After more than a decade of guzzling Red Bull and other supercharged beverages, are Americans ready to slow down? Many marketers are betting on it with their bevy of so-called “calming” or “anti-energy” drinks.
Dozens of these non-alcoholic products have appeared in the past few years, with names like iChill, Mini Chill, Slow Cow, and Mary Jane’s Relaxing Soda. They promise to help you “unwind from the grind,” “slow your roll,” get an “acupuncture session in every can,” and even enjoy a “vacation in a bottle.”
Two in particular, Purple Stuff and Drank, have caused some controversy because they appear to allude to Purple Drank, an illegal recreational drug made from prescription-strength cough syrup.
Calming drinks (which range from 2-ounce shots to larger cans and bottles) contain herbs or other compounds that purport to promote relaxation, ease anxiety, and improve mood. Ingredients include kava, valerian, melatonin, GABA, and L-theanine.
There’s no credible research to back up the manufacturers’ claims, however. It’s not even clear how much of the active compounds are in the beverages. And if there are significant amounts, some of the ingredients can cause side effects, such as excessive drowsiness.
The FDA issued a warning to the manufacturer of Drank over its use of melatonin, a hormone that’s become a popular insomnia and jet lag remedy but is not approved as a food additive. It can produce dizziness and confusion in some people and the long-term safety of melatonin supplements is a big question.
Other potentially unsafe ingredients in calming drinks include kava, which can interact with medication and has been linked to liver toxicity, kidney damage, and high blood pressure. Valerian can cause mild side effects, such as headaches, dizziness, and upset stomach.
Words to the wise: If you are looking for ways to relax, there are healthy alternatives to calming drinks. Try meditating, taking a long walk, or practicing tai chi.