5-Hour Energy hits back at biochemist claims shot ‘unsupported by science’


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Mike Mozart/Flickr
Mike Mozart/Flickr

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5-Hour Energy has hit back at a sports science researcher who says there is ‘chasm’ between the claims made by America’s top-selling energy shot and the scientific evidence for its effectiveness.

Taking aim at the brand, well-known sports science researcher Dr. Robert Portman notes actions against 5-Hour owner Living Essentials launched by the AGs of Oregon and Washington this month alleging false and deceptive advertising.

“Every manufacturer in their advertising relies on puffery to promote its product. However, in the case of 5-Hour Energy the distance between what the company claims and what the science shows is a chasm,”​ Portman, who has a Phd. in biochemistry, wrote, in comments sent to this website.

Presented with Portman’s comments, which we expand upon below, a spokeswoman for 5-Hour Energy told this website: “As Living Essentials intends to show in the litigation, it has reliable and competent scientific support for its claims relating to its 5-Hour Energy product.”

‘Of course I have a vested interest – a vested interest in science!’

Living Essentials also implied that Portman has a vested interest, noting that he himself backs an energy shot for endurance athletes called Body Glove Surge, as chair of PacificHealth Laboratories.

Responding to this ppint, Portman told us: “Of course I have a vested interest – a vested interest in science.

“Over the last 20 years I’ve been at the forefront of developing science-based products that improve performance, including the all-natural energy shot Body Glove SURGE, which is supported by peer-reviewed studies,”​ he added.

Exploring 5-Hour Energy’s formula in some detail, Portman questioned the effects of individual ingredients, starting with vitamins B6, B12 and B3.

Although he said these vitamins play an important role in human biochemistry, Portman insisted there was no evidence that added supplementation in healthy adults improved energy levels

“Studies conducted in athletes and non-athletes show no improvement in endurance performance after three weeks of supplementation with B vitamins,”​ he said.

The curious case of taurine – sedative effects?

Similarly, although natural amino acid taurine is important biochemically, Portman said that no human studies show that supplementation raises energy levels or improves mental concentration.

He cites a Cornell Medical College study by Fan Jia et al. 2008​ published in the Journal of Neuroscience, ​which shows that taurine may have a sedative effect, and says at least two studies show that taurine combined with caffeine blunts the latter’s energy enhancing effects.

In addition, Dr. Robert Portman claims that the single unpublished study undertaken by Living Essentials (which he says was reported in the New York Times​) disproves claims that the shot prevents an energy crash, since it found that a significant percentage of those taking it suffered an energy crash.

“It was called the strangest scientific trial in the annals of energy drink studies,”​ Portman said. “It was conducted by a proctologist in a small Maine town and found that 24% of the test participants who received 5-Hour Energy had a ‘moderately severe crash’.”

But does 5-Hour Energy improve energy, mental focus and concentration? Portman thinks not.

He said a 2013 study by Erika Rauk et al. from Montana State University on the efficacy of 5-Hour Energy should make consumers “seriously question whether there is any benefit derived”​.

Small-scale cycling trial finds 5-Hour no more effective than placebo

This is because researchers found that after 120 minutes of cycling the shot was no better than a placebo in terms of improving mental concentration and raising energy levels.

"Confirmation of this finding comes from a recent article published in the Journal of Caffeine Research,"​ Portman said.

"The scientists measured the effect of a placebo and 5-Hour Energy on reaction times, which is a measure of mental concentration and alertness,"​ he added.

This 2014 study by Marczinski et al. found that after two hours 5-Hour decreased reaction times by 3% and after 3.5 hours the decrease was 5% - the flavored water placebo performed better, while 5-Hour raised both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

However, in defense of 5-Hour Energy, the sample in both studies (14 subjects) was small.

One of the Montana study’s co-authors, Eric Strubeck, also co-authored a concurrent Montana State study comparing Portman’s Body Glove Surge gels (with whey protein, carbohydrates and caffeine) favourably with 5-Hour Energy in an endurance cycling context, again with 14 subjects.

Both Montana studies were published in the May 2013 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Does this mean caffeine doesn't work?

Summing up, Portman insists that caffeine does work and a “significant body of science”​ shows that when it is combined with small amounts of carbohydrate it gives added energy to enhance workout performance, improve mental focus and concentration and reaction times.

However, he claims that 5-Hour Energy’s use of other ingredients negates the effects of caffeine, and that its questionable claims have led to regulatory action.

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