From Hospitals to Rave Clubs
The strange history of energy drinks
Although the energy drink craze only infected North America a couple of decades ago, people have been catching a
buzz from their effects in other parts of the world for quite some time.
One of the oldest energy drink bands is Lucozade, a drink which originated in Newcastle, England in 1927. Lucozade
was originally used in hospitals as a much-needed source of energy for people who were sick and needed
replenishment, more like sports drinks. Lucozade’s ingredients consisted of the typical components that make up our
energy drinks today – carbonated water, glucose syrup, citric acid, lactic acid, caffeine, sodium benzoate, sodium
bisulphate and ascorbic acid.
The first energy drink to hit the shelves in North America was Jolt Cola in 1985. At the time, it was basically
marketed as a cola with high-caffeine and high-sugar contents. Jolt Cola’s original marketing strategy targeted
students and busy professionals. However, North America didn’t pick up on the buzz that energy drinks were creating
until they had been popular for years in other parts of the world. In Japan, for instance, energy drinks date back to the
swinging sixties when a drink called Livonian D was manufactured by Taisho Pharmaceuticals. However, Japanese
energy drinks don’t really resemble carbonated soft drinks the way their North American counterparts do.
Japanese energy drinks are sold in small brown medicine bottles and cans. These drinks are aimed primarily at
factory workers to help them to stay awake. However, Japan’s nightlife is pretty lively, and I’m sure it’s just a matter of
time before club-goers are drinking them for the same that North Americans are.
Energy drinks were originally developed to supply a dietary supplement that could generate a shot of energy, and
provide vitamins all in one gulp. They quickly became popular with young adults more for their stimulant properties
than for their nutritional value. However North American athletes use them for the extra boost of energy they were
designed to provide. The recent popularity of energy drinks in North America can be attributed to a concoction
called Red Bull, the daddy of them all. Pepsi Co. also enjoyed short-lived success with an energy drink called Josta.
As people are always looking for new, cheaper and quicker ways of getting a buzz, clubs are now marketing energy
drinks to be mixed with alcohol. It was only a matter of time until energy drink manufacturers started hitting coolers
with alcoholic energy drinks, to capitalize on the effects of caffeine mixed with alcohol.
1st Energy Drink
Taisho Pharmaceuticals (Japan) makes the first drink specifically targeted at increasing energy.
First introduced as a medicinal tonic drink
The drink (Lipvitan-D) contains a mix of essential vitamins and also taurine and niacin which are
metabolic agents proven to boost things such as energy and concentration.
Invention of Red Bull
Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian, adds caffeine and sugar and named this drink Red Bull, after the taurine
Red Bull Introduced to America
Monster Energy Drink created by Hansen Natural
Creation of 5-hour Energy
Four Loko Introduced
The alcoholic energy drink known as Four Loko is introduced to the public by Phusion Pharmaceuticals
Explosion of energy drink sales
2005 - 2006
The sale of energy drinks has gone up 61% since its introduction to the U.S.
Even though other energy drinks later hit the market, Red Bull still remains the most well-known and top
name, with annual sales around the two billion dollar mark globally.
Four Loko reintroduced to the public
Four Loko is reintroduced to the American market after removing caffeine, taurine, and guarana as
ingredients. This was a result of legal, ethical, and health concerns about the product.
Energy Drink Deaths reported
13 deaths reported over the past 4 years as a result of 5-hour Energy
Washington State begins energy drink legislation
Washington State begins legislation to ban energy drinks to persons under 18 years old.
People have been getting their energy fixes for centuries. Pre-Columbian Americans
fondly drank a dark brew of toasted holly leaves and bark. Afterward they’d go puke.
The disgusting tale is totally true. Early European explorers described the practice,
although they were never quite sure if the vomiting was induced by the men or caused
by the drink. Either way, Indian men used the practice as a purification ritual before
religious ceremonies, political councils and war.
As it turns out, the dark brew had a high caffeine content. Researchers were able to
analyze traces of the beverage found in Cahokia, Ill. drinking cups dating back to at
least 1250. So even Native Americans took a caffeine boost going into battle.
Over history, people have used various beverages to feel that extra burst of energy.
During that time, trends have changed from tea, to coffee, on to soft drinks and back
and again. But just as people throughout time have sought out drugs more powerful
than caffeine, they now seek soft drinks with additional energy-boosting chemicals.
Enter energy drinks. From 2008 until 2012 the energy drink market grew 60 percent,
totaling $12.5 billion in US sales by 2012. But despite the market’s recent explosion,
energy drinks aren’t a new concept. In fact, they’ve been around since the days of the
early soda fountain.
Image via Flickr/ Tambako the Jaguar
• The first ―energy‖ drink could actually be considered Coke since it originally contained
both caffeine and another stimulant—cocaine—when launched in 1886. The soft-drink
carries that history to this day – the company’s name ―Coca-Cola‖ is derived from the
ingredients: the coca plant from which cocaine is derived and the kola nut, the source
of caffeine. Coca-Cola’s founder used five ounces of coca leaf per gallon of syrup, but it
was reduced to a tenth of that in a later recipe. Cocaine was removed from Coke in
• Chemist William Owen first manufactured Glucozade in 1927. For years, Owen had
been trying to find an energy source for cold and flu patients. The formula was offered
to UK hospitals under the name Glucozade, but in 1929 the drink was renamed
In 1983 Lucozade rebranded itself, changing its slogan from ―Lucozade aids recovery,‖
to ―Lucozade replaces lost energy.‖ Maybe not a winner by today’s standards, but sales
tripled in the next six years.
GlaxoSmithKline-owned Lucozade Energy contains 46 milligrams of caffeine and 37
percent of an adult’s recommended daily amount of sugar.
• Dr. Enuf was developed in 1949 when Chicago businessman William Mark Swarz was
tasked with developing a soft drink full of vitamins to compete against sugared sodas
loaded with nothing but empty calories. The result was an ―energy booster‖ containing
B vitamins, caffeine and cane sugar—ingredients used in many of today’s energy
drinks. Swarz partnered with Tri-Cities Beverage, a Tennessee bottler that also
produced Mountain Dew at the time, to produce and distribute Dr. Enuf.
Tri-Cities Beverage may have sold Mountain Dew to Pepsi, but it produces Dr. Enuf to
this very day. Original, diet, herbal and diet herbal varieties can be found at grocers in
northeastern Tennessee, southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina. All bottles
of Dr. Enuf contain at least 80 percent of the recommended daily requirements of
thiamine, niacin, potassium and iodine. Herbal varieties also contain ginseng and
• Lipovitan may look and sound like cough syrup, but it’s actually an energy drink
manufactured in Japan since 1962. Marketed to boost physical and mental fatigue, the
drink—sold under the names Libogen and Livita in some parts of the world—is popular
in East Asia. The bright yellow drink contains primarily taurine, an ingredient in Red
Bull. The brown-colored bottles also contain caffeine. Although the largest bottles of
Lipovitan contain 3,000 milligrams of taurine, they contain a warning label advising not
to consume more than 100 milligrams of the chemical a day.
• Another popular energy drink in Southeast Asia is sometimes called ―Thai Red Bull.‖
Krating Daeng was first introduced in Thailand in 1976, and can now be found in
Europe, Oceana and North America. The sweet, non-carbonated drink contains caffeine,
taurine and B-vitamins. Interestingly, it was named after the gaur, a large, wild cattle
relative that lives in Southeast Asia. Sound familiar? Is should, Krating Dong was the
basis for Red Bull, but the Asian beverage definitely made its mark first with massive
sales throughout Asia in the 1980s.
Energy drink history was made in 1982 when the marketing director for a German
toothpaste company visited Thailand. Something that crazy had to be fate, right?
When Blendex’ Dietrick Mateschitz drank some Krating Daeng and found it cured his jet
lag, he had an epiphany. He must tell the world about this miracle drink! So Mateschitz
worked with Krating Daeng founder Chaleo Yoovidhya to adapt the drink’s formula to
Western tastes. Together, they launched Red Bull in 1987. Chaleo, born to a poor Thai-
Chinese family around 1930, died a multi-billionaire.
Share on FacebookShare on Twitter
Yesterday, a lawyer for the family of a 14-year-old girl who died after drinking Monster
energy drinks revealed that the FDA had linked them to at least five deaths during the
last year. But Monster isn't the only energy drink that's faced such claims over the years.
In fact, a look back over the past decade reveals plenty of grim stories related to the
super-caffeinated cans of sugar water.
November 15, 2000: A jury in Dublin questioned the role of Red Bull in the death of
an 18-year-old athlete a year earlier. Ross Cooney collapsed during a basketball game
just a few hours after sharing three cans of the energy drink. The official cause: sudden
adult death syndrome.
July 12, 2001: The BBC reported that Red Bull was under investigation in Sweden
following three deaths. Two of the three victims drank Red Bull mixed with vodka, and
the third died after consuming several cans of Red Bull post-workout.
September 2006: A 40-year-old man from Wheatley, Oxford, suffered a fatal heart
attack in the supermarket where he worked. He reportedly drank four cans of Red Bull a
day. A pathologist reported that the man had an enlarged heart, and while he did not
drink enough caffeine to be fatal under normal circumstances, the high levels may have
contributed to his death.
September 30, 2008: A 21-year-old British woman died from a cardiac
arrhythmia after collapsing in a nightclub. She suffered from epilepsy and a heart
condition possibly worsened by the four Red Bulls she drank that evening.
February 4, 2010: Dakota Sailor regretted trying NOS for the first time after two cans
of the stuff triggered a seizure. The 17-year-old, who had regularly enjoyed Red Bull and
Monster, spent five days in the hospital and vowed to stay away from energy drinks,
whatever the brand.
September 17, 2010: A Florida State University sophomore fatally shot himself after
drinking three cans of Four Loko during a "30-hour partying binge." His parents later
filed a wrongful death suit against Phusion Projects, the makers of the now-
illegal caffeinated alcohol.
September 25, 2010: A Chicago mother also sued Phusion Projects months after her
son died in a similarly bizarre Four Loko-related incident. The 15-year-old ran into the
middle of the street and was struck by an SUV after drinking two cans of Four Loko.
October 8, 2010: Nine Central Washington University students wound up in the
hospital after experiencing symptoms akin to those felt by victims of date rape drugs at a
weekend party. The culprit? Four Loko, fittingly nicknamed "blackout in a can."
November 14, 2010: A 14-year-old girl was killed when the SUV her boyfriend was
driving crashed into a guardrail. The driver, also 14, had been drinking — you guessed it!
— Four Loko, prompting the FDA to call caffeine an "unsafe food additive."
Earlier: Monster Energy Drinks Linked to at Least Five Deaths
Energy Drink Ingredients and What
Energy drink companies are cramming all kinds ingredients into their energy
All these strange ingredients and what they supposedly do, can be confusing
Here is a list of the most common energy drink ingredients and their reported
effects on the human body.
Top 5 Energy Ingredients
According to the Innova Market Insights’ Database these five energy drink
ingredients are the most common. The chart below shows the percentage of
new energy products in which each ingredient is found.
According to a recent study, caffeine is the only ingredient that actually works.
Participants who drank only caffeinated water had the same brain activity and
response times as those consuming 5 Hour Energy, which adds also many of
the above ingredients.
Caffeine is the most widely used drug on the planet and has been used for
centuries for its stimulating effects. This common stimulant is found naturally
in coffee and tea, but is also placed in energy drinks and soft drinks by
Most energy drinks contain between 70 and 200mg per can.
An 8oz cup of drip coffee contains 110-150mg
65-125mg/cup of percolated coffee.
40-80 mg for instant coffee.
Dr. Pepper delivers 41mg.
A can of Coke provides 34mg.
A full can of RockStar has 160mg.
Click here to find out how much caffeine in different energy drinks would
Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system giving the body a sense of
alertness as well as dilates blood vessels. It raises heart rate and blood
pressure and dehydrates the body.
People experience side effects above 400mg (the recommended daily safe
dose), which include sleeplessness, heart palpitations, headaches, nausea,
and most commonly the jitters.
A complete list of caffeine side effects is found here.
We also have a huge caffeine content database that reveals the amounts
found in most beverages and food items.
Taurine is an amino acid that is naturally produced by the human body.
However, the version found in energy drinks is manufactured.
It helps regulate heartbeat, muscle contractions, and energy levels. Usually
the body makes enough taurine so there is no need to supplement.
It’s thought, but not proven, that under “stressful conditions” like illness,
physical exertion, or injury, the body does not create enough and supplements
Taurine might be a mild inhibitory neurotransmitter. Some studies show it
helps during excitable brain states, which could allow people to function better
with elevated levels of other stimulants.
Taurine in the past was banned by some countries from being used as a
supplement, but since this ban has been lifted.
A complete list of taurine side effects is found here.
Guarana comes from a plant native to South America. Amazonians have used
it for a long time to increase alertness and energy.
It’s more dense in caffeine than coffee beans:
Guarana is 3-4% caffeine vs. arabica coffee which is 1-2% caffeine.
Gaurana is different than “caffeine” because it contains a couple of other
related molecules: theobromine and theophylline. They’re also found in
different concentrations in coffees, teas, and chocolate.
Some people do respond differently to guarana as compared with regular
caffeine, which is commonly used in energy drinks. Some report that guarana
provides more alertness, while others believe it doesn’t have as good of a
A complete list of guarana caffeine side effects is found here.
B vitamins are found naturally in the foods we eat and are the most widely
used energy supplement ingredient.
These essentially help the body convert food to energy. The jury’s still out on
whether or not they increase energy levels via supplementation and the above
study mentioned even proved otherwise.
Most people get adequate levels of B vitamins naturally through the diet
except those that are on restrictive diets.
Other names for B vitamins:
folic acid (B9)
pyridoxine hydrochloride (B6)
pantothenic acid (B5)
Vitamins B6 and B12 don’t absorb well when taken orally, so the small
amounts placed in most energy drinks will likely have little chance of
producing the desired effect.
A complete list of B vitamin side effects is found here.
Ginseng has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb and is believed to
increase energy, have some anti-fatigue properties, relieve stress, and
It’s also suspected that ginseng helps stimulate the hypothalamic and pituitary
glands, which then secrete something called adrenal corticotropic hormone.
The chemicals in ginseng are nothing that’s naturally created by the human
body, so having this in a drink could possibly be risky for some who are
sensitive to these chemicals.
200mg/day seems to be the standard dose in a typical ginseng including
energy drink, but most people can safely take up to 2700mg through
Rare side effects such as diarrhea and headache have been reported.
Most energy drinks that contain Ginseng have such small amounts of this
herb most will experience little if any benefit.
A complete list of caffeine side effects is found here.
L-Carnitine is an amino acid created naturally by the liver and kidneys. This
amino acid helps speed up the metabolism and increase energy levels.
It may act as a thermogenic to help increase endurance during exercise. The
jury’s still out on whether or not you need to supplement L-Carnitine.
Most people can take 2-6 grams without worry. Make sure the supplement
contains L-Carnitine and not D-Carnitine, which is “inactive” and may actually
hurt endurance levels.
A complete list of L-Carnitine side effects is found here.
Glucose is the body’s preferred fuel. Standard energy drinks contain a lot
of sugar. Therefore, energy.
It’s a carbohydrate and a lot of exercise regimen suggest a good dose of
carbs for workouts lasting more than an hour.
However, too much sugar intake has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and can
spike insulin levels, which can often lead to a “crash” feeling after about an
hour or so.
One Rockstar energy drink can have 63 grams of sugar which is the same
amount in two regular size Snickers candy bars!
See the sugar in energy drinks database for a sortable table of beverage
A complete list of sugar side effects is found here.
Antioxidants are molecules that help the body gracefully recover and prevent
the damage from free radicals.
Vitamins C and E, Vitamin A (aka retinol, beta-carotene), and selenium are all
antioxidants with Vitamin C probably the most popular in energy drinks.
Antioxidants help fend off illness and prevent cellular damage. A person
wouldn’t want to depend on energy drinks for a healthy dose as theyusually
contain small amounts.
Most are flushed from the body when taken in excess, but Vitamin A can
build up in body tissues and cause liver damage when too much is
Glucuronolactone (DGL) occurs naturally in the human body when glucose is
broken down by the liver.
All connective tissue contains this compound. DGL is believed to aid in
detoxification, freeing hormones and other chemicals, and the biosynthesis of
It is placed in energy drinks because it is believed to help prevent glycogen
depletion by preventing other substances from depleting glycogen supplies in
A complete list of Glucuronolactone side effects is found here.
Yerba Mate is derived from leaves of a shrub in the Holly family.
It is a natural source of caffeine, but some believe that the form of caffeine in
Yerba Mate doesn’t produce the negative side-effects like the caffeine in
coffee and guarana.
Yerba Mate is becoming more popular in energy drinks, especially the ones
that are marketed as “all natural”.
Yerba mate has the same dangers as caffeine.
Creatine is naturally created by the body but can also be obtained by eating
Creatine helps with supplying energy to the muscles and is usually found in
energy drinks that are marketed to body builders.
Too much creatine could possibly lead to kidney damage, but the scientific
evidence of this is conflicting.
Acai (pronounced ah-sah-ee) is finding its way into more and more energy
Acai berry comes from the Acai Palm tree which is found in South America.
The berries are rich in antioxidants, but not as much as a concord grape or a
Most of the acai berry benefits have no scientific basis and are
attributed to marketing hype.
The amount of acai in energy drinks is very low and real acai berry juice no
doubt tastes nothing like “acai flavored” beverages since usually other fruit
juices and flavors are added.
Inositol was once considered a B vitamin, but has since been removed from
this classification because the human body is able to produce its own supply
without the need for supplementation.
It is a type of carbohydrate made from the breaking down of glucose.
Energy Drinks include this ingredient because it aids with the nervous system
and serotonin modulation. High doses of inositol have also been given to
patients with certain psychiatric conditions because of the positive effect on
the nervous system.
Inositol is found in many foods such as fruits, beans, grains, and nuts.There
are no known side effects from ingesting too much and Inositol is
L-Theanine is an amino acid that according to recent studies has been shown
to calm the brain to enhance concentration.
This amino acid comes from tea leaves and Green tea has the highest
Tea has been known for centuries for its ability to relax its drinkers and many
tea cultures (not the USA), have a tea before bed every night.
Manufacturers begun putting it into energy drinks to counteract some of
the side effects of caffeine. They claim that it works well with caffeine
because it eases the jitteriness that caffeine can cause, but with added
Some of the drinks that contain this energy drink ingredient are: Sobe
Lifewater, Vitamin Water, Vib, Gatorade Tiger Focus, and Reed’s
Milk Thistle, mainly found in Rockstar and a few other energy drinks, is
believed to work as a liver detoxifying agent.
It is placed in energy drinks not really for any energy enhancing properties but
as a counter agent to mixing energy drinks with alcohol since milk thistle is
supposed to help ease hangovers and help the liver detox from alcohol.
However, studies show that the amount put in energy drinks would be of
hardly any benefit to the consumer.
This ingredient is named after the rare tree it originates from and only in a few
It is believed to help with memory retention, concentration, circulation, and to
act as an anti-depressant.
The German government recognizes it as something that helps with memory
loss, concentration, and depression.
60mg is a standard supplementation dose, but people can safely take up to
It is advised, however, that most energy drinks do not contain enough
ginkgo to be of any benefit.
People on other anti-depressants shouldn’t take ginkgo.
A complete list of Ginkgo side effects is found here.
Most energy drinks have sugar-free versions that contain artificial sweeteners.
Even energy drinks that contain high amounts of sugar will also include
artificial sweeteners to help cover the medicinal taste of the other
energy drink ingredients.
A Real Death by Caffeine
Caffeine Addiction Diagnosis
Energy Drink Side Effects
The Caffeine Database
The debate rages on concerning the safety of artificial sweeteners and some
studies have shown that those that consume sugar-free drinks, on average,
have bigger waistlines than those who don’t.
Common sweeteners used are Aspartame, Sucralose, Ace-K, as well as
some alcohol sugars. Here are more facts about artificial sweeteners and we
have popular sugar free energy drinks listed as well.
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence showing that artificial sweeteners cause a
whole range of health problems, including cancer. However, scientific based
studies have shown them to be safe in the amounts typically found in
What isn’t clear is the long-term dangers from artificial sweeteners since most
studies only looked at short-term dangers.
See our chart of sugar free energy drinks.
Quercetin is found in just a few energy drinks. It is a phytochemical derived
from plants and acts as a vasodilator.
This means that it opens blood vessels to allow increased blood flow, which
could help with exercise endurance and stamina.
People on primarily plant-based diets get plenty of quercetin, but typical
supplement doses are 500-1000mg per day.
Under 3.6 grams per day is considered safe as more than this has been
linked to kidney damage.
The Final Word
While energy drink ingredients such as caffeine have been widely studied,
others haven’t and manufacturers are using mainly anecdotal evidence as
justification of their use in their beverages or other products.
Consumers should be aware of the ingredients contained in energy drinks and
make educated decisions whether or not these beverages are the best choice
for their bodies.
1. Kavita M. Babu, MD, Richard James Church, MD, William Lewander, MD.
“Energy Drinks: The New Eye-Opener For Adolescents”. Clinical Pediatric
Emergency Medicine. 2008
2. Caffiene FAQ a great resource for scientific caffeine information.
3. Green Eyed Guide to Energy Drinks.
4. How do energy drinks help with exercise?
Do the Ingredients in Energy Drinks Work?
By: Heather Loeb
The Best Foods for Your 40s and Beyond
The Best Foods for Your 20s
5 Steps to a Perfect Sandwich
The Truth About Fiber
The Best Foods for Your 30s
All Food Lists »
All Food Articles »
The Best Workouts for Any Age
Have Better First-Time Sex
The Safest Cities for Kids
Why Are You Hungry After You Just Ate?
Apparently, it doesn't take a biochemist to formulate an energy drink. No, according to Starbucks, any guy off the
street is qualified. At least that's whose opinion mattered most when the coffee giant recently created the ingredient
list for its own concoction.
"There are many energy ingredients on the market, and B vitamins, guarana, and ginseng are the ones our
customers are most familiar with," says Ruby Amegah, product-development manager for the team behind the
Starbucks Doubleshot Energy + Coffee. Which perhaps in large part explains why the company chose them: It's
Trouble is, by letting consumer research influence ingredient lists, energy-drink companies are helping popularize
exotic-sounding compounds that even scientists don't yet fully understand. The approach has worked: Last year,
Americans spent $4.2 billion on these supposedly high-octane elixirs. And that's probably why manufacturers haven't
strayed far from the best-selling recipe they used when the first energy drinks took off a dozen years ago. It's a
formulation that includes a hefty dose of caffeine and sugar combined with smaller amounts of seemingly obscure
substances, most notably guarana, ginseng, and taurine.
But do these beverages really energize your body and sharpen your mind? Or should you can the energy drinks for
good? To help you separate the science from the sales pitch, we analyzed five key ingredients in the market's most