Five-Hour Flop

by Dave on October 15, 2009

by Lisa Harkins

Working full-time as a clinical dietitian and managing my own practice frequently spurs the question, “How do you find the energy to do all you do?” There are times when I stay up till 2 AM working on a nutrition plan, and then have to work at the hospital for a ten-hour shift the next day and I’ll think “Hmmm…it would be nice to have a bit more energy today”.  So the allure of those little bottles of “5-Hour Energy” at the market check-out prompted me to ask the question: does this stuff really work?

First, let’s examine the product’s ingredients, which consist of mega-doses of B-vitamins: 30mg of Niacin (which is 150% of the Daily Value), 40mg of B6 (which is 2000% of the Daily Value), 500mcg of B12 (which is 8333% of the Daily Value – no, that is not a typo), and a 1,870mg of an “energy blend” (taurine, glucuronolactone, malic acid, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, L-Phenylalanine, caffeine, and citcoline). There is also 18mg of sodium, purified water, sucralose, natural and artificial flavors, and some preservatives thrown in for good measure.

Some of you probably know that B-vitamins are critical in the metabolism of macronutrients (carbs, protein and fats) to create energy we can use, and are found in other energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster Energy, and Vitamin Water Energy.  But there is much debate as to whether or not taking supplemental B-vitamins will lead to increased production of energy in the body. My clients know that I take an extremely critical eye to supplements, but am open to the possibility of their efficacy. That’s why I became a guinea pig for an evening and drank half a bottle of 5-Hour Energy to see what the fuss was about. Big mistake.

Within ten minutes I had a nasty headache, but to the product’s defense, I don’t drink caffeine save for one to two cups of green tea per day, and I have discovered sucralose gives me headaches, so two strikes against me there. While I did feel mildly more productive (did two hours of errands after work in addition to a couple loads of laundry when I got home), I am pretty sure I would have had the same ambition without the juice. What alarmed me was the awful way I felt the next day in my spinning class – it was like peddling through a bad hangover – not fun (and in contrary to the product’s claim of “no crash”).

What worried me more was the information I found concerning the product. In one article a spokesman for the company claimed the company had no safety information on record regarding the product’s energy blend, simply claiming FIVE HOUR FLOP
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“none of our ingredients are synthetic drugs”. In addition, many medical experts agreed that although the product was potentially harmless when taken as directed (“do not exceed two bottles daily”), many individuals might drink much more than the recommended dosage, and megadoses of Niacin and B6 could potentially cause digestive problems and nerve toxicity, respectively.

So what does this mean for you, dear reader? Based on my own knowledge I cannot recommend any product that makes claims to boost energy through supplemental ingredients, mainly due to the fact that these products are not regulated, and as such have probably not been subjected to clinical (i.e. human) trials. So although each ingredient in 5-Hour Energy has not been shown to cause harm, the combination of the various ingredients may potentially result in detrimental side effects. Instead of 5-Hour Energy I recommend at least seven to eight hours of sleep per evening, 30-60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week, and a healthy diet consisting of lean protein, complex-carbs and plenty of fruits and veggies. And that my friends, is the “natural” way to get your energy on.

Lisa Harkins is a clinical registered dietitian with Bayhealth Medical Centers and the owner of Ideal Nutrition and Fitness LLC ( You can reach her at

This column first appeared in Coastal Sussex Weekly, July 30, 2009.

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