I’ve always admired the Five-Hour Energy company for the company’s incredible ability to market their product to the tired, mentally drained masses, and there was a time when I had no reservations about taking some for that extra boost.
My goal was to avoid Red Bull and other energy drinks, which have of course been linked to several health problems.
Five-Hour Energy and other “energy shot” companies position themselves as a healthier alternative to Red Bull with less caffeine (about one cup per), but is that really the case?
You may be surprised to find out what’s really in America’s new favorite pick-me-up, and that true healthy options are actually quite simple to find (not to mention relatively cheap).
The “Healthier Alternative” to Energy Drinks? Really?
There’s a lot packed into one 1.93-ounce energy shot, but the sad truth is that there are at least four ingredients that I personally avoid at all times (and you should too).
Included in Five-Hour Energy are:
-Artificial Flavors: While they are vague on the type of artificial flavors included, these can be a troublesome ingredient for many people. Artificial flavors have been known to cause allergy and even behavioral issues, and are also linked to thyroid disorders which can suppress your energy reserves in the long run.
–Potassium Sorbate: While they affect some people more than others, it’s common knowledge that preservatives like this one are best to be avoided. Potassium sorbate may cause allergic reactions and even migraines for some people.
-Sodium Benzoate: Of all the preservatives out there, this may be the most important to avoid.
Sodium Benzoate literally deprives your cells of oxygen, the mitochondrial (power center) cells in particular, which could lead to all sorts of side effects with repeated use.
A recent study by Sheffield University in the UK even found that it can cause essential parts of the human DNA to “stop working (this is not a typo).”
-Sucralose: The popular and highly controversial artificial sweetener Splenda is sucralose-based, and if you’ve read the news lately you probably know just how harmful artificial sweeteners can be.
A 2009 study by the consumer education group Citizens for Health found that animals eating Sucralose had 50 percent less good bacteria in their intestines, increased body weight and other abnormalities.
The chairman of the group added that hundreds of consumers had complained about side effects from the sweetener, and said he believed it should carry a “big red warning label.”
Perhaps the only quality ingredient is “Purified Water,” which is usually only in health products. In this case, its presence may be fooling consumers.
Five Natural Pick-Me-Ups Without the Junk
There were times when I’d slam as many as three Five-Hour Energy shots in one sitting to revive my mind during long hours in the newsroom, but by the end of the day, I felt ragged and drained.
Since I’ve had been able to step back and rethink my health, I’ve found new ways to recharge without hurting my long-term health.
You can almost always find me with one of these four natural pick-me-ups (and/or engaging in the other one) during or after a long work day:
1. Peppermint Oil- Having energy is as much mental as it is physical, maybe more, and few things stimulate the mind like a good, strong essential oil.
Among them, Peppermint Oil is my favorite: Powerful yet refreshing and pleasant enough to dab on your neck or your clothes, or to drink a few drops in a glass of water. Studies show how effective it is, including one that showed an increase in brain oxygen concentration and respiratory rate along with ventilation.
They also show that peppermint may be effective on perceived physical workload, temporal workload, effort, and anxiety; “in augmenting cognitive performance, working memory, visual-motor response” and more.
2.Yerba Mate- Caffeine is popular because it works, but most holistic health practitioners recommend it in moderation because it can tax the adrenal glands and create dependency.
Mate has been said to contain a cousin to caffeine called “mateine,” although others dispute that such a compound exists and say that yerba mate tea simply has a more balanced combination of compounds that make it non-habit forming.
You can find yerba mate in your local health food store or online; I sometimes drink it at work in a glass bottle as an iced tea throughout the day.
3. Vitamin B12- I’m just going to come right out and say it: I’m deficient Vitamin B12. That much was confirmed via a biofeedback test this past winter and since then I’ve been supplementing with B12. Vegans and vegetarians seem to be especially at risk, and eating a diet more like these may have contributed to my issue (I must say that more research should be done, but this is the trend I’ve read about).
This vitamin is especially important for the nervous system, i.e. helping you feel more alert and focused throughout your body and mind.
4. Meditation- Okay, so it’s not a supplement.
But there’s no substitute for carving out a little bit of time to relax during your workday.
Many times I thought I was physically tired were actually just instances of having way too much mental clutter. Finding a spot to meditate can be difficult, but creativity goes a long way here: I would often slip away to an empty parking lot to at least have the ability to get away from everything on my lunch break and relax.
Meditation can be remarkably effective in as little as eight minutes a day according to experts.
5. Camu Camu- While other mammals still produce Vitamin C within their bodies, humans have actually lost that ability over time. That’s, well, a bit of a problem because Vitamin C is necessary for so many functions.
Vitamin C can help reduce oxidative stress, prevent colds, help the absorption of iron (preventing anemia), and may even reduce fatigue significantly according to studies like this one.
This vitamin may help with the synthesis of L-carnitine, which helps to transport fatty acids to the mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells. It is thought that the lack of vitamin C in the body may lead to fatigue because of the inability to complete this process.
People take Vitamin C in North America more than any other supplement, but they often miss out on the best forms of it, especially camu camu, which is thought to be the highest source in the world per ounce (rose hips, amla berry, acerola cherry and other sources are also among the highest).
Unfortunately, the synthetic versions of Vitamin C people take is often made in China, or in a lab in New Jersey (often from GMO corn, no less, or petroleum-based substances). It doesn’t absorb nearly as well as natural Vitamin C and it may leave you at risk for health issues like chronic colds, depression, premature aging and much more.
If you feel like you’re not getting enough Vitamin C, eating more organic fruits and vegetables can help, as will a top quality natural supplement.
I like to get my natural Vitamin C from Camu Camu, a powerful Amazon Rainforest Berry that also helps boost the serotonin (good mood chemical) levels in your mind, which you can check out here.
Energy on a long-term scale
While eating plenty of organic fruits and vegetables and drinking enough water is my number one strategy for all-day energy, we can all use a little boost from time-to-time. And truth be told, each of these ways work better and give me a more balanced, clear type of energy and feeling than coffee ever did.
I must admit it took me a little while to get used to not relying on caffeine and sugar, and the detox symptoms that followed were a little challenging to overcome. But after a couple weeks I was able to adjust and now I can honestly say I don’t crave either of those things anymore. In fact, I go out of my way to avoid them, but I know the short term boost isn’t worth it when there are so many better ways out there to give your body what it’s craving for energy.
P.S. If you’re an athlete looking for sports-related nutrition to take before a competitive event for longer-lasting energy, check out this article. The demands of intense activities like sporting events or competitions are often far different than the demands of simple every life activities.
Editor’s Note: This article was first written in January 2013 and updated in February 2018.
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