Study Casts Doubts on Benefits of Energy Drinks

Jun 18, 2013

DANVILLE,KY—A Centre College study suggests that energy drinks may not have the potency that their advertisers suggest.

Neuroscientist Katie Ann Skogsburg was shopping in the grocery store with her husband when she came up with the idea for an experiment.  “My husband casually wondered if the energy drinks we saw for sale really worked,” she said.  Do energy drinks, which contain a variety of ingredients such as B6, niacin, and taurine, have any more effect than caffeine alone? 

Skogsberg and five of her students set up an experiment that measured P300, a brainwave heavily involved with the decision making process.  By hooking up an Electroencephalograph, or EEG, to a person’s head using electrodes, it’s possible to measure the amplitude of this wave while they think.  If the wave had a high amplitude, a person was generally more alert. 

The team had subjects consume either an energy drink, pure caffeine, or a placebo, and then gave them several visual tests so they could measure alertness.  Predictably, those who had taken the placebo were less alert than those who had taken something caffeinated.  However, there was no statistically significant difference between the brainwaves of subjects that consumed energy drinks and those who had only caffeine. 

While these results surprised Skogsberg, she stressed that they were only preliminary.  Above all, she hopes they will encourage a more skeptical line of thinking.” 

“I would like to see more of the general population and our students think that way, to look at these things and think, “How could I test that?  How could I find out whether that really works or not?””

Skogsberg says the study has already opened the door to future experiments.  She and her team are currently preparing a manuscript for review, and potentially, publication.