Are those relaxation drinks I'm seeing in stores worth trying? Moreover, are they safe?
After more than a decade of guzzling Red Bull, Monster, and other supercharged beverages, are Americans ready to slow down? Many marketers are betting they are, and are plugging a variety of relaxation drinks—so-called "calming" drinks that promise to help you "unwind from the grind," get an "acupuncture session in every can," and even enjoy a "vacation in a bottle."
Dozens of these non-alcoholic relaxation drinks have appeared in the past three years, with names like iChill, Mini Chill, Slow Cow, and Mary Jane's Relaxing Soda. Two others, 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.
These 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. Melatonin, a hormone that's become a popular insomnia and jet lag remedy, can produce dizziness and confusion in some people. The FDA recently issued a warning to the manufacturer of Drank over its use of melatonin, which is not approved as a food additive. The long-term safety of melatonin supplements is a big question.
Other potentially unsafe ingredients 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're looking for ways to relax, there are healthy alternatives. Try meditation, taking a long walk, or practicing tai chi.
Source: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (April 2011)