Energy Good. Nerve Damage Bad.

Last week I went through several days where sleep and I just weren’t going to be friends. This happens off and on and it’s a real bear to get through.

On top of my bad sleep, I was having crazy busy days at the old place of employment. The kind of days where a little “top of my game” would sure have helped me get through the challenges.

So I was over in the building were our IT team sits because I had to deliver some documents for the signature of a Director of Important IT Things.

I was in his office kibitzing when he asked how I was doing.

“Tired,” I said. “Just trying to get through the day.”

“Here,” he replied, waving toward his bookshelves loaded with candy and snacks of all kinds, “Grab something to give you some energy.”

Among the snack packs of Cheetos and Oreos and full size candy bars was a box of 5-hour Energy drinks.

“Hey,” I said, “That’s probably what I need.” I grabbed one and shoved it in my pocket and then took off, late for my next meeting.

I’ve seen the compelling advertisements for this 5-Hour Energy stuff. The announcer promises us, the worthy consumers, that the energy boost will get us through the afternoon slump we all experience. I know quite a few folks who regularly use these little energy shots (mostly the IT boys), so I was interested.

That said, I can get the jitters from a single cup of regular coffee, so I know I have to be careful about these kinds of things. I thought maybe I could take half or something.

Later, back at my desk, I took out the bottle and flipped it over to see exactly what is inside this magical elixir of energy.

Here’s what the label says it contains: Caffeine, huge amounts of niacin, and massive doses of Vitamin B6, B12 and Folic acid.

I thought back about what I know about all of these things, as given my delicate nature, I have to really study the effects of any supplement I decide to ingest.

Caffeine…we all know what that does.

Niacin, gives you quite a flush.

And B vitamins will, in fact, hype you up.

Ok, I get what this is doing. Nothing magic here. In fact, this crap kind of worries me.

Niacin, in high doses, can bring on niacin toxicity. The label shows Niacin at 150% of RDA which while not terrible is still quite a lot.

Vitamin B6 and B12 are certainly very important vitamins, and when in deficiency can cause a variety of unpleasant issues. Most B vitamins come from food and unless people have difficulty eating or digesting food, vitamin B shouldn’t be in deficiency. Vitamin B supplements, from what I understand, should be approached cautiously. Prolonged supplement use in excessive high doses (the energy shot bottle says 2000% of RDA) can cause nerve and brain damage.

“chronic administration of 1–6 g oral pyridoxine per day for 12–40 months can cause severe and progressive sensory neuropathy characterized by ataxia (loss of control of bodily movements). Symptom severity appears to be dose dependent, and the symptoms usually stop if the patient discontinues the pyridoxine supplements as soon as the neurologic symptoms appear.”


Most people will say that Vitamin B is water soluble and so the body will excrete most of the excess dosage and it’s not that big of deal. Mostly, that’s true, especially if the excess dosage is intermittent, not daily.

Now let’s turn to the sketchy answer to the question about B vitamins in the FAQs on the 5-hour Energy website. This does nothing to make me feel better. Note that the answer moves from “minimum not optimium” and then quickly talks about caffeine instead of vitamins.

Myth: 5-hour ENERGY®contains dangerous levels of Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6 and Niacin (Vitamin B3).

Fact: The amounts of B vitamins in 5-hour ENERGY®are well within safe limits. The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) is the minimum (not optimum) daily amount set by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. Of course, if you are sensitive to caffeine, have any medical conditions, are taking any medications, or otherwise have any concerns whether 5-hour ENERGY® is right for you please check with your physician before taking it. 5-hour ENERGY® is available in a Decaf version which has only 6mg of caffeine – about as much as a half cup of decaffeinated coffee.


Um, why are they talking about a decaf version when the question is about excess vitamins? Sketchy.

So I’m thinking this energy stuff may be ok every once in a while, but what about these people who use it every day? And several times a day?


Anyhow, we’re all big kids and can make our own choices. For me, that little bottle of 5-hour Energy drink is still sitting on my desk, untouched. No plans to down that bad boy anytime soon.

Photo Copyright 2012, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 with terrible office florescent lighting and the Camera+ app.

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