Do relaxation drinks deliver?

Energy drinks have been around since 1995 and sales continue to rise.  However, another product has been creating a buzz since 2009: relaxation drinks.

As of early 2011, there were over 350 varieties of relaxation drinks on the market. Manufacturers tout the beverage’s ability to help people unwind, feel calm and focused, and fall and stay asleep.

What’s in the drink

Most relaxation drinks contain a supplemental amount of theanine, an amino acid frequently found in green tea and known to reduce mental and physical stress. A more common ingredient is melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.

Possible side effects of drinking

While it’s still unknown what level of melatonin is considered safe, the doses in relaxation drinks are high enough to warrant a warning on the product’s label about drowsiness as a possible side effect and to avoid driving after consumption.

Several manufacturers of relaxation drinks recommend consuming no more than two relaxation drinks per day and to consult a doctor before consuming if pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking prescription medications.

Since melatonin is considered a supplement, there are no official dosage standards and it’s not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA has, however, issued a warning letter to Revolt Distribution, Inc. a manufacturer of relaxation drinks, stating that “the products contain melatonin . . . an unapproved food additive.”

Per the FDA, Revolt Distribution, Inc. has no reason to conclude that melatonin is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use in conventional foods and beverages.

James Decatur, Director of Sales with Canada Dry Bottling Company, has distributed relaxation drinks since they came on the market. “There was an initial increase in sales when they were introduced which has held steady,” says Decatur. “They’re becoming more mainstream as people see them more often on [store] shelves. We see increases in sales whenever new flavors are developed.”

Relaxation drinks are legal

Relaxation drinks are legal and accessible to all, whereas “adult relaxation drinks” containing alcohol are not available to those under 21. Some manufacturers go a step further and infuse more than just herbs and supplements—the beverages Canna Cola and Mary Jane contain traces of marijuana. These particular drinks are available only through medicinal marijuana dispensaries to those legally permitted to purchase them.

A study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, “Relaxation Drinks and Their Use in Adolescents,” found that marketing of relaxation drinks is designed to appeal specifically to young consumers by “evoking the experience produced by alcohol and drug use.” The study concluded that while moderate consumption of relaxation beverages may be safe, an actual reduction in stress is unlikely.

Rather than downing relaxation drinks, consider less risky, less expensive and more effective stress reduction techniques such as exercise, a cup of tea, a hot bath, or getting enough sleep.

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Gina Keilen is a registered dietitian and culinary coordinator for Culinary Services at Michigan State University.

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