Relaxation beverages: Don’t believe the hype— published: 03-04-2011
We’ve seen all the recent news and reports about energy drinks and the concern about the amount of caffeine in these products. Now a new wave of products is gaining attention, aimed at helping us relax, reducing our anxiety, and helping us sleep. These “relaxation beverages,” or “anti-energy drinks,” contain ingredients such as melatonin, valerian root, kava, St. John’s Wort, L-theanine, rose hips, and chamomile. A great number of relaxation beverages have been introduced into the market over the last three years, with names such as “Dream Water,” “iChill,” “Vacation in a Bottle,” and “Unwind.” Consumers of any age can buy these drinks in convenience stores, college campuses, and online.
Part of the problem with these relaxation drinks is that some of their ingredients, particularly melatonin, have not gone through the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval process required for all food ingredients to be designated as safe or GRAS (“generally recognized as safe”). Melatonin is a hormone made by the body, but it is also available as a supplement and is often used to treat sleep disorders and jet lag. The FDA sent a warning letter last year to the manufacturers of the “Drank” beverage saying, “there is no food additive regulation in effect that provides for the safe use of melatonin…Likewise, we are not aware of any basis to conclude that melatonin is GRAS for use in conventional foods.” The manufacturers of “Drank” want their product to be classified as a dietary supplement, not as a beverage, since the FDA scrutinizes foods and beverages much more closely than dietary supplements.
People who have liver problems, liver disease, or are taking prescription drugs should be cautious about using the herb kava, an ingredient found in some of these relaxation drinks. Kava has been linked to severe liver injury, and the FDA issued a consumer advisory in 2002 with a warning that kava-containing dietary supplement products have been associated with liver-related injuries, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure. Valerian root, a medicinal herb, is used to treat sleep disorders as well as anxiety. Although some research has been conducted on the effects of valerian on insomnia, the data are mixed, and no studies have tested the safety and effectiveness of the combination of ingredients found in relaxation beverages.
The marketing of relaxation drinks is also of concern, as it is geared toward a younger crowd, with bottles resembling the look of popular energy drinks and shots. The concern is that young adults will think nothing of having more than one of these a day. Some of these beverages have warnings on their labels stating that users should not consume them before operating/driving machinery or if pregnant or nursing.
What’s the bottom line? Buyers beware! There’s no magic pill, and there’s no magic beverage. Try to determine the causes of your stress and/or insomnia, address those issues, and then work towards establishing a healthy lifestyle overall.