Five Hour Energy Will Not Kill You

Brett Whitehead
October 7, 2011

I
have worn glasses since the second grade, and I anticipate that I will wear glasses for the rest of my life. It’s mostly a matter of convenience, but a big reason is that the alternatives to glasses are not appealing. I’ve never tried contacts because the thought of touching my eyeballs everyday gives me the creeps. Another regularly suggested alternative to glasses is laser eye surgery, but I have never considered it and most likely will never consider it primarily due to one obscure Simpsons joke.

I can’t remember the specific episode because I haven’t watched the Simpsons in years, but for one reason or another, the Simpsons are in the future and Flanders has no eyes. The premise of the joke is that Flanders had laser eye surgery and we, as society, would find out that laser eye surgery makes your eyes fall out. It’s a funny premise, and I’ve since passed that off as my reasoning to catch an easy laugh.

Recently, however, I found myself in a fancy boardroom in the city of Wilmington discussing laser eye surgery with some pretty sophisticated businessmen and women. One person in particular said with total sincerity that she was afraid of getting the surgery and losing her eyesight because we “didn’t know all the facts yet,” i.e. Flanders’ eyes falling out. Which, if you really think about it, is crazy because I doubt thousands of doctors would be doing thousands of surgeries without having any idea of repercussions that may include loss of eyeballs [see “vague appeal to authority” http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/1043944/posts].

While refusal to engage is an efficient, though seemingly dangerous, benefit due to a totally unfound and unproven side effect and certainly seems illogical, my single favorite consumer product faces the same stigma. 5-hour ENERGY is awesome, yet I am regularly afraid it’s going to make my heart and/or brain explode [see, Scanners http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HY-03vYYAjA]. In the interest of quelling my fears, I tried Googling “Will 5 Hour Energy drink kill me?” and though the majority of results were negative, no one had a clear answer. Consequently, I’ve detailed my own personal experience along with some in-depth Google research in an attempt to answer the pertinent question and discover why the results I received were consistently negative, despite the lack of clarity on the product’s safety, or rather un-safety. Upon one morning of marginally serious research, I present the following.

Research

1. Field research shows that 5 Hour Energy drink will not kill you, despite the product’s best efforts to convince you otherwise.

5-hour ENERGY essentially is a cup of coffee in convenient shot form with some vitamins that sound healthy and other vitamins that sound like poison. Although caffeine can kill you, it’s found everywhere: coffee, tea, soda, and even soap [see, e.g. caffeinated soap http://www.thinkgeek.com/caffeine/5a65/]. What’s different about 5-hour ENERGY is namely the absurd amount of strange sounding chemicals that make up its ingredients. In an odd effort to destroy any and all confidence in its product, the percentage of daily healthy values are humorously excessive, and there are two warnings on the side that (1) sternly suggest personal limitation of the product and (2) describe a seemingly regular side effect that sounds highly uncomfortable. Despite appearing toxic, hard science shows that the primary ingredient in a poor 5-hour ENERGY experience is not, in fact, found in the bottle, but is instead the personal awareness of the person using the product.


Five hour energy nutrition information
Figure 1: 5-hour ENERGY nutrition information, source http://www.5hourenergy.com/healthfacts.asp.

a. Excessive vitamins will not kill you.

The normal sounding vitamins are B6, B12, niacin, and folic acid. The vitamin B6 assists with nervous and immune system health with a recommended daily value of just 1.3 milligrams a day. 5-hour ENERGY drink, on the other hand, contains (gulp) 40 mg in each serving, resulting in 2,000% of your daily value of B6. While there are effects from ingesting too much B6, it takes around 500 mg a day to show clinical symptoms, which include nerve damage to your arms and legs. Also, any affects resulting from too much B6 are reversible once you stop taking it. So if you can’t move your legs, just put the 5-Hour ENERGY down…and walk away [Office of Dietary Supplements http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitaminb6/].

Vitamin B12 provides benefits cell production and neurological function. I do not pretend to be a scientist, so to be honest, the benefits and specific functions of B12 are way over my head. From what I can gather, it assists with the gastric system and it is important to have in a daily diet. 5-hour ENERGY contains 8,333% of your daily value of B12 at a total level of 400 mcg per dosage, but for all accounts, there are no negative effects of too much B12. The toxicity potential is so low that even a daily dose of 1.0 mg per day had no negative effects on daily users [Office of Dietary Supplements http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitaminb12/]. (Apparently vegetarians may not receive enough B12 in their diet, so drink up herbivores! http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/b12.htm – ed.)

The levels of niacin and folic acid are within the recommended daily values, so it’s unlikely and unproven that these vitamins have any effect on brain, or general organ, explosion [compare, Chopping Mall, Girl’s Head Explodes to Surfing Bird http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLsaJNIxF9Q&NR=1]. I do feel as if niacin needs a little explanation, since it provides the first real example of specific side effects. I know very little about niacin aside from what I learned on a plane home from Hawaii in 2002, where a heavily tattooed gentleman sitting next to me told me that a vitamin supplement including niacin beats Army standard drug tests. In general, niacin provides many benefits to regular users, the most common being a reduction in cholesterol, reduction of depression, and energy production. Niacin unfortunately has the distinction of a specifically named side effect called “niacin flush,” which makes it pretty clear that said side effect is more than a passing fancy [compare http://digg.com/news/sports/Lou_Gehrig_May_Not_Have_Had_Lou_Gehrig_s_Disease]. Niacin flush is a dilation of your blood vessels, which results in skin redness and a feeling of warmth. This condition has no long-term effects, and the more niacin you take, the less likely you are to experience the symptoms, which sounds worse the more you think about it. It should be noted, however, that 5-hour ENERGY’s single serving dosage is 30 mg a day, and doctors suggest around 25-75 mg after every meal for those who require niacin’s benefits for medical purposes http://www.doctoryourself.com/niacin.html.

The witch’s brew of poisonous sounding supplements consist of a lot of things that end in –ine, but Google research shows very little deadly side effects from these products at reasonable 5-hour ENERGY levels. I also have a hard time getting too excited over chemicals I am not familiar with being included in my food. When 100% Apple Juice from Acme includes only one ingredient I know the purpose of (uh….apples?), I am hard pressed to nitpick over taurine being included in my 2 oz. energy supplement.

b. Poor math skills won’t kill you, but may put you in the hospital.

Overall, the dangerous effects of 5-hour ENERGY seems less likely with recommended usage and more likely with excessive abuse. There is a health warning on the bottle that suggests—more like demands—that only two bottles be used per day. Simple math implies that’s probably a good suggestion: there are only 24 hours a day and we should spend about 8 hours of those sleeping. That leaves 16 hours a day left when you’re awake, so 10 energized hours seems kosher. The most amazing reported story of 5-hour ENERGY abuse occurred in the summer of 2011, when a 22-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital with stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and skin jaundice. After normal causes for stomach pain were ruled out, it was discovered that this woman was taking ten bottles of 5-hour ENERGY a day for a two week period, which showed a strong amount of ignorance for both her own safety and math. If you don’t have 50 hours in a day, taking ten 5-hour ENERGY drinks leaves far too much energy on the table. By all accounts, the woman survived and the excessive levels of niacin, which we’ve already covered, caused her symptoms.
http://blog.usfoodsafety.com/2011/07/01/5-hour-energy-binge-lands-woman-in-hospital/

c. Personal research shows that 5-hour ENERGY drink will not kill you because I am not dead.

Obviously. However, I should note that I am writing this article because I am somewhat afraid that 5-hour ENERGY is going to end up like cigarettes: a super awesome way to get through the day to the early 1900’s professional that ends up killing high percentages of the population 50 years later. On the contrary, not all things that appeal to men between the ages of 18 and 30 will kill you. I have been hearing that video games rot your brains my whole life and my brain seems pretty up to par despite playing 20 hours of Assassin’s Creed 2 last week.

It was my intent to concentrate only on hard research in my hard science section of this article, but I feel the need to interject personal experience at this point. I have, on one occasion, exceeded the daily recommended dose of 5-hour ENERGY drink. Ray and I took three shots over a fifteen-hour period, and I can report that I woke up the next morning feeling like my heart was beating out of my chest and that I was going to die. It didn’t last forever, and eventually after breakfast I stopped sweating and my heart felt normal again. It’s likely that I simply had too much niacin and was thus experiencing a niacin flush. It’s also possible that I was feeling the effects of the 20 (or so) Bud Light Limes I drank the day before, but at this point we may be just splitting hairs. Point being, it’s best to stick to the directions of professionals when it comes to planning and executing your energy intake.

In total, hard science has little proof that 5-hour ENERGY drink will kill you. It may give you the jitters from time to time or put you in the hospital if you can’t add and have a death wish, but it’s no more harmful than drinking a cup of coffee or eating a bar of soap. These findings, however, are not new. As you can see, this information is easily accessible. The problem is that all reviews of 5-hour ENERGY are always skewed negative. My personal favorite attacks include “is 5-hour ENERGY a bile-flavored scam” and comparisons of 5-hour ENERGY to the (actual) drug E, in which it was stated that 5-hour ENERGY could kill you after even one dosage. To look deeper in the public distrust of 5-hour ENERGY, I looked even deeper into my own experience with product, which varies from recreational use to work-time supplement, to see if 5-hour ENERGY’s negative reputation is warranted.

2. 5-hour ENERGY is an enjoyable energy boost for times when you need energy.

My experience shows that the benefits of 5-hour ENERGY drink override any ambiguous fear of vital organs being grotesquely maimed from the inside out [see Kill Bill http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrigaQbUvZQ&feature=related]. I find that 5-hour ENERGY assists with three areas of my life where I can use the most assistance with energy: (1) being at work, (2) being hung-over, and (3) getting hung-over. Assistance in these three crucial areas makes usage worth the fear of the unknown.

a. 5-hour ENERGY drink is as good as advertised

5-hour ENERGY drink has a well-defined clientele, to which they advertise perfectly. People hate their jobs. If you can get past the poor production values and the everyman appeal of the 5-hour ENERGY TV spot, the premise that working sucks is really the core of the advertisement. There is nothing worse than being at work at 2:30 in the afternoon, as no one wants to do work on a full stomach after lunch. 5-hour ENERGY promises a productive, non-boring afternoon, and the product truly delivers.

I, like most people, also am not a huge fan of weekday afternoons. While I generally enjoy my job, I can see myself in 5-hour ENERGY drink’s dimly lit advertisement with that “2:30 feeling.” My personal experience is that 5-hour ENERGY is a fantastic cure for afternoon boredom and is best used to get you through the end of the day. I feel more productive, I watch the clock less, and I am more focused. I find that it helps me get projects done when I have no interest in starting them and helps me finish projects when I don’t feel like I have the strength or energy to put things to bed. Admittedly, I am a sucker for commercial advertisement. I go to Taco Bell whenever they have a fancy new Mexican option for dinner. I try new candy bars when they’re merely adding coconut to things I like better without coconut. I’ve bought three WWE Summerslam collector cups at 7-11 despite not liking any of the fountain drinks available at 7-11. But 5-hour ENERGY to me is more than a gimmick. Even if the benefits of 5-hour ENERGY are just placebo, I am bored less and get more done, and sometimes all’s well that ends well.

I should caveat this section by stating I hate the taste of coffee and if you get your caffeine fix from coffee, more power to you. I would imagine that if coffee doesn’t taste like dirt to you, you might prefer coffee or a latté over a shot of fruity energy drink that kind of hurts going down the chute. And that’s fine. But I don’t like coffee and I don’t like drinking 16 oz. hot drinks when it’s 90 degrees outside. I wouldn’t quite classify 5-hour ENERGY as a summer beverage, as it’s always stored at room temperature, but as long as you’re going function over fashion, I think it delivers caffeine far more efficiently than the alternatives.

Table 1:  BONUS! FLAVOR POWER POLL!

1Grape
2Pomegranate
3Orange
4Lemon-Lime
5Berry (barf)

b. 5-hour ENERGY is mostly missing out on the hang over market.

5-hour ENERGY is the world’s best hangover cure, if your primary symptoms are being tired and having a lack of energy. 5-hour ENERGY won’t cure your headache or rid you of non-stop diarrhea, but it will get you through things that you have to do but you don’t want to do. Consider, for example, work, which is why I included the word “mostly” in the heading of this subsection. The commercials show people who are zombies both at work and in the morning before work. It’s entirely possible that those people are hung-over and the commercial just isn’t specific. And that’s probably a good idea on behalf of 5-Hour ENERGY. I can’t imagine you’re going to conjure a great product image appealing to people who smell like cigarette smoke and roll out of bed in the fancy clothes they wore the night before. It just bears mentioning that if you’ve got a chore the day after a moderate night of partying, it’s not a bad idea to have some 5-hour ENERGY drink handy.

c. 5-hour ENERGY is completely missing out on the reckless drinker market.

In the interest of not indicting myself, all I’ll say is that if you like Red Bull and vodka,
your failure to investigate 5-hour ENERGY drink and any available liquor you may have lying around just shows laziness. While both Red Bull and 5-Hour ENERGY drink taste pretty gnarly, at least 5-hour ENERGY comes in different flavors, unlike the obnoxious one-size-fits all poison flavor of Red Bull. Plus, you can cram more energy in your drink with 5-Hour ENERGY because the energy is synthesized for a smaller container. It’s just simple drinking economics. That and ordering a Red Bull and vodka makes you look like a dork.

Here’s an insider secret from me to you. Go to Dead Presidents Restaurant and Pub on Union Street and ask for an Ole’ Veronica. You have to bring your own 5-hour ENERGY because, apparently, no reputable bar stocks it, but the inconvenience of planning ahead is worth it. (Fortunately, there is a 7-11 within stumbling distance. –ed.)

Discussion

Throughout my research, the most perplexing mystery centered on why there’s a negative stigma attached to a product that, for all intents and purposes, is a healthy way to stay focused at work. I always feel judged when I buy them at convenience stores and I have to twist people’s arms to try 5-hour ENERGY alcohol shots, even though those same people will drink dorky Red Bull and vodkas without hesitation.

My theory is that people are hesitant to take 5-hour ENERGY because we do not believe that institutional problems can be fixed without consequences. You can’t lose weight being sedentary and eating cheese-steaks any more than you can re-grow your hair without going through hair replacement surgery that in the end makes you look like a monster [see http://www.mirror.co.uk/celebs/pictures/2011/06/08/wayne-rooney-shows-of-his-new-hairline-while-on-hoilday-with-coleen-and-kai-115875-23187951/]. In the same token, being bored in the middle of the afternoon feels like a right of passage. You’re bored at school, you’re bored in college, and you’re bored at work. It’s the same thing as hating waking up in the morning. 5-hour ENERGY feels like cheating, so there has got to be something bad about it.

I submit even the most reputable criticism for 5-hour ENERGY as evidence for my theory that people are faster to criticize 5-hour ENERGY because it seems like a fraud. The popular, albeit douchy, Men’s Health column “Eat This Not That” makes the argument that you are better off drinking coffee than 5-hour ENERGY without justifying its conclusion with hard science [see http://eatthis.menshealth.com/content/truth-about-energy-drinks?article=1&page=1]. The first argument leveled against 5-hour ENERGY is the pretextual claim that it’s too expensive for what you’re getting. The argument being that if you’re only getting the caffeine from one cup of coffee, just buy a cup of coffee instead. I suppose that’s a good point if you’re really interested in a cost-effective way to get through the day, but considering that most people I know add a million packets of sugar in their coffee and drink about 5 cups a day, I’d rather drink a smaller product which ends up being the same price in the end that also doesn’t make me smell like someone took a poop in my mouth. Besides, 5-hour ENERGY is anywhere between $2 to $3 a bottle, so the difference in price is nominal. It is also hard to ignore the potshot taken in the last paragraph, which says that side effects of 5-hour ENERGY can include nausea, hallucinations (?!?) and a spike in blood pressure. This argument implies these conditions are caused by 5-hour ENERGY; however, coffee and 5-hour ENERGY have the same caffeine, so this point is moot. It’s really just two sides of the same coin, at least to the extent that a dependency on coffee should in no way be seen as the sugar free gelato to 5-hour ENERGY’s Dairy Queen Brownie Blizzard see also Applebee’s provolone stuffed meatballs to Applebee’s grilled chicken salad.

My argument here is that given the opportunity, people choose to find flaws in 5 hour-ENERGY as opposed to pointing out the benefits. 5-hour ENERGY is a different type of product advertising an improbable solution to an impossible problem. Ultimately though, 5-hour ENERGY is not snake oil, and although the labels aren’t doing any favors, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to admit that it may just be a safe and effective way to get through a tough day.

Conclusions

5-hour ENERGY drink is a multi-use product that benefits lazy, unfocused professionals who like to get drunk for a long period of time. 5-hour ENERGY drink will not kill you, but it’s probably best not to get too crazy with it or you may end up in the hospital, although you’re more likely to just be uncomfortable for ten minutes.

In regard to the court of public opinion, 5-hour ENERGY drink is not cheating the system any more than getting laser eye surgery is cheating the system. Both are effective, slightly costly ways to make your life a little more enjoyable and, like everything, may have side effects down the road that we cannot predict at this juncture in modern science. People will always hate on easy ways to solve problems that seem ingrained in the human condition, which is understandable, but 5-hour ENERGY is not worth fretting your personal safety any more than it’s worth blacklisting anonymously on the internet. In the end, there’s a good chance it may just make you hate your life 15% less from Monday through Friday and 20% less Friday night through Sunday afternoon. To that extent, I will remain an optimist. I can only hope that optimism won’t render me without a brain, a heart or eyeballs ten years down the line [see http://cmarez.deviantart.com/art/No-eyes-no-brain-no-heart-169301147].

brett.whitehead@brutalhorse.com
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