Walk into a convenience store, and you can’t even see the sugary sodas for all the energy drinks cluttering up the aisles, touting vitamin B12 among their many other energy-boosting ingredients. Why are more Americans turning to vitamin-infused 5-hour energy shots for instant get-up-and-go, and do these products work?
Energy drinks- is it all bull?
The label on the can promises extra vitamin B12 -cobalamin– for “maximum energy,” athletic endurance, and increased mental focus, without causing nasty side effects associated with most energy drinks (nervousness, paranoia, and insomnia). At least, that’s the claim. But how healthy are vitamin B12 drinks, and does the “energy blend” of vitamins and nutrients really have that much impact on your energy level?
Let’s look at the most common ingredients in a 2-ounce bottle:
- Niacin- 30mg (150% RDA)
- Vitamin B6- 40mg (2000% RDA)
- Folic acid- 400mcg (100% RDA)
- Vitamin B12- 500mcg (8333% RDA)
- “Energy Blend”- 1870mg
Oh, and don’t forget the caffeine
Yes- all energy drinks contain loads of caffeine, in addition to all the healthy nutrients. That “energy blend” referred to on the label includes about 138mg of caffeine- ounce for ounce, the same amount of caffeine as in a cup of brewed coffee, and twice as much caffeine as you’ll find in a cup of instant coffee.
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Why include vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 has gained a lot of popularity these days as the “energy vitamin,” and for good reason. Vitamin B12 helps your body convert carbs into energy. Vitamin B12 also helps produce amino acids, promotes a healthy metabolism, builds red blood cells, supports healthy cognitive functioning, protects your nervous system by sustaining myelin, and regulates homocysteine, a hormone linked with heart attacks and strokes. (See B Vitamins prevent Cardiovascular Disease- B6, B12 and Folate)
Some side effects of having low vitamin B12 in your system include
- chronic fatigue, despite getting plenty of sleep
- exhaustion after exercise
- trouble concentrating
- memory loss
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Some of the more physical, neurological side effects of having B12 deficiency include
- arms or feet constantly going numb, or “falling asleep”
- painful tingling sensations in the hands, feet, or tongue
- sore, reddened tongue
- altered taste perception
- tinnitus (ear ringing)
- weak muscles
- poor motor control
- frequent stumbling while walking or running
- inability to balance on one leg
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Over a long period, low vitamin B12 levels could lead to pernicious anemia, early onset dementia like Alzheimer’s disease, neurological damage, osteoporosis, stroke, heart attack…even death.
Why you’re better off getting your B12 elsewhere
Nobody’s disputing that it’s important to get your daily fix of vitamin and minerals. But it’s important to make sure you get a potent, fully digestible form of vitamin B12. The problem with many energy drinks is that they only work if your body is able to absorb vitamin B12. And most people who suffer severe fatigue and loss of concentration because of low vitamin B12 levels lack the necessary chemicals for vitamin B12 absorption from dietary sources and distributing it to the blood supply.
In fact, if you don’t produce “intrinsic factor,” then no amount of vitamin B12 food sources, drinks, sprays, or pills will give you the boost of energy and mental focus you need to get through the day. To get vitamin B12 into your blood, you will have to bypass the digestive system.
First, find out if you have B12 deficiency by asking your doctor for a blood test. Supplementation may include vitamin B12 supplements or b12 shots.
Read more about vitamin B12 for energy:
Is Vitamin B12 the Secret to the Fountain of Youth?
Caffeine in 5-Hour Energy
5 HOUR ENERGY DRINK INGREDIENTS
Image credits, from top:
nattu, Nina Matthews Photography, Annie Mole