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

One thought on “Red Bull- Energy, or Not

  1. Over Chinese New Year my friends and I traveled to Niseko, Japan for a ski/snowboard trip. My friends being a little off, were just as excited for the energy drinks that they could buy in Japan, as for the skiing. On the plane ride they were going on about “Japan has Monster, and “real” Redbull!” In the past I have never been an energy drink kind of guy, my parents told me they were not good for you, and when I did try them the horrible taste outweighed the interesting affects they had on you. After reading Galahad’s post about Redbull and how it stimulates your body through caffeine, it inspired me to check if energy drinks have “bad” or unwanted affects on the human body. I later chose to single out caffeine, and research the side effects it can produce.

    Caffeine is a bitter substance found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, kola nuts, and certain medicines. (“Caffeine,” 2012) Caffeine is derived from Xanthine. It has the same basic structural formula but has 3 methyls attached to nitrogen atoms instead of hydrogen. Methylxanthine (caffeine) decreases perceived drowsiness by inhibiting adenosine a nucleotide with vast similarities to caffeine from reaching the A1 and A2 adenosine receptor. (Sweeney, 2013)

    A normal dosage of caffeine about 0mg/kg body weight to 2.5mg/kg body weight won’t harm you, and studies have shown that it can actually be good for you, as it has been linked to a lower risk of cardio vascular disease, and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and countless other life threatening diseases. I have found that when one ingests caffeine at an increased level it can cause adverse and harmful side effects. Being intoxicated with caffeine will be unpleasant, but it is not lethal as it is a gastric irritant, and therefore before your body can absorb a lethal dose of caffeine you will be vomiting all the excess caffeine out of your system.

    The true harm comes when you mix caffeine with other drugs. For example caffeine a stimulant when mixed with alcohol a depressant masks the drowsiness one feels, after ingesting too much alcohol, which can lead to alcohol poisoning. “On Nov. 17, 2010, the FDA ruled that premixed drinks that include both alcohol and caffeine (alcoholic energy drinks) are unsafe.” (Nissen, 2012) Interestingly from the same source “Surveys find that 25 to 50 percent of college students regularly consume combinations of energy drinks and alcohol.”

    Either these students are testing the limitations of human life, or they are just unaware of the dangers associated with the combination of caffeine with other drugs. This made me think about the group 4 projects, and how our task was to make science more visible in our communities. I believe using chemistry to explain that mixing drugs can exponentially increase your likelihood to cause serious harm to yourself or the people around you. A disclaimer between popular television shows would be an excellent way to both increase the scientific presence in our community and make our environment safer.

    My research has drawn me back to energy drinks; caffeine in small doses as stated above doesn’t have unwanted effects on the human body. Therefore drinks such as coffee, and tea are generally not harmful unless you’re drinking irregular amounts of each, such as an excess of 5 cups of strong coffee a day. But the problem with energy drinks is that they have so much caffeine in such a small serving size. For example 5-hour energy has a serving size of 2 ounces, but has 215 mg of caffeine. Just drinking 2 and a half of these little bottles will leave anyone caffeine.

    From all the research that I have done about these energy drinks I have come to my own personal conclusion that energy drinks although, they may not be harmful in small portions, in general are to easy to abuse, and mix with other drugs which makes them a potentially dangerous substance on the market.


    Nissen, S. (2012, May 17). Are energy drinks safe?. Retrieved from

    Lee, E. (n.d.). Are energy shots safe?. Retrieved from

    Sweeney, K. (2013, February 05). Are energy drinks safe?. Retrieved from

    Methylxanthines. (n.d.). Retrieved from

    Caffeine. (2012, November 01). Retrieved from

    Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Caffeine: how much is too much?. Retrieved from

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