

Examining the Claims of 5-hr Energy
“In a clinical trial 5-hour ENERGY® significantly outperformed placebo on continuity of attention and self-related awareness,” states the website of the popular energy supplement. What does this vague claim mean, and does it hold up under scrutiny? There seems to be an ever-increasing amount of energy drinks on the market. Many, including 5-hour Energy, which we explore here, make claims that underscore their ability to slow-release a consistent level of increased energy over the course of several hours, thereby avoiding the inevitable caffeine crash. Are they interacting metabolically with the user any different than caffeine? 
First, the above study result says nothing in comparison of 5-hour Energy to caffeine or coffee. The shot outperformed placebo, but not necessarily coffee—nor does the study report any evidence for the five-hour aspect of the drink’s claims. The energy supplement contains no sugar, just four calories, and an undisclosed amount of caffeine. So what else does it contain that might make it superior to coffee?
In addition to caffeine, a shot of 5-hr Energy contains four different B vitamins and several amino acids. Do these ingredients help keep you energized and focused for hours on end during your busy workday? Let’s look at a few of the marketing statements made under each ingredient.
Vitamins B6 and B12
The 5-hour Energy website says that vitamin B6, “plays a key role in the production of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. It is used in the creation of DNA. It’s involved in over 100 crucial chemical reactions in our bodies. It helps form nearly all new cells in our bodies.” All of this is true, but there is no claim to increased energy here on which to hang one’s hat.
The same non-claim goes for B12: “Vitamin B12 is involved in a variety of important functions including the production of amino acids and the processing of carbohydrates into energy,” states the site. If anything, this statement ought to lead one to increase carbohydrate intake, the stated source of the energy. 
Folic Acid (Vitamin B9) and Niacin (Vitamin B3)
The site proudly states: “Folic acid, or folate, helps produce and maintain new cells in our bodies.” Again, there is nothing here that helps us understand how consuming folate as a supplement will within minutes help you concentrate, allow you to perform physical tasks with increased alertness or precision, or any other elevated energy benefit.
Similarly, the site simply tells us: “Niacin is important for energy production. It plays a key role in converting fats, proteins, carbohydrates and starches into usable energy*.”
Fats and proteins—just like carbohydrates in the prior example—look like the best choice for increased energy here (with good reason, of course). But we have an additional development. The best indicator of where the energy-increasing claims of 5-hour Energy intersect with evidence-based science is the placement of the asterisk on the company’s website. The asterisk points to this disclosure, a footer that appears on every webpage:
“*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”
The following statements are all accompanied by the asterisk, precisely because these do make overt claims about increased energy:
“Citicoline is a water-soluble compound essential for the synthesis of phosphatidyl choline, a constituent of brain tissue. Citicoline plays a role in neurotransmission and can help support brain function.*”
“An essential amino acid that enhances alertness*” 
“A natural metabolite found in the human body. It is produced by the metabolization of glucose in the liver. It has been shown to reduce sleepiness*.”
There are a few additional ingredients like taurine and malic acid; these make no direct energy-boosting claims in their sections on the site.
5-hour Energy tells us there is an extra-strength version which differs only in that it contains an increased amount of caffeine. But, if the other chemicals are effective for energy boosting, why not double, say, the citicoline? And of course, the company makes no mention of the efficacy versus placebo of the caffeine-free version of the drink; it’s hard to imagine they’d be interested in funding such a study.
Consumer Reports was allowed to view a summary of the study 5-hour Energy did conduct. It hasn't been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, which of course screens for biases. Even more notably, you won’t find this study on their website; it seems 5-hour Energy doesn’t even want the average reader to scrutinize it for biases. Consumer Reports found nothing in the study or elsewhere that buttressed claims that large amounts of B vitamins, amino acids, or metabolites, when consumed in a beverage, increased energy. 
Is 5-hour Energy harmful? It’s not likely. The FDA has not approved it for efficacy, but it is not unregulated and unmonitored. People with the rare genetic disorder phenylketonuria should avoid it, as should children, pregnant women, and anyone for whom caffeine has been contraindicated. 5-hour Energy will probably chase away grogginess at least as well as a cup of coffee, albeit a strong one.  An October 2010 analysis by ConsumerLab.com, an independent group that conducts product evaluations, found that it contained about 207 milligrams of caffeine. An 8-ounce serving of Starbucks coffee has 180 milligrams of caffeine, according to the company’s website.
In the meantime, it’s easy to forget that calories are energy. 5-hour Energy, with only four calories per serving, is a dubious choice for prolonged, even, increased energy.
The company points out, “The key ingredients in 5-hour ENERGY® are also available in every day foods—like broccoli, avocados, bananas and apples…” More specifically, they seem eager to tell us that food sources of vitamin B6 include “fortified cereals, beans, meat, poultry, fish, and some fruits and vegetables…Food sources of Niacin include: meat and dairy products, leafy vegetables, broccoli, tomatoes, avocados, nuts and whole grains… Food sources of folate include leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans and peas.” Likewise, we’re told that phenylalanine is “found in dairy products, avocados, legumes, nuts, leafy vegetables, whole grains, poultry and fish.” Taurine is found in meat, fish, and dairy products; malic acid in fruit.
You’re better off consuming any of those whole foods for the day’s energy. Again, the company’s website best sums it up, although this time with uncharacteristic understatement: “Individual results may vary.”
National Institutes of Health, Phenylketonuria, June 2011,
5-hour Energy, http://www.5hourenergy.com
Consumer Reports, “Can 5-hour Energy Kick Your Afternoon Slump?” Feb. 2011, http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/04/can-5-hour-energy-kick-your-afternoon-slump/index.htm

(RUNNING & FITNEWS® May / June 2012 • Volume 30, Number 3)

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