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 scienceblogs.com/retrospectacle/2006/06/17/pop-science-the-chemisty-behin/
Caffeine Structure [Image]. (2008). Retrieved from http://itech.dickinson.edu/chemistry/?cat=92
Kim, W. (2003). Debunking the Effects of Taurine in Red Bull Energy Drink [eScholarship]. eScholarship | University of California. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/65k8r
McKellar, C. (2013, August 28). Red Bull Gives You Wings – RedBull.com. Red Bull Gives You Wings – RedBull.com. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://www.redbull.com/en
Taurine Structure [Image]. (2012) Retrieved from http://chemistry.about.com/od/factsstructures/ig/Chemical-Structures—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 http://www.theecologist.org/green_green_
Watson, S. (n.d.). HowStuffWorks “How do energy drinks work?”. HowStuffWorks “Science”. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/energy-drink.htm