Stressed out?  Anxious?  Jet-lagged?

For years consumers sought drinks laden with ingredients like caffeine, taurine, electrolytes and herbs to give them the extra energy boost they craved.  But lately, manufacturers have introduced several non-alcoholic concoctions that promise just the opposite – they help you unwind.

Today, it seems it’s not enough for a drink to simply quench your thirst.  Manufacturers are responding to consumers’ demands for beverages that take them to new extremes.  Red Bull was one of the first drinks to gain notoriety for extreme energy.  Now a host of relaxation drinks, with names like Mary Jane’s, Dream Water and Lazy Cakes, are pushing the limits at the opposite end of the energy spectrum.

But do relaxation drinks deliver on their claims, and more importantly, are they safe?

Several recent articles, including one posted on CNN.com, focus on rising concerns about new (and sometimes untested) anti-energy drinks.  Sold on college campuses and in grocery and convenience stores, this breed of beverage is being marketed to younger adults, soccer moms and busy professionals.

According to the CNN.com article, Ronald Peters, associate professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, likens anti-energy drinks to street drug concoctions (laced with codeine cough syrup) urban youths have been mixing up on their own for years.  In the article, Peters called the marketing of commercialized anti-energy drinks “one of the worst things I’ve ever seen with corporate immorality.”

On the other side of the coin, Tim Barham, president of Frontier Beverage, said Unwind (his company’s anti-energy drink) is not “associated in the same realm at all” with the cough syrup mixtures.  He and other beverage makers say that their products are safe and that they are a positive alternative to drugs and alcohol.

So what’s in these drinks?  Manufacturers help consumers chill out with a variety of ingredients, including:

  • passion flower
  • kava
  • valerian root
  • melatonin
  • rose hips
  • GABA

An NPR.com article states that research on most of the herbal supplements going into relaxation drinks is spotty and inconclusive.  Herbs can’t be patented and the FDA doesn’t require companies to standardize ingredients or even back-up their claims with research, so there is ultimately no financial or legal incentive for manufacturers to scientifically test their products.

According to New York-based food and drug attorney Marc Ullman, “The relaxation product category is a category that’s looking for trouble.”  He recently told FoodNavigator-USA.com that relaxation beverage makers may face particular problems in light of the FDA’s draft guidance on distinguishing dietary supplements from beverages.

As consumer demand skyrockets and manufacturers continue to blur the distinction between drinks and supplements, we’re likely to hear much more on the topic.  What’s your take?  Please leave your comments below.

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