All posts by galahad01pd2014

Red Bull- Energy, or Not

Sometimes exhausted from volleyball practice, I would go to the cafeteria to buy a gatorade as it claims to replenish energy. However, I never understand how the chemistry behind energy drinks work so I decided to focus on one of the most popular energy drink, Red Bull, “with sales in the region of 1 billion.” (Thomas, 2007) Through further investigation, Red Bull claims that “the unique combination of ingredients caffeine and taurine” (McKellar, 2013) improves one’s cognitive ability and muscular performance. This leads to my main question: How can the customer trust what Red Bull says? I am curious because there are many times where manufactures states things that are not always true.

In order to understand if Red Bull is making accurate claims, I investigated the chemistry and effect of the two main ingredients, caffeine and taurine.  Caffeine is one of the most widely used stimulants in the world. The structure of caffeine consists of heterocyclic rings, a tertiary amine group and two amide groups as shown in diagram 1. “Caffeine works by blocking the effects of adenosine, a brain chemical involved in sleep. It causes neurons in the brain to fire and the pituitary gland initiates the body’s response by releasing adrenaline.” (Watson) In AP Biology, I learned that adrenaline causes the liver to release more sugar than the body needs into the blood stream. The extra sugar in the blood stream then is converted to energy through cellular respiration.


Diagram 1: Caffein Structure (itech,2008)

Understanding the effects of caffeine, I went on to research the chemistry and effect of taurine. Taurine is an amino acid, with an amino group(digram2), naturally found throughout the body. It is produced in the liver and the brain and taurine plays an important role in muscle contraction. “Taurine increase force generation by enhancing Sarcoplasmic Reticulum’s Ca2+ accumulation and release.” (Kim, 2003) I learned that in AP Biology, Ca2+ are intracellular signaling molecule for muscled contraction. This shows that an increase concentration in Ca2+ causes the muscles to contract more, therefore causing more movement of the body. Force generation is how much energy is generated in the body for the muscles to properly contract. Looking at the effect of taurine, it can be inferred that increasing the concentration of taurine in one’s body through Red Bull could possibly improve the bodies force generation. “However, no definite study exists on the absorption rate of taurine following dietary ingestion into muscle cells.” (Kim, 2003) “ The evidence for [taurine’s] implicated role is weak still; much more research needs to be done to fully understand taurine’s role.” (Batts, 2006)  According to Kim (2003), “an increase plasma level of taurine [concentration] from dietary concentration is unlikely to cause a sudden influx of taurine.”


Diagram 2: Taurine Structure (chemistry, 2012)

Looking at these two main compounds in Red Bull, they seem to suggest that caffeine could perhaps be the sole ingredient responsible for the energetic effect of Red Bull. In a study, “Alford et al. compared the effects of Red Bull with carbonated mineral water as placebo-control and reported that the experimental group showed increase subjective alertness, concentration, and physical endurance. However, they also noted that the improvements in cognitive functions were similar to those observed in caffeine study.” (Kim, 2003) This experiments implies that while taurine has effects in the body, the main contributor to the responses from energy drinks is caffeine. In addition, there hasn’t been enough evidence to claim that taurine obtained from supplements can provided extra movement of the body.

In conclusion, base on the research of the two compounds, it shows that probably only caffeine is responsible for the effects of Red Bull stated by the manufacture. This means that the manufacture’s claim that there is a combination of ingredients to provide the effect is most likely false. Perhaps the manufacture’s purpose was to create placebo effect on the consumer. With the consumers knowing that there are “several” things contributing to the effect, they are prone to develop the chemical’s actual effect. This suggests that many products in the market are not as what the manufactures claim. While in this case the false information seems to do no harm, there could be potential danger to the consumers.


Batts, S. (2006, June 17). Pop Science: The Chemistry Behind Red Bull’s “Wings”. Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from

Caffeine Structure [Image]. (2008). Retrieved from

Kim, W. (2003). Debunking the Effects of Taurine in Red Bull Energy Drink [eScholarship]. eScholarship | University of California. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from

McKellar, C. (2013, August 28). Red Bull Gives You Wings – Red Bull Gives You Wings – Retrieved August 28, 2013, from

Taurine Structure [Image]. (2012) Retrieved from—T/Taurine.htm

Thomas, P. (2007, March 1). Behind the label: Red Bull – The Ecologist. Environment, Climate Change, News, Eco, Green, Energy – The Ecologist. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from

Watson, S. (n.d.). HowStuffWorks “How do energy drinks work?”. HowStuffWorks “Science”. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from

Video Games, Are They Only Harmful?

As a kid, I have always been fascinated by video games and really enjoy playing them; however, my parents really opposes this type of things because they claim that video games can lead to addiction. Every time they see me play games, they would start to talk about how video games can lead to addiction which leads into many other harmful things in life such as academic failure. While this might be true, I know that many times what our parents claims are just false facts to scare us. As a result, I decided to do some research on video games’ actual effects on the body and whether or not they generate addiction

Addiction, the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma (Addiction), is what all parents fear because of its effect on their children’s academics and social life. While addiction is regarded as something very harmful, the cause of addiction is actually due to a protein found naturally in the human brain.

In AP Biology, I learned about the formation of proteins in our bodies. Proteins are coded from things called amino acids which consists of a hydroxyl, carboxyl group and a R group to determine what kind of amino acid it is. These amino are then connected into a polypeptide chain that later folds into the shape needed for the proper function of the protein. The polypeptide chain would fold in a specific way to function as the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter found naturally in the brain. The chemical structure of dopamine is C8H11NO2 as seen in the picture 1 (Macalester College).

Picture 1: Chemical Structure of Dopamine (nuweb, 2013)

Dopamine synthesis begins when the amino acid tyrosine enters dopaminergic neurons. Inside the neuron, the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase adds a hydroxyl group (OH)

Picture 2: Hydroxyl Group (world of biochemistry, 2013)

to tyrosine and it becomes 3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA). The final step in the creation of dopamine involves an enzyme called aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase, which removes a carboxyl group (COOH) from DOPA. (Macalester College)

Picture 3: Carboxyl Group (Science, 2013)

In certain areas of the brain when dopamine is released gives one the feeling of pleasure or satisfaction. (Siddiqui) When people play video games, a certain amount of dopamine is released into the brain according the intensity and excitement of the player. According to Langlois (2011), an experiment that was done in 1998, by Koepp et al, monitored people’s dopamine levels, which then showed that the dopamine level increased by 100%. This number might look horrifying, but compared to other natural rewards like food and sex; the number is quite normal. Here is a diagram to illustrate it.

Picture 4: Dopamine Level (gamertheapist, 2013)

As seen in the picture 4, food creates 50% increase in dopamine and sex creates 100%. So why is video games opposed so much by parents but not sex and food. Perhaps parents’ oppositions to video games and not sex and food are because sex and food are necessary components for the survival of life. While all three of these things can lead to addiction, video games is not a necessity in life so being addicted to such does one no good. As a result, we don’t see parents complaining to their kids about how sex and food are harmful to their life.

People constantly have the urge to game because they long to feel the rush of euphoria caused by dopamine release. To satisfy that desire, people will repeat behaviors that cause the release of dopamine. (Siddiqui)

In conclusion, video games can have very harmful effect on the human body because addiction leads to other things such as academic failure. However, there are also benefits to gaming.  According to Anthes (2009) most games involve a huge number of mental tasks, and playing can boost any one of them. Complex, strategy-based games can improve cognitive skills, including working memory and reasoning. Richard Haier, a pediatric neurologist and professor emeritus at the School of Medicine at the University of California at Irvine, has shown in a study with his colleagues that after playing Tetris for three month, the brain efficiency of the experimental group increased dramatically relative to the control group. (Anthes, 2009)

For me, while video games are very attractive, I have found ways to regulate myself, preventing addiction. The main method I use is making a deal with myself. I would tell myself that I could do some work first and as a reward I get some playing time. This way, I won’t be neglecting work and I can satisfy my need to play.



Chemical Structure of Dopamine [Image]. (2013) Retrieved from

Hydroxyl Group [Image]. (2013) Retrieved from

Carboxyl Group [Image]. (2013) Retrieved from

Dopamine Level [Image]. (2013) Retrieved from


Anthes, E. (2009, October 12). How video games are good for the brain – The Boston Globe. – Boston, MA news, breaking news, sports, video. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from

Siddiqui, I. I. (n.d.). Dopamine and Addiction. Serendip Studio. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from

Langlois, M. L. (2011, November 8). Dopey About Dopamine: Video Games, Drugs, & Addiction. Gamer Therapist. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from

Macalester College, M. C. (n.d.). Dopamine. Macalester College: Private Liberal Arts College. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from

Macalester College, M. C. (n.d.). Biochemistry: Dopamine . Macalester College: Private Liberal Arts College. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from

Addiction. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved May 28, 2013, from website: