If you could bottle up an extreme sport, it might taste something like an energy drink. Typically packed with caffeine and sugar, the drinks promise to jolt consumers awake and keep them running for hours at a time.
While beverages like Red Bull or Monster have been in the American market for only a few decades, the roots of the modern-day energy drink lie in Asia, where they filled a purpose in the postwar labor market.
In Europe and North America, energy drinks have taken on a life of their own, thanks to extreme marketing tactics that have paired the potables with young partygoers and athletes. But popularity does not always equal safety, and concerns over these products persist.
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In 1962, Japan Became The Birthplace Of Energy Drinks
Energy drinks contain a witch's brew of stimulants, and that's exactly why they became so popular. In the 1950s, Japan outlawed the use of amphetamines, which Japanese office workers regularly used. Without their stimulants, how could they stay energized throughout the day?
Enter energy drinks.
In 1962, the Japanese pharmaceutical company Taisho introduced Lipovitan, which contains taurine, an amino acid that aids the body's energy production. Lipovitan's debut as a beverage designed to boost energy ushered in the era of energy drinks.
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Most Energy Drinks Contain The Amino Acid Taurine
Taurine is a common ingredient of energy drinks. An amino acid, it exists naturally in humans, although people also get it from high-protein food. It helps the body in various ways, including maintaining hydration and electrolyte balance, regulating the immune system, and supporting the central nervous system. It also plays a role in energy generation – the reason it's found in so many energy drinks.
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Red Bull Was First Released In Thailand As Krating Daeng
If a can of Red Bull really does give consumers wings, they may want to fly to Thailand, the birthplace of the legendary energy drink. What much of the world knows as Red Bull was first introduced in Asia as Krating Daeng, which translates to “red gaur.” The name refers to a type of bison native to South and Southeast Asia.
Invented in the mid-1970s by Chaleo Yoovidhya, a Thai businessman, Krating Daeng contained taurine, caffeine, sugar, and B-vitamins. It found an eager customer base in Thailand, which was deep in the throes of industrialization and needed an alert workforce to do jobs for long stretches of time. Busy executives also became part of the drink's consumer base.
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One 16-Oz. Four Loko Can In 2008 Allegedly Packed The Same Punch As Several Beers, A Red Bull, And An Espresso Shot
As energy drinks developed beyond being a productivity jolt, manufacturers added various components to their brew. Four Loko was one of several libations that paired caffeine with alcohol. The result: a seriously jacked sip!
Four Loko first appeared in the US in 2005 and made its big debut in 2009. but a new and improved version hit stores in 2008. With its staggering rating of 12% ABV, a 23.5-ounce, neon-accented can of Four Loko was equivalent to about four to six beers, one espresso shot, and one Red Bull, according to Thrillist.
Fears that Four Loko was contributing to an epidemic of binge-drinking and alcohol poisoning on college campuses pressured the company to remove some key ingredients, including caffeine and guarana, in 2010. It continues to be sold as a caffeine-free alcoholic beverage.
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Monster's Logo Inspired A 'Devilish' Conspiracy Theory
Thanks to their youthful clientele and get-up-and-go spirit, energy drinks don't exactly have a reputation for being wholesome. Critics took this un-reputation to a whole new level when they claimed one beverage was associated with the devil.
Monster Energy features a distinct logo: a single “M,” which looks like the claw marks of a wild animal or monster. One person didn't see a claw mark; instead, she claimed the logo was Satanic. The “M” is not an “M” at all, she alleged, but three instances of the Hebrew letter Vav, which represents 6. Taken together, the Vavs would translate to 666, a number associated with Satan.
As Snopes pointed out, the woman's allegation was completely wrong:
Ultimately, the claim involving 666 on Monster energy drink cans relies on the incorrect assumption the three claw marks comprising the logo represent three iterations of the Hebrew symbol “Vav,” resulting in a Hebrew equivalent of “666.” But “666” in Hebrew would be written “Tav Resh Samech Vav,” or “six hundred sixty-six.”
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Critics Have Compared Energy Drink Marketing To Old Cigarette Ads
Health experts have cautioned that, despite what manufacturers might say, there is nothing healthy about energy drinks. After all, they typically contain high levels of sugar and caffeine, the overuse of which can negatively impact young people who are still developing.
One study in 2011 even linked energy drinks with “serious adverse effects” in people younger than 19, including seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, or mood or behavioral disorders. Despite these health risks, energy drink companies have historically marketed their products to young people.
This strategy has prompted some to cry foul. Critics draw parallels with cigarette advertisers in the 20th century. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut went so far as to say:
If tobacco companies put a cigarette in the mouth or hand in one of those children, their denials of marketing to children would be laughed out of this building.
Researchers from the University of Waterloo agree:
While tobacco advertising was ostensibly targeted only at adults, it nevertheless achieved very high levels of reach and appeal among young people.