The True Energy Drink
Caffeine is invariably the main stimulant used in drinks to boost or maintain energy levels – either on its’ own or as an active ingredient in the plethora of energy drinks available on the market. It is the world’s most widely used psychoactive substance, but unlike many other psychoactive substances, it is legal and largely unregulated.
Caffeine acts as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, temporarily warding off drowsiness and restoring alertness. It offers several health benefits when used as a medicine including:
- Reduced reaction time.
- Reduced sensation of being tired (although it does not eliminate the need for sleep).
- Leads to fewer mistakes caused by tiredness in shift work.
- As an ergogenic agent – increasing capacity for physical or mental labour.
- Used with athletes it enhances endurance performance potentially by increasing fat utilization (for energy production) and decreasing glycogen utilization. And as a CNS stimulant, caffeine increases alertness and decreases the perception of effort during exercise.
- It may also enhance recovery time in athletes post exercise/competition.
- Also it may increase the effectiveness of other medications; i.e. in some over the counter head ache drugs, with drugs used in treatment of migraines and cluster headaches, or to overcome drowsiness caused by antihistamines.
These, benefits may sound terrific, and in some cases where usage is infrequent and controlled the results are highly beneficial, however there is a major catch.
Firstly, regular consumption of caffeine results in development of a phenomenon known as tolerance adaptation where its’ stimulatory effects are substantially reduced. Caffeine tolerance develops very quickly, especially among heavy coffee and energy drink consumers.
Secondly, the adaptive responses in the body to caffeine, result in unwelcome withdrawal symptoms (particularly headaches) in tolerant users if consumption is reduced.
Overuse of large amounts of caffeine, especially over extended periods of time, can lead to a condition known as caffeinism. Caffeinism combines caffeine dependency with a wide range of pathological symptoms or conditions including:
- Muscle twitching
- Respiratory alkalosis
- Heart palpitations
- Peptic ulcers, erosive oesophagitis and gastro-oesophageal redflux disorder (due to long term increased levels of stomach acid).
Also, 4 main caffeine induced psychiatric disorders have now been recognized. These include:
- Caffeine intoxication – ‘caffeine jitters’
- Caffeine induced anxiety disorder
- Caffeine induced sleep disorder
- Caffeine related disorder not otherwise specified.
Caffeine over use can also contribute to, or exacerbate blood sugar level disorders such as hypoglycaemia and Type II diabetes as caffeine affects glucagon and adrenaline (produced in the adrenal glands) causing them to release increased amounts of glucose from the liver. This may be beneficial during exercise or competition, but not for general day to day functioning.
In conclusion, whilst caffeine use can be extremely effective when using it for its’ benefits, the short comings should also be considered. It is great for infrequent use for specific purposes, but to use it on a day to day basis will not only lead to a wash out effect in that its’ effectiveness is weakened or eliminated, it will also open the individual up to a whole range of pathological symptoms.
It is time to rethink our approach on energy drinks that will allow us to maintain day to day energy levels and alertness, yet make the most of the potent benefits of caffeine when used occasionally for specific purposes and therefore avoiding its’ negative side effects.
Like many stimulants legally or illegally available nowadays that provide an immediate and very discernable effect, the more is better approach only leads to us getting burnt in the long term.
But there is a solution to maintaining day to day energy levels & alertness, and preventing fatigue. The answer comes asking a different question. Instead of asking what will immediately fix fatigue or provide energy, the more relevant question is “why does this fatigue occur in the first place?”
The answer comes about by getting to the ‘root cause’ of the problem before looking for the solution.
This investigation has been described so well by Edward C. Wallace, N.D., D.C. (refer to www.chiro.org) that I will, with some modifications, stay very close to his very succinct account of stress and the solution to moderating its’ pathogenic effects.
Several medical and health associations have estimated that approximately two-thirds of all visits to doctors and health practitioner are for stress-related complaints. Yet stress itself is not an illness; it is simply a fact of life--and always has been. The stressors have changed over the years, but human physiology has remained the same.
Humans once were regularly at risk of being attacked by wild animals or hostile people. Our bodies still respond to threats by secreting hormones that change our physiology and thus enhance our ability to run away or defend ourselves. This response, termed "fight or flight," includes intense stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal glands resulting in increased respiration rates and higher blood pressure and blood sugar levels as well as increased heart rate and force of contractions. At the same time, there is a decrease in digestive secretions. In cases of acute stress, the situation is often resolved quickly, and normal physiology returns. If stress is prolonged or chronic, however, the body's calls to action become detrimental.
The body expends a great amount of energy keeping itself in a heightened state of readiness. When weakened by prolonged stress--be it caused by lack of sleep, poor diet, chemical toxins in the environment or mental assaults--the body's ability to maintain homeostasis can be compromised, and illness can result. Adaptogenic herbs have traditionally helped prevent the imbalances that can result from stress and have therefore prevented or minimized disease.
An adaptogenic substance is one that demonstrates a nonspecific enhancement of the body's ability to resist a stressor. The Russian holistic medical doctors, I.I. Brekhman & I.V. Dardymov, established the following definition of an adaptogen: It "must be innocuous and cause minimal disorders in the physiological functions of an organism, it must have a nonspecific action, and it usually has a normalizing action irrespective of the direction of the pathological state."
As it turns out, many herbs have exactly these properties – including:
- Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) – although only for short term use.
- American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).
- Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
- Suma (Pfaffia paniculata) – often referred to as Brazillian ginseng.
- Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera)
- Astragalus (Astragalus spp.)
- Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra & uralensis)
- Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)
- Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
- Reishi (Gonoderma lucidum), Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) & Maitake (Grifola frondosa) mushrooms.
In keeping with the definition, modern herbalists say adaptogenic herbs are plants with properties that exert a normalizing influence on the body, neither over-stimulating nor inhibiting normal body function, but rather exerting a generalized tonifying effect.
At the core of an adaptogen's scope of actions is the ability to help the body cope more effectively with stress. Specifically, adaptogens recharge the adrenal glands, which are the body's nominal mechanism for responding to stress and emotional changes. The adrenals, which cover the upper surface of each kidney, synthesize and store dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine. These compounds are responsible for the changes that occur during the fight-or-flight reaction.
Adaptogens can help in handling stress by potentially providing several properties:
- Antioxidant activity
- Liver protection and antitoxin activity
- Improved blood sugar metabolism
- Less craving for alcohol or sugar
- Improved immune resistance
- Increased energy and stamina
- Improved muscle tone
- Increased strength
- Faster recovery
- Better focus and concentration
- Less anxiety
- Better sleep
- Better motivation and productivity
- A greater feeling of well-being
- Better moods
Whilst adaptogens normalize the body and enable energy to be used more productively when stressors are not physical threats, they can also be used to enhance general health and performance.
Whilst I have used most of the above mentioned adaptogens clinically over several years, one adaptogenic herb that certainly stands out in achieving both of these objectives is Siberian fir (Abies sibirica). It has been researched and used for several years in Russia, but has remained virtually unknown to the rest of the world. After reading the Russian information and research on this herb, I was involved in trialling it in Australia and have used clinically with fantastic results for over two years.
Forest biochemists in Russia were particularly interested in exploring the pine needles or 'live elements' of the Siberian Fir (Abies sibirica) tree as they display an incredible adaptive ability to remain vibrant, green and disease free all year round despite being exposed to extreme temperatures ranging from -50 to +40 degrees Celsius, and extended periods throughout winter of up to 24 hours of darkness. They anticipated that this incredible adaptive property, or endurance, of the tree and needles may be transferable in the human system via a concentrate or extract derived from the needles. The reason for this is that there are many analogous substances in the body to plant based active compounds. For example, chlorophyll is very similar in chemical structure to haemoglobin used to transport oxygen in the human blood (differing largely in the mineral present; i.e. iron in haemoglobin & magnesium in chlorophyll). Indeed, the colour of the concentrate extracted from the pine needles of Abies sibirica (dark red) has often led it to be described as the blood of the needle or tree.
Preclinical and clinical studies indicate that it has many potential applications:
- As an adaptogenic herb – trials indicate that it enhances functioning of the immune system and increases the body’s ability to deal with stressors (be they physical, mental/emotional etc).
- For its’ ability to mop up free radicals due to their potent antioxidant properties. The oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) value of Siberian Red is 21,500 umole TE/100g (=215,00 umole TE/kg) as determined by the world renowned Brunswick Labs in the USA. In comparison ORAC levels from Pomegranate juice 2,341 umol TE/100g, Cranberry juice 865 umol TE/100g & Red Grape juice 1,788 umole TE/100g (Nutrient Data Laboratory USA). Common fruits range between 100-9,500 umaole TE/100g; common vegetables between 100-15,000 umole TE/100g; and common nuts between 700-18,000 umole TE/100g. For more information on ORAC values please see the link (in the links tab of this site) for the 2007 FDA report for ORAC values of selected foods.
- To increase energy levels, endurance and stamina; and also reduce fatigue – trials included athletes, schoolchildren, mothers and working people.
- A supportive role in reducing inflammation.
- Nutritional insurance, as a dietary source of key nutrients including a highly bioavailable and potent form of iron.
In Russia Siberian Fir needle extract is used for its’ above properties promoted as a “general tonic and vitamin enriched drink” and has been used there as a potent antioxidant. It is also used as a functional sports tonic to increase energy levels, endurance and stamina and reduce fatigue. It helps prevent accumulation of free radicals and peroxides in cells assisting them to function and produce energy more efficiently. The flavonoids help prevent accumulation of toxic peroxide compounds in cells, inhibiting their ageing. The high vitamin C content also helps to maintain and keep vascular walls normal and elastic. There have been no reported side effects from use and no allergic or toxic reactions have been observed in the clinical studies to date.
In Australia, and the Western World, this Siberian fir need concentrate is known as Siberian Red and is available via www.pineneedleproducts.com.
Using 3ml daily of this aqueous concentrate in 1 litre of water will provide you with a “true and sustainable energy drink” that will enhance your health and well-being without washing out or creating a range of pathological symptoms.
For athletes, occasional use of caffeine in conjunction with Siberian Red during extremely arduous training sessions and competition will create a natural, legal and safe performance enhancing protocol.
Tim Altman B.Sc; B.H.Sc (Nat) is a member of the Pine Needle Products Team and a practicing clinical naturopath in Melbourne and Torquay, Australia. He specializes in nutrition, sports nutrition and performance, well-being and anti-ageing, respiratory/breathing therapy and fat loss. He is also a paddling coach and has both competed and coached paddlers from grass roots to international level for many years. For further information or to organize a consultation see www.timaltman.com.au