Energy Drinks. What is in these things? Why are some people hooked on them? Why are they wild, unnatural colors? What exactly do they do? Are they dangerous? Are they hype? Or are they both? Sit back, pour yourself a nice tall glass of carbonated, bright-blue, sugar-packed whatever the hell this is, commence vibrating, and get the straight dope on energy drinks.
Welcome to Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show where Jordan and fact-checker, comedian, and podcast host David C. Smalley break down a topic that you may have never thought about, open things up, and debunk common misconceptions.
On This Week’s Skeptical Sunday, We Discuss:
- Energy drinks have been linked to irregular heartbeats, cardiomyopathy (a disease that makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood), increased blood pressure, and other heart conditions.
- A lot of people in the fitness world like energy drinks, especially diet ones, because they get an energy boost for working out without a huge caloric intake — but their bodies tend to be healthy enough to deal with any adverse effects.
- When it comes to caffeine, experts recommend no more than 400 mg per day for adults, or 100 mg for kids. A standard cup of coffee provides anywhere between 95 mg to 200 mg, while one can of an energy drink varies by brand from 111 mg to 280 mg.
- The FDA warns that 4,200 mg of caffeine can be lethal to an average adult if ingested all at once — although other conditions can exacerbate its effect at much lower doses. An autopsy reported “caffeine toxicity” as a contributor to a 14-year-old’s death after she drank just two cans of 24 oz Monster energy drinks — or about 488 mg of caffeine.
- Most energy drinks contain B12 and lots of other vitamins that can be good for fighting off depression (especially in vegans with a low B12 intake), but supplements can provide the same benefits without added caffeine and sugar.
- Connect with Jordan on Twitter, on Instagram, and on YouTube. If you have something you’d like us to tackle here on Skeptical Sunday, drop Jordan a line at email@example.com and let him know!
- Connect with David at his website, on Twitter, on Instagram, on TikTok, and on YouTube, and make sure to check out The David C. Smalley Podcast here or wherever you enjoy listening to fine podcasts! If you like to get out of your house and catch live comedy, keep an eye on David’s tour dates here and text David directly at (424) 306-0798 for tickets when he comes to your town!
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Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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This Episode Is Sponsored By:
Peloton: Learn more at onepeloton.com
Resources from This Episode:
- France Ends 12-Year Ban on Energy Drink Red Bull | Reuters
- Lithuania Bans Energy Drinks Sales to Minors | WSJ
- Swedish Teens Trade Energy Drinks For Cocaine | Kotaku
- Ban on Caffeinated Alcoholic Drinks in the United States | Wikipedia
- FDA Warning Leads to Cocaine Marketing Makeover | Convenience Store News
- Caffeine in No Name Energy Drink | Caffeine Informer
- This Is How Much Caffeine It Takes to Kill an Average Person | USA Today
- Total Coffee per Capita Consumption United States 2020 | Statista
- The Science Behind the World’s Most Popular Drug | McGill University Office for Science and Society
- “If You Drank 42 Cups of Coffee in One Sitting, the Caffeine Overdose Would Kill You.” | @Fact, Twitter
- Top 20 Most Caffeinated Coffees | Caffeine Informer
- Caffeine in Death Wish Coffee | Caffeine Informer
- Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? | FDA
- Highly Concentrated Caffeine in Dietary Supplements: Guidance for Industry | FDA
- Can Caffeine Kill? | The New York Times
- What’s the Likelihood of Dying from Too Much Caffeine? | Forbes
- Fact Check: Unlikely, If Not Impossible, to Overdose on Brewed Coffee | USA Today
772: Energy Drinks | Skeptical Sunday
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger, and this is Skeptical Sunday, special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show, which is going to become regular actually in 2023, so I probably have to change that to intro copy there. This is where fact-checker and comedian David C. Smalley and I break down a topic that you may have never thought about. Open things up and debunk common misconceptions — topics like toothpaste, chemtrails, recycling, ear handling, GMOs, banned foods, and a whole lot more.
[00:00:29] Normally, on The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people, and we turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We have long-form interviews and conversations with a variety of incredible people from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers, and performers.
[00:00:48] If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show, our starter packs are a great place to. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topic. That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show — topics like persuasion and Influence, disinformation, cyber warfare, China, North Korea, crime and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start, or take a look in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:11] Now, today on this episode of Skeptical Sunday, energy drinks. What is in these things? Why are some people hooked on these things? Also, why are they wild, unnatural colors? What exactly do they do? Are they dangerous? Are they hype? Are they both. Sit back, pour yourself a nice tall, cold glass of carbonated bright blue sugar, packed, whatever the hell this is, and commence vibrating and get the straight dope on energy drinks during this episode of Skeptical Sunday.
[00:01:39] And before we jump in here, I want to apologize for something that happened last time we ran Skeptical Sunday. We had said that aspartame in the Banned Foods episode, we said that aspartame was banned in the EU. Actually, it is not banned in the EU except in certain circumstances. David had misspoke there. I knew it didn't sound right but, you know, I should have challenged it and I didn't. And so we've edited that episode and it is not in the new edition. So if you heard that aspartame was banned in the EU and you went, "Wait a minute. Is it?" It's not, so yeah, there's that. And normally, I hate to eat crow and admit something like this, but Skeptical Sunday, you're supposed to trust what the hell we're saying about this stuff. So I got to make sure that we eat a little bit of humble pie here and correct these kinds of mistakes. And we've got two fact-checkers working on the show now. So hopefully, that won't happen again, but I'm going to go ahead and wager that it might. So if you find something that's blatantly wrong, please email us. Just know we're doing our best.
[00:02:34] So here we go. Skeptical Sunday, energy drinks.
[00:02:38] David, glad to have you back on the show, man. I saw you the other day — what inspired this topic, and you were drinking an energy drink and I'm not going to name the brand or anything, but when I saw that man, I got taken back to 2010, where I literally think I got addicted to these things. And I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I didn't really like them, but I used to drink them during my live radio show because it was like Friday night at 7:00 p.m. And I never went to bed before, four o'clock in the morning after that. And I thought, man, these are really affecting my sleep, duh.
[00:03:09] But you hear about people getting really in trouble with these and it took me a long time to shake them and I couldn't wake up. And then when I would have one, I'd be on top of the world then I'd needed another one. I mean, it was, I was legit addicted to these things. I had one of their branded fridges in my office. And I looked it up and it's actually quite common and it frazzles you. And I'm wondering if you experienced any of that as well because I won't even touch those things now. I can't.
[00:03:34] David C. Smalley: Yeah. So it's interesting that you saw me drinking one that is a very rare sight now. I was very, very addicted several years ago. I was drinking about three a day.
[00:03:44] Jordan Harbinger: Ooh.
[00:03:44] David C. Smalley: Mostly for the reasons you're talking about. I would get up and I would have one with breakfast that got me started for my day. So instead of having a coffee, I would have an energy drink, but then that only lasts about four hours or so, and then you start to crash. So around lunchtime, I'm sitting at my desk in my office like 11:30, 12 o'clock, and I'm yawning and I'm feeling like I need to take a nap. And so, hey, it's lunchtime. And they're like, okay, well, they're at the restaurant, going, "What do you want to drink?" And I'm like, "I don't want to drink Coke. I don't want to drink soda," because I don't want the calories and sugar. So I'm like, you know what, I'll order my food, and then I'll run across to the convenience store and grab another energy drink to have with my lunch. So then, I would feel great. I would feel on top of the world around, you know, 12 o'clock, one o'clock, and then I'd feel great until 6:00 p.m. And then I'd get home and I've got stuff to do and I'm like, aah, I feel like I need a nap. I'll crack open another energy drink, and that'll last me until one or two o'clock in the morning. Honestly, Jordan, I'm embarrassed to say that was my life for about 11 years.
[00:04:44] Jordan Harbinger: Really? That's a long time.
[00:04:46] David C. Smalley: Yeah. Yeah. And so I think a lot of these topics that we're covering on Skeptical Sunday have like an impact in my life.
[00:04:53] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:04:53] David C. Smalley: And are sort of the reason why I want to dive into these things so that people understand what's going on. I was looking at things like calories and low sugar in like these, you know, either like a Red Bull sugar-free or like a Monster Ultra, which is the white can that has very low calories. It's high in sodium, but you know, you're told, "Hey, if you do a lot of working out and sweating, you're burning that sodium out." But what's all the other stuff in there? What's really going on with all this?
[00:05:19] And as a comedian, I would go on stage and I would have energy drink before I go on stage and I would shake, I would just start, you know, I would kind of vibrate and then I noticed I'd be holding a microphone. I'd be in the middle of a conversation and people would be looking at my hand. They thought I was nervous, like they thought I was terrified to be up there because my hand is vibrating. And I'm like, that's caffeine, you know? And not just the caffeine, there's more stuff in there that, that pumps you up. That's caffeine adjacent, right? And on top of that, my mom has tremors where she shakes and she passed that down to me. So I've got little tiny vibrations already and I'm noticing it's getting worse with age.
[00:05:57] So eventually, I was like, this is getting so bad, I should probably stop this. and then in Kansas City I was on stage in Kansas City and I almost passed out. Literally, like I felt the tunnel closing in while I was telling jokes on stage. And I was like, oh god, this is going to be a funny video on FailArmy. This is going to, this is going to happen. And it turned out it was a combination of some food allergies and the energy drink because the energy drink, and I'll get into kind of what it does to your body in a second, but it speeds up and sort of amplifies everything else that goes on in your body. So like I had eaten a bunch of bananas before the show, before I knew I was allergic.
[00:06:35] Jordan Harbinger: You're allergic to bananas. That's a weird one.
[00:06:37] David C. Smalley: Yeah, it's a food sensitivity. So allergy, like, I'm not going to go anaphylactic, but it makes me very sick. Basically, my body doesn't process it well. So when bananas enter my system, my body goes, "What the hell is this? Everybody out." And unfortunately, before everybody's out, it fills up your colon. That's what happens. And your colon expands. And when your colon expands, it typically pushes up against what's called your vagus nerve. and it can make you pass out.
[00:07:05] Jordan Harbinger: You almost passed out from having to take a big crap. That's what that means.
[00:07:09] David C. Smalley: That's how—
[00:07:10] Jordan Harbinger: That's what you're telling me right now.
[00:07:11] David C. Smalley: Listen. That's why most people, when they have food poisoning, if they pass out, it's because their body is forcing a bunch of stuff in their colon. When your colon expands rapidly, it pushes your vagus nerve and you get light. Have you ever been lightheaded when you had a stomach problem?
[00:07:25] Jordan Harbinger: Stomach. You know what? I don't really put those two things together. Maybe my vagus nerve is positioned well away from it, which is a good thing, man. I mean, I can imagine if I pass it every time I had to go to the bathroom.
[00:07:35] David C. Smalley: Not passed out every time—
[00:07:36] Jordan Harbinger: I'd have to—
[00:07:37] David C. Smalley: —but you get like a little buzz—
[00:07:37] Jordan Harbinger: —be in a wheelchair.
[00:07:40] David C. Smalley: You get like a little buzz or something. You get a weird feeling in your head or you feel a little bit lightheaded. It's because of that vagus nerve and it runs right along your colon.
[00:07:48] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man.
[00:07:49] David C. Smalley: When it happens fast, when it inflates quickly — I had a GI doctor tell me one time that when he is doing surgery on someone or working on someone and they're out, he says they insert a balloon, like the balloon-type object—
[00:08:00] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:08:00] David C. Smalley: —into the anus, into the colon, and with a button, he can instantly inflate it. If they happen to wake up during the procedure, he can inflate it and they pass back out because it pushes that nerve.
[00:08:12] Jordan Harbinger: That's incredible.
[00:08:13] David C. Smalley: It's a very real thing. And I used to drink them all the time. I stopped. I quit when that happened. I almost passed out in like 2019. And I hadn't had an energy drink since then. And then about, I think three months ago, I basically just started, I would like micro-dose one. Like I would drink it over like four and a half hours. I would barely sip it. And I started feeling a little bit better with that. So every now and then, I'll have one, but it's all in moderation. Definitely, I'm not coming on here to advocate for the drinking of energy drinks because there's a lot of issues and I want to explain those issues today.
[00:08:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I would love, I want to definitely get in there after, now that we've talked about everything from butt balloons to energy drink addiction.
[00:08:53] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:08:53] Jordan Harbinger: I want to get, I want to talk about — because I know that they were banned for a while in some Scandinavian countries. Like I remember when Red Bull came out, I remember reading about it and going, "This sounds pretty incredible," because it probably came out when I was 17 or 18 years old, something like that. And it just looked like the latest and greatest. And then Denmark and Norway were like, "Nah, this is horrible for you. We're not going to allow this." And I know that a lot of countries have restrictions on these drinks.
[00:09:18] David C. Smalley: It was pretty quick, just five to 10 years after Red Bull came out, which is like 97.
[00:09:23] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:09:23] David C. Smalley: France, Denmark, Norway, they all like banned it and was like, "Nope, we're not doing this." And then around 2008, after a couple of years of the ban, they were like, "Okay, well you can have them but you shouldn't sell them to kids." And Lithuania and Latvia have implemented ban on energy drinks under for people under 18. And in Sweden, there are some energy drinks that are available and some are restricted to selling pharmacies only.
[00:09:48] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:09:48] David C. Smalley: And some are restricted that you can't sell them to anyone under 15. So some it's a 16 and up, some it's an 18 and up. The point is people definitely know there are issues with energy drinks, and as usual, the EU is doing a better job of America and restricting it. I mean, a seven-year-old can walk into 7-Eleven and buy a 24-ounce Monster energy drink here in America, and you just can't do that in EU. Almost the entire EU has bans or some kind of restrictions as far as — it's usually age-related when it comes to energy drinks.
[00:10:17] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, part of that though is we don't necessarily even know that these are bad for you. Like I didn't think, oh, I'm drinking a carbonated blue liquid that tastes funky and gives me a niacin flush where my skin's all itchy or whatever. This is bad for you. For some dumb reason that just didn't even occur to my dumb ass when I was 25, whatever, 30 years old.
[00:10:35] David C. Smalley: And also, niacin isn't necessarily on its own bad for you. And that's part of the thing is like niacin can flush out bad things from your body. So yeah, you get red and it gets weird and you're itching. Well, you're itching because there are things being pushed out of your pores that are not great for your buddy anywhere.
[00:10:51] Jordan Harbinger: It's just a histamine reaction, isn't it?
[00:10:52] David C. Smalley: It can be as well. It. energy drinks are still so incredibly new to our world. I mean, '97, I mean, you and I were approaching 20 years old when these things came out. We're not super old people. I mean, these things have only been on the market somewhere between 20 to 25 years, and so we still don't really know like the long-term effects of someone in their 50s or 60s who started drinking them as a teenager. The person doesn't exist yet.
[00:11:16] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:11:17] David C. Smalley: We just don't know. There's a lot of it unknown, but we do know that in November of 2010, Caffeinated alcoholic beverages were banned in Washington, Michigan, and Oklahoma.
[00:11:27] Jordan Harbinger: Ooh, those sound like a really bad idea.
[00:11:30] David C. Smalley: Well, a ton of people order vodka Red Bulls all the time.
[00:11:33] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah. Never mind. It's a really good idea. It definitely works.
[00:11:36] David C. Smalley: A ton of people do it because it's like, "Hey, now I can stumble faster."
[00:11:41] Jordan Harbinger: Get that alcohol in my system. I don't want to wait for this buzz.
[00:11:46] David C. Smalley: I mean, because you're kind of having an upper and a downer together.
[00:11:49] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:11:49] David C. Smalley: So I'm like, you know, you could just not. If you want to go up and down. You're right, it does speed up the whole process. Like I said, it amplifies everything that happens in your body, so it's going to help you get drunk a little faster. And your heart rate is going to race, which I don't know why you would want that on alcohol.
[00:12:05] So, technically, and here's again, where people get around these things. So technically it's supposed to be illegal or banned to order a vodka Red Bull in Oklahoma. But there's nothing stopping you from going, "I would like a double shot of vodka. Oh, and also I'll take a canned Red Bull." And then they just hand them to you separately. And if you go to your table and mix them, it's, you know, up to you. They definitely banned the pre-packaged thing. So at some point, I'm sure some vodka brand like reached out to Red Bull and was like, "Hey, we should release a vodka Red Bull canned drink." And the FDA said, "Absolutely not." That's the one thing that they regulated and said, "You're not going to sell pre-packaged alcoholic energy drinks." But, by 2016, most EU countries had completely restricted the sale of energy drinks, especially to kids.
[00:12:52] Jordan Harbinger: You see these crazy branding though, right? Like you go to a gas station, especially if you're on the highway somewhere. And it's like Cocaine or liquid Cocaine, and you're like, okay, that sounds like something that no one would really want. Who's driving? But then again, eh, who knows? You remember the bath salts stuff where there'd be drugs for sale at a rural gas station and you didn't really know what they were.
[00:13:15] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:13:15] Jordan Harbinger: And kids were buying them, and they'd have these insane reactions, like they'd end up cutting their own wrists or their throat or something. I'm not even joking around. I mean, it would just cause like a psychotic break because it's some altered molecule. The energy drinks started to look like that too. Like there was one called Cocaine or something like that.
[00:13:33] David C. Smalley: Yeah, that one came out not that long ago, but shortly after Cocaine was actually released. The FDA just immediately banned. They sent a letter to Redux Beverages, who is the creator of that. And they just flat out demanded that they ceased the sale of the Cocaine energy drink. And they said the primary reason was that it was the glorification of the drug as well as an extremely high caffeine content, which it does have a high caffeine content, and I'll get into that in a moment. So they banned it and said, you can't sell it. They re-released it under the name, No Name energy drink. But at first, they wrote the word No Name in a white powdery font. And the FDA was like, "Nope, try again. We see what you're doing and we're not okay with it." So they had to rebrand it. Once again, it's still called No Name. It's still white, but it's not quite powdery. And the FDA was like, "All right, fine, you can get away with that." So it's technically back on the market and it's currently for sale, but the caffeine content in that is phenomenal. But I'll save those numbers for just a second.
[00:14:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. What do the energy drinks do to the body, right? Because I know it makes your heart race. I mentioned before you get that niacin flush if there's a lot of niacin in there. What else are we talking about?
[00:14:45] David C. Smalley: Yeah, so they've definitely been linked to irregular heartbeats, cardiomyopathy as well, which is a disease of the heart muscle. And when your heart muscle gets diseased, it's harder for the heart to pump blood into the body or through the body. Also, it's linked to increased blood pressure and often other heart conditions. And I'm assuming that by the time you and I are 60 and 70, hopefully, I'll be in a lab somewhere connected to things going, he has consumed more energy drinks than almost anyone on the planet. Let's study his body for science and I'll have all kinds of new diseases that they'll be naming after me.
[00:15:20] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:15:20] David C. Smalley: Your brain also works overtime. Not just over time, but more than it needs to. Your heart works more than it needs to. So not only are you getting this dopamine release—
[00:15:29] Jordan Harbinger: So there is a dopamine release, that's—
[00:15:31] David C. Smalley: Absolutely.
[00:15:32] Jordan Harbinger: —the feeling good is not just feeling awake. It's triggered.
[00:15:35] David C. Smalley: I mean, it is instant. When you crack—
[00:15:36] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:15:36] David C. Smalley: —it open and you drink it, you instantly start to break open this, I feel tired situation. also because your body knows what it feels like. Your body is pre-rewarding itself because that flavor, that taste hits your taste buds. You go, "Oh man, this is going to be great." Anyone who wakes up out of a bed groggy can crack open a Monster and take a sip, and I'm not kidding, within five to 10 seconds you're going to go, "Ah, I feel so much better." And it's not that the energy drink is working, it's that your brain goes, "I know what's happening here."
[00:16:03] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man.
[00:16:03] David C. Smalley: And it rewards that behavior.
[00:16:05] Jordan Harbinger: So that's addictive.
[00:16:06] David C. Smalley: Absolutely. They're addictive. And when I say the brain works over — they've done studies where people were connected to these electrodes for an MRI as they were drinking an energy drink. It tends to be 30 to 40 percent of your brain is active at any one time, right?
[00:16:20] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:16:20] David C. Smalley: It's not the whole 10 percent is is BS, but there are parts of your brain that are not being used that just fire off randomly when you drink an energy drink. So it's like your brain is constantly just popping off going, "Do we have anything in this apartment? No. Okay. I'll be back in a second," and then it goes, "Anything over here? No, we're good. Okay. Okay." So if you're walking and you're thinking about things and you're having an intellectual conversation, those parts are firing, but so are the things that have nothing to do with what you're doing, and they don't know why that is. They're trying to study as to why the brain is attempting to activate these parts of your brain that aren't being used.
[00:16:55] Jordan Harbinger: You are listening to Skeptical Sunday on The Jordan Harbinger Show. We'll be right back.
[00:16:59] This segment is sponsored in part by Peloton. So this is a, not quite an ad pivot, but a little bit of a sponsored segment because a lot of people are asking how I lost 40 pounds of pure man flab this year, and it's the time for New Year's resolutions. And I just wanted to share a little bit with you about how I've been able to keep up with my goals and Peloton has been kind enough to sponsor these kinds of bits here. So I made it a goal in early 2022 to lose 40 pounds. I didn't really care how it happened, but I wanted to not be, you know, a skinny wreck. And I started the year at 190 pounds just about, and now I'm at my goal weight almost of 150. I got a six-pack about to pop. I'm covering it with Christmas cookies right now, but I've never been this fit or healthy in my entire life. And I want to share some, over the next few weeks, I'm going to share some of what's worked for me. And I did it all with energy drinks — no, of course, you know that's not true. Those things have calories of their own losing weight and getting into shape involved a whole variety of habit and routine changes. One thing is protecting your workout time. Like it's a business meeting. I think the problem is a lot of people, they do a workout when they can, so in air quotes. So they'll shuffle it around, they'll move it to later in the day, they'll take a call and say, "Oh, I've got to, okay, I'll take this call now and I'll work out afterwards." I protect my workout time like it's a business meeting. It's in the same time, it's in the same place. I protect that time. I don't deprioritize it or make it flexible. I do it early in the morning. That's, you know, I don't love getting up but early to do a workout. But it is a great way to protect your time because a lot of other people are not around. Your kids are maybe still asleep. If that's when your free time is, that's when you got to do it. Earlier in the day, you'll also have a little bit more willpower. You'll have more energy, of course, even if you got to suck down a coffee. Fine. So again, putting it on your calendar, making it like a meeting, not letting people schedule over it, not letting yourself schedule over it, have been key for me. I highly recommend doing that. I'm going to talk more about habits that have allowed me to keep my consistency with my workouts, eating and things like that over the next few weeks here with Peloton-sponsored segments.
[00:18:57] Now, Peloton is really famous for their bikes, but they also make a top-notch rowing machine that stores upright. And I know that doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is because it doesn't take up half the floor when you're done with it. Rowing is a really good full-body workout. It's low impact. You're not going to mess up your joints doing it. You can work 86 percent of your muscles in only 15 minutes. I love of how oddly specific that is, if you're a newbie to rowing, the Peloton Row has sensors that track your movements to determine whether you're performing each stroke correctly and warn you if you're doing something wrong. It's also got a neat feature called Form Assist, which gives you a real-time indication of how to improve your rowing stroke in the classes that you're in. As well as the detailed post-class breakdown, so you can hit the row harder next time. I kind of like that. It's like getting a grade or at least maybe a little pat on the back for doing it right when you do it right. And a little bit of tips from, you know, the computerized coach. I love that idea.
[00:19:47] Jen Harbinger: Right now is the perfect time to get rowing with Peloton Row. We can promise you've never rode like this before. Peloton Row offers a variety of classes for all levels and game-changing features that help you get rowing or advance what you can already do. Explore Peloton Row and their financing options at onepeloton.com/row.
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[00:20:23] Now for the rest of Skeptical Sunday.
[00:20:26] Yeah, that's a little scary. You know what's interesting to me, man, is I started seeing a lot of people at my gym using these pre-pandemic and I thought, "Shouldn't you know better? You're like a yoga teacher or a spin instructor or a personal trainer or a bodybuilder. What are you doing drinking something that is basically Coca-Cola with 4X the caffeine? What are you doing?"
[00:20:47] David C. Smalley: Yeah, so people in the fitness world tend to like energy drinks with a little asterisk there, especially the diet ones, because you can get an energy boost to get through a workout and push yourself without a high caloric intake. And that's what they're always looking for. How can I get more out of my workout without taking in a bunch of calories? Because I don't want it to turn into fat and whatever, especially if it's low sugar. People in the fitness world hate sugar, but they want energy and no calories. So that Monster Ultra, that white one that you saw me drinking, that one is very low calories, low sugar, I think zero sugar, zero calories, or a little bit of sugar and it definitely gives you an energy boost. So a lot of people who go to gyms do this.
[00:21:29] Also most energy drinks contain a lot of vitamins that are actually good for you. They contain B12 and a lot of other vitamins that can help with fighting off depression. As a vegan, here's a side note. The number one vitamin I don't get as a vegan is b12, because you typically get that from meat. So most vegans who don't do their research ahead of time and just go, "Hey, I don't want to eat meat," or they find an allergy or make a moral decision to no longer eat meat, they start getting depressed within about six months of being a vegan, and they don't really know why. And so if you're newly vegan and you find yourself being depressed, it's probably just a lack of b12. I know that sounds simple, but try taking a B12 supplement. The problem is, you know, these energy drinks have like four times as much B12 as you could possibly need in a day. But if you are suffering with depression, you're like, "Well, every time I drink a Monster, I feel better." It's the B12 that's more than likely doing that as far as depression goes. So, you know, people can always take those vitamins in pill form.
[00:22:30] Jordan Harbinger: Huh. I wonder though, whenever you take something that makes everything go faster, I get upset stomach, right? I just feel like my digestive system is going on overdrive too, which is not a comfortable thing to have. And anybody who's had coffee in the morning is like, "Uh, time to go," right? Like, that's—
[00:22:45] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:22:46] Jordan Harbinger: Half the function of coffee is making sure that you are ready to rock for the day, so to speak.
[00:22:50] David C. Smalley: Right. And coffee is just going to be a small portion of it compared to an energy drink. So energy drinks heighten everything and they speed everything up, including your digestive system. So whatever you were already going to do that day, whatever you're already going to do in that moment, it's going to happen faster. It's going to be more aggressive, it's going to be quick, and so you can't possibly think that something is going into your body with this many chemicals and is causing this much of an uproar in multiple parts of your body, and not doing some sort of irritation or permanent damage to your intestinal tracts, right? There's got to be some sort of acidic problems going on, which is more of what they're studying with these things. Even if they have no sugar, it doesn't mean they're safe.
[00:23:31] Jordan Harbinger: What about what it does to kids? I don't know if we really researched a lot of this, but I do know that doctors, for example, routinely now say, "Hey, the safe intake of an energy drink for children is zero or close to zero.
[00:23:44] David C. Smalley: Right. That was actually the first thing that came out with these, which is, it's funny that the only FDA restriction has to do with alcohol sales, meaning they're protecting adults.
[00:23:52] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:52] David C. Smalley: But the science behind it has only really addressed children for the most part. So again, Red Bull is released in '97. It was 2011 when the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is an organization of over 6,000 pediatricians, they released a statement saying that energy drinks are not appropriate for children or teens and should not be consumed ever by these groups of people. So it's weird to me, right, that the scientists, the doctors came out and was like, "We got to protect the kids from these things." And the FDA was like, "You're right. Let's not let them drink it with alcohol."
[00:24:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I mean, look, I understand certain types of low regulation. You don't want to be overregulated in a lot of things, but I think if we said, "Hey, these are terrible for kids. Science shows, it's terrible for kids. Kids shouldn't be able to buy it." I mean, who doesn't want to protect children, especially from—
[00:24:42] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:24:42] Jordan Harbinger: —things that harm your health. What is so bad about caffeine? I mean, look, yes, it makes your heart raise, your GI tract go, but people drink coffee all the time and they don't die young, right? So—
[00:24:52] David C. Smalley: Right.
[00:24:53] Jordan Harbinger: —it must have something to do with the amount of caffeine that's in here.
[00:24:56] David C. Smalley: It's just like, with everything I'll probably ever talk about on this podcast having to do with food or ingestion, it's about moderation. So experts recommend no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day for adults. That's more than most of us will take in, or 100 milligrams for kids. The FDA warns that quote, "High doses can be lethal."
[00:25:17] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:25:18] David C. Smalley: But again, what is a high dose, right? I have issues with the FDA doing this all the time. They put out these warnings, but they're so vague or they're so random that then it just starts a debate on what a high dose is. So for the average person, a lethal dose of caffeine, It's about 4,200 milligrams.
[00:25:34] Jordan Harbinger: That's like 50 cups of coffee or something like that or 40 cups of coffee.
[00:25:38] David C. Smalley: Yeah, probably, probably 40, about 40 cups of coffee. But again, what does it even mean coffee? Some coffee has 40 grams of caffeine. Some coffee has 80, some have 95—
[00:25:48] Jordan Harbinger: Milligrams, yeah.
[00:25:49] David C. Smalley: What did I say? Grams?
[00:25:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:25:50] David C. Smalley: Oh god. Yeah.
[00:25:51] Jordan Harbinger: If you have four grams of caffeine, you're mad dead. Congratulations—
[00:25:54] David C. Smalley: Yeah, for sure.
[00:25:55] Jordan Harbinger: And you didn't even have to go to the bathroom.
[00:25:58] David C. Smalley: So, I think regulating it based on body weight is going to be almost impossible, but you could, that 4,200 milligrams is definitely going to vary depending on how much you weigh and whatever. They're also seeing if it has an effect differently based on age. You've got to guess that it does, but the science is inconclusive there. But we're talking about 4,200 milligrams all at once.
[00:26:21] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:26:22] David C. Smalley: You're talking like just back-to-back energy drinks, or, you know, drinking literally six gallons of coffee until you die. I mean, that's, I mean, who's going to, who's going to—?
[00:26:32] Jordan Harbinger: You have to try to do that. Yeah.
[00:26:33] David C. Smalley: And also it depends on other conditions you. You may have underlying heart conditions and not know about it, and then drink a couple of energy drinks and die even though it's well below the lethal dosage of milligrams for caffeine. There was a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Coca-Cola who are the makers of Monster, by the way, that allege, it alleges in the lawsuit that a 14-year-old girl died the day after consuming two of their 24-ounce Monster. So they've got the 16-ounce can that you saw me with, and then they have the 24-ounce, and apparently, she drank two of the big ones back to back, and then the next day she died.
[00:27:11] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man.
[00:27:11] David C. Smalley: And according to the lawsuit, the autopsy report listed caffeine toxicity as a contributor to her death. So it was a contributing factor. Now, did she have other heart conditions? Maybe she had other caffeine earlier in the day that her parents don't know about. But sadly, you know, we do have a few deaths on record after people have drank these things. And the FDA estimates that a toxic dose to be about 1200 milligrams, saying that it can cause seizures, arrhythmia, and things like that. So you can definitely have medical problems associated that don't cause death. But again, they're still studying most of that.
[00:27:46] Jordan Harbinger: What's this thing when I look at the back, right? They'll say like, "Oh, it's not caffeine, it's taurine," or it's like caffeine, proprietary blend of caffeine and other top-secret ingredients that. You know, they do that on a lot of supplements too. They don't want to tell you what's in there, or it's cheap craft that's in there. So they make up a name for it, but what is that stuff? Is that like pseudo-caffeine or something else?
[00:28:08] David C. Smalley: So if you look at the branding of Monster or Monster or Red Bull or any of these other, there's so many other brands now.
[00:28:13] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:28:13] David C. Smalley: If you look at them, they're all trying to be the most powerful, the most extreme. "Monster Extreme Release the Beast. It gives you wings. And break out the monster in you." And it's all ah, aggressive, right?
[00:28:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:28:26] David C. Smalley: So they have this idea that they want to be the best, like you want to take like the Bang energy, typically has more caffeine in it than Monster. But what these brands want you to do is they want you to drink it and go, "Wow, I had way more energy on this than that." But they also know that your parents are looking at the back of it going, "You can't have this one because the caffeine is too high." So how brilliant would it be if they could keep the caffeine dosage low, but make you feel like you're having double the caffeine? So then the parents approve it, the teenager drinks it and goes, "Man, I feel more juiced up than when I drink that Bang anyway," or whatever when you're comparing the two.
[00:29:04] Well, a lot of these ingredients actually amplify the effects of caffeine, so the numbers get a little blurry when you start to look at this caffeine blend and like taurine, for example, the one you mentioned, that's a building block of proteins and it's known as a performance enhancer. So it's well known to increase the effects of caffeine dramatically.
[00:29:25] Another sad report from USA Today came out in 2017 that said a South Carolina teenager died of what was called a caffeine-induced cardiac event in 2017, after consuming a large Diet Mountain Dew, a McDonald's latte, and an energy drink, all in about two hours. And Reuters estimated that the teen consumed under 500 milligrams of caffeine. So again, what were the underlying conditions? What were the allergies? Did the teen have other caffeine that day that wasn't reported besides those three?
[00:29:56] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:29:56] David C. Smalley: And things like that.
[00:29:57] Jordan Harbinger: You know what this reminds me of, remember back in the day, were you lifting weights in college? We're probably about the same age, right? And you would take like Hydroxycut. Remember that stuff?
[00:30:06] David C. Smalley: Man, I had damn near a cardiac issue.
[00:30:10] Jordan Harbinger: Me too.
[00:30:10] David C. Smalley: I was working for a healthcare company when I was taking Hydroxycut, so someone had this jar of beans on their desk, like little chocolate-flavored things, and they were like, "Oh, do you want some of these beans?" I was like, "Sure." So I was eating some, then I was sitting at their desk for like an hour and I just kept shoveling things in my face and I kept making jokes about how good these beans were, or these little chocolates were. It turns out they were coffee beans and I was on Hydroxycut. And I was a jittering mess. So, I happened to work for a healthcare company at the time, so a nurse came down, she checked my heart rate. She's like, "You have an extremely elevated heart rate." So they monitored my symptoms and I just sat in this office and just poured sweat for two hours.
[00:30:45] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my god.
[00:30:46] David C. Smalley: Drinking water, shaking. And I never went to the hospital, but I was damn close.
[00:30:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:30:51] David C. Smalley: So yeah, there are tons of things out there that can cause that, especially when you accidentally mix them with things—
[00:30:56] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah.
[00:30:56] David C. Smalley: —that will spike your energy level.
[00:30:57] Jordan Harbinger: For sure. Yeah. I remember I supposedly had ADHD and I was taking Adderall in college because that's like what they prescribe me. And then you'd take Hydroxycut and then you'd have maybe have a cup of coffee with your friends and then you're like, "I've got to lay down because this is not right. And you're just—
[00:31:13] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:31:14] Jordan Harbinger: Your eyes are vibrating and you can't focus. That's a horrible, horrible feeling. That's one of the other reasons. I don't touch these energy drinks anymore. So how much caffeine is in some of these energy drinks? We kind of talked about like a wide variety, but what are we talking about here?
[00:31:29] David C. Smalley: Yeah, it's kind of a tricky question. Like when I mentioned like the energy blend with things like carnitine and guarana and glucuronate and taurine, it needs to be noted that a lot of these things are just either other ways of saying caffeine or these are caffeine additives or a way to amplify the caffeine. But strictly speaking of caffeine, here's a breakdown of the actual numbers, so one standard cup of coffee averages about 80 to 95 milligrams of caffeine. A strong cup of coffee will have about 200, so if you go with a dark blend or something that's a strong cup of coffee, you're looking at about 200 milligrams. One 12-ounce can of Red Bull only has 111 milligrams. A 16-ounce Monster has about 160 milligrams. One 12-ounce No Name formerly Cocaine 280 milligrams.
[00:32:17] Jordan Harbinger: So that's like three cups of coffee.
[00:32:18] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:32:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yikes.
[00:32:19] David C. Smalley: That 24-ounce Monster that we were talking about has 244 milligrams. So that 14-year-old who died from this ingested about 488 milligrams.
[00:32:31] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man.
[00:32:31] David C. Smalley: But then, there's this brand of coffee called Death Wish where it has 500 milligrams of caffeine per cup.
[00:32:39] Jordan Harbinger: Ugh.
[00:32:39] David C. Smalley: So as dangerous as we say energy drinks are, there are coffee brands out there that have far more caffeine than most energy drinks.
[00:32:47] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh. It sounds like this is bad for people who don't know that they have a sensitivity to it and you find out the hard way. If you're on ADHD medication, if you've got a heart issue, even if you don't know you have a heart issue or something like that, this could actually kill you or just make you feel horrible.
[00:33:05] David C. Smalley: Yep. And including diabetes, because these energy drinks, even if they're low on sugar, they have other sweeteners or, you know, sweeteners that sort of trick your body into producing insulin. So it can be dangerous across the board. I think the last piece to really address from my perspective is how much do we want to regulate from the federal government, right? What do we do about this? That's kind of how I want to approach these issues where I don't want to just complain. I want to actually say, "What can we do?"
[00:33:32] And it's always good to go back to food when you think about this, right? It's perfectly legal to walk into Wendy's and order 11 double bacon cheeseburgers but if you go home on your own and eat them until your heart explodes, that's not Wendy's fault, right? You could have been ordering for a group of people, they have no idea what you're doing.
[00:33:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:33:52] David C. Smalley: Then we have these laws, right, where people sit at a bar and they drink and drink and drink and then at some point the bartender goes, "I'm cutting you off because I don't want to be responsible." What do we do in a situation with a restaurant where someone comes in and they have, you know, fried onions and then another fried onion, and then a gallon of Coca-Cola and then two bacon cheeseburgers, and then they order a large fries, at some point, does the waiter go, "I don't want you having a heart attack in my restaurant and get the hell out"?
[00:34:17] Jordan Harbinger: Nah, education, man.
[00:34:19] David C. Smalley: Right. But we have this battle in our country of how much do we regulate versus how much do we allow freedoms. I mean, hell, you could gallon of paint and go home and put a straw in it and go to town, you know?
[00:34:28] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:34:28] David C. Smalley: So, what are your thoughts on regulations for safety versus allowing us to have those freedoms?
[00:34:34] Jordan Harbinger: Well, honestly, I think a label goes a long way. It doesn't solve the problem, as we've seen with smoking, for example. I'm not one of those guys who's like regulate everything, but I would say don't sell energy drinks to people under 18 is totally fair, or under 16. We can even pick an age that's science-based instead of just going along with the same age that you can vote or join the military. Just look at the science and go with that and/or just put a label on there that says these things cause heart issues. Don't take it if you're taking these medications, and just require a little bit of education, put it on the package. It doesn't have to be anything super severe. Of course, the food industry is going to fight that, but I don't necessarily trust food companies to be honest and upfront about things that can hurt us when it's going to hurt their bottom line when they do that.
[00:35:16] David C. Smalley: Cigarette companies did that for years though, right? The tobacco industry has surgeon general warnings all over cigarettes and it may have curved sales to some degree, but we all know people who are still smoking today with these giant labels printed on them.
[00:35:29] Jordan Harbinger: Sure. But they're adults, right? They're not buying cigarettes. Kids aren't buying — well on the whole, kids aren't buying cigarettes thinking, "Eh, it's just like Coke. It just tastes better."
[00:35:37] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:35:38] Jordan Harbinger: Or it works better. Or, I like the blue flavor. When I was a grown-ass man, I was buying energy drinks and I was like, this is just like coffee. It's not, it's like five cups of coffee when you have three of these freaking things.
[00:35:48] David C. Smalley: Yeah.
[00:35:48] Jordan Harbinger: Or two of these things throughout the day. Or I'd say this is just like coffee, but it lasts longer and I don't like the taste of coffee. No, it's two or three cups of coffee in that bottle. I had no idea.
[00:35:57] David C. Smalley: You also don't get the crash from coffee that you get when your energy drink wears off, it's not going to be the same. And by the way, this same goes for like the little five-hour energy bottles. It's the same. These all contain very similar, highly concentrated caffeinated beverages.
[00:36:11] So as with all things, I just think at the end of the day, moderation is key. Education is key as well. Like you said, we've got to have these types of conversations. Talk to your kids about it, talk to your family members about it. Don't try to talk down to them, but just maybe engage them in, "Hey, do you know what's in that? How does it make you feel? How do you feel after you drink it?" So that they are, you know, sort of paying attention to how they actually consume these things. And keep in mind too that the product is addictive. So there's this other aspect going, "Hey, you have the freedom to do it." Yeah. But do people know, like when you crack open that first energy drink, do you know that this is an addictive product, right?
[00:36:47] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:36:48] David C. Smalley: Is a label on the back and the bottom in fine print, that's, you know, maybe a little bit bolder than the ingredient list — are people going to look at that and go, "Oh, this is addictive. I better put that back"? It's something to be considered when these products are actually designed for you to be dependent upon them and coming back to them on a regular basis.
[00:37:05] So I guess I want to leave you with this, whether you're healthy or not. It's definitely a good thing to remain skeptical of energy drinks.
[00:37:12] Jordan Harbinger: David, thank you very much.
[00:37:14] David C. Smalley: Thanks for having me, man.
[00:37:17] Jordan Harbinger: That's it for Skeptical Sunday. We're going to be doing a lot more of these in 2023, hopefully, every week. It depends how far ahead we can get here.
[00:37:24] A link to the show notes for the episode can be found at jordanharbinger.com. Transcripts are in the show notes. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and Instagram, and you can connect with me on LinkedIn as well. I would love your ideas for what to do on Skeptical Sunday. We've got a whole topic lists, but I would love more and more and more of these because really I think some of you have come up with really good ideas on what we can debunk here. You can also find David Smalley at @davidcsmalley on all social media platforms, davidcsmalley.com, or better yet, on his podcast, the David C. Smalley Show, links to all that are going to be in the show notes as well.
[00:37:57] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Our advice and opinions, they're our own. And I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. Do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. Share the show with those you love. And if you found the episode useful, please share it with somebody else who needs to hear it, somebody who's hooked on energy drinks, somebody who thinks they're harmless, might be a good idea to share this with them. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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