red bull

In 1987, a wealthy Austrian entrepreneur named Dietrich Mateschitz arrived in Thailand with a killer case of jet lag. He tried a traditional drink known as Krating Daeng to cut through the brain smog and give him an energy boost… Mr. Mateschitz is now one of the richest people in the world, and his drink known as Red Bull is consumed by everyone from soccer moms who need a jolt to college kids in jagerbomb form (more on that later).

Although there are many energy drinks on the market, Red Bull is by far the most popular, good old coffee notwithstanding. But what exactly is a Red Bull? What is the magic combination in that hot pink drink that peps the step and wakes up the brain?

Basically, Red Bull is a mix of sugar, caffeine, taurine and several B vitamins, all of which are well known for their energy-promoting qualities. Take a closer look at the powerful drink’s active ingredients:

Glucose & Sucrose: Do you recognize your old friend sugar? Red Bull has 27 grams of sugar per can, which is actually a little less than most soft drinks (Dr. Pepper has 40 grams) – but still a massive amount of the sweet stuff. Prepare for an energy rush – and then crash. Sugarfree Red Bull contains the artificial sweeteners aspartame, acesulfame K and sucrolose instead of sugar, which have recently been linked to a massive increase in cardiovascular disease. 

Caffeine: Red Bull contains 80mg of caffeine, about half of other soft drinks and about the same as a cup of coffee. Caffeine’s stimulating mental and physical benefits have been well documented, with some even arguing that coffee’s introduction to the Western World made possible the Industrial Revolution. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine, a sleep-promoting brain chemical, which in turn makes your body release adrenaline. Caffeine is the world’s most widely used psychoactive substance, and over-consumption can cause diarrhea, twitching, racing heartbeat and nervousness – otherwise known as the “caffeine jitters.”

Taurine: Taurine, or 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, is an amino acid naturally made in the human body. Found in the lower intestine and a major component of bile, taurine is an antioxidant that helps to move minerals throughout the system and generate nerve impulses. Each can of Red Bull contains 1000mg taurine, and although Red Bull containing the substance was banned in France for awhile, at this point all bans are off and taurine is generally considered safe.

Glucuronolactone: This naturally occurring chemical is found in connective tissues and plant gums. A carbohydrate, glucuronolactone is a stimulant with mild anti-depressant effects that helps improve memory and concentration. It also has detoxifying qualities and can help remove waste from the body.

Inositol: Inositol is a mood-booster that helps the brain use serotonin, and can be found in many foods such as oranges, cantaloupes and high-fiber nuts and beans.

Niacin: B vitamin that helps with energy formation and use.

D-Pantothenol: Also known as vitamin B-5 or Pantothenic Acid, D-Pantothenol is an essential nutrient that improves mood, boosts metabolism and helps to turn fat into energy. Vitamin B-5 deficiency has been connected to a host of mental and physical health problems including acne, fatigue, muscle cramps and apathy.

Pyridoxine HCL: Otherwise known as vitamin B6, pyridoxine HCL helps the body to form red blood cells and use oxygen, improving mood and energy levels.

Vitamin B-12: Like vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 helps form red blood cells for oxygen utilization.

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As you can see, there is certainly some accuracy behind Red Bull’s claims to “increase performance, increase concentration and reaction speed, improve vigilance, improve emotional status and stimulate metabolism.” But what are the trade offs?

The truth is, you need sustained energy in a relaxed yet alert state, not energy ups and downs.

Well okay – sometimes you need the “up.” And Red Bull can certainly provide this – just make sure that you can allow your body time to rest for the corresponding “down” that will inevitably follow. If you can afford to give your body and mind some down time, then the quick stimulation from an energy drink might be worth it. Just remember that building up a sleep debt is bad for your system, and a good night’s sleep is one of the most effective (and inexpensive) anti-depressants in the world.

A multivitamin taken once daily that contains all the B vitamins can help to give you sustained energy throughout the day. B vitamins in any form can upset the stomach, so whether you pop a pill or down a can of Red Bull, your body will be better off if it has some food in it to offset the B vitamins’ tummy-aching potentialities.

If you love Red Bull’s jolt however, rest assured that the most dangerous ingredients in the can by far are probably already two of your favorites: caffeine and sugar. All the other active ingredients are in very small doses that are likely not going to hurt your system – however if you drink ten cans of Red Bull in a row, you WILL be shaking like a cocoa bean leaf and your stomach is probably not going to like you too much. However, the same thing would happen if you consumed ten cups of coffee.

Overall, Red Bull is safe. The trouble with energy drinks occurs when they are mixed with alcohol, such as in the popular “bomb shots” where a shot of hard liquor is dropped into a Red Bull and pounded – often multiple times. The stimulating effects of the energy juice can keep a person up and drinking, when they really should have passed out already and stopped consuming alcohol.

However, if you aren’t in the market for binge drinking and just crack a can of Red Bull here and there to make it through your next meeting, then breathe easy. Red Bull is no tool of the devil, and sometimes even angels need an energy boost and a little help with their wings. Of course, there’s nothing organic about Red Bull!

image: Dawn Ashley

sources: 

http://www.redbull.com/

http://www.amazon.com/Devils-Cup-History-According-Coffee/dp/0345441494

In no way does OrganicAuthority.com promote drinking Red Bull or any other energy drink. Consult your personal physician for advice.