by Georgina Lee, PharmD 2011 | email@example.com
What do Pro Volleyball, Lance Armstrong, and Motor Sports have in common? Besides making us feel like we should get off the couch more, all of them are sponsored by a revolutionary energy drink that promises “to produce more real energy.” Real energy? It turns out we can blame sleep deprivation for America’s craving for alternative energy. Approximately 20-40% of adults report difficulty sleeping at some point each year due to a myriad of reasons (first date anxiety, work deadlines, World of Warcraft…you get the idea) (1). It’s no surprise that more people are turning to a quick “natural” fix after a sleepless night to boost their energy level like Pac-man and his power pellets. Free Radical System (FRS) claims to offer a natural, healthy form of energy. Should we denounce milk and pour FRS into our cereal bowls instead? Besides questionable after taste, it might not be a bad idea to learn more about the active ingredient in FRS before doing so.
What is Quercetin?
The main ingredient in FRS is an anti-oxidant called Quercetin (pronounced kwer-se-ten), which is one of many plant pigments known as “bioflavinoids” being marketed as a nutraceutical (1). The term “nutraceutical” is a derivative of the words “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical” and is defined as a “food that provides medical or health benefits including the prevention and/or treatment of a disease” (1). However, the term “nutraceutical” itself is commonly used in marketing and has no regulatory definition (i.e. it’s not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration who screens drugs for safety and efficacy). So what types of health benefits does Quercetin provide? One of the main reasons FRS is gaining popularity is due to Quercetin’s proclaimed ability to help sustain energy levels naturally. A number of studies have also demonstrated its anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties for the symptomatic relief of allergies, atherosclerosis (clotting of blood vessels), cataracts, and peptic ulcer disease (erosions of the gastrointestinal tract) (2). In addition, Quercetin metabolites (substances that result from the breakdown of Quercetin) may also have anti-tumor properties (1). Not too shabby for an energy drink, right?
Is Quercetin the new wonder drug?
A study reviewing the biological properties of Quercetin found that, although it has beneficial properties, the amount biologically available may not be of sufficient concentration to have much effect on your body. Kind of a big oversight. It turns out that flavinoids are poorly absorbed from the gut and are broken down by intestinal micro-organisms (bugs in your gut that help break down the food you eat) (1). Although many people haven’t heard of Quercetin before, most of them have ingested it at some point in the form of fruits and leafy vegetables including apples, cranberries, blueberries, and onions (remember when mom said to eat your fruits and vegetables?) (2). Quercetin is marketed as a dietary supplement with recommended daily doses of 200-1200 mg. High purity, food-grade Quercetin such as the one FRS uses, QU995, is generally recognized as safe for use in a variety of foods.
How much Quercetin is too much? Since scientists could find enough humans to experiment with, they had to settle for animal studies. In a study where rabbits were injected with doses of 100-150mg/kg of Quercetin (that’s over 10,000 mg in a 150-lb person!), no symptoms of toxicity were reported (1). In another study involving Swiss mice, no variation in body weight, food and water consumption, clinical chemistry, and organ weight were noticed when given doses of 30, 300, or 3000 mg/kg of Quercetin for 28 days straight (1). Keep in mind, however, that this safety data comes from studies with small animals…not humans. In fact, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) (a subdivision of the National Institutes of Health) is recruiting subjects for a double blind, placebo-controlled trial investigating the potential effects of 1 or 2 grams of supplemental Quercetin on glucose absorption (1). We will most likely see more studies on the safe and effective use of Quercetin in humans in the near future
The clinical studies on the FRS website look good. Shouldn’t that be enough to convince scientists?
For those of us who haven’t devoted our lives to research design and clinical trials, it can be very hard to distinguish a good study from a bad one. They are filled with numbers and colorful graphs that try to make their results look as impressive as possible (especially when designed by a company about its product). In the case of FRS, there are a few noteworthy caveats to their proclaimed results. Most importantly, a lot of the information surrounding the credibility of the studies is missing. As such, we can’t take their “dramatic results” at face value. Often the missing data is purposely hidden (like a pimple on prom night). Also of note, their studies were conducted on a very small number of subjects. The fewer the subjects, the less reliable the results.
Take Home Messages on FRS:
- Quercetin, the active ingredient in FRS, is a “nutraceutical” and is not regulated by the FDA for safety and efficacy in humans.
- Most people are already consuming Quercetin in common fruits and vegetables.
- Many benefits associated with Quercetin are drawn from studies done in animals at doses that may exceed what people are physically capable of consuming.
- Aside from Quercetin, FRS Healthy Energy contains other stimulants including green tea extract and caffeine as well as vitamins.
- Many of the studies conducted with regards to Quercetin have not been published in major journals, therefore, more research is warranted before we can draw meaningful conclusions.
- Lastly, marketing is a powerful tool used to entice consumers to buy things they may or may not need. With the current research, you can’t rely on FRS as the fuel to drive marathon training or finals cram sessions. Until proven otherwise, it remains just another energy drink (and not a prescription drug proven to treat, cure, or mitigate any diseases or health conditions).
We at House Call, MD have nothing against energy drinks, least of all FRS. We do, however, endorse an age-old home remedy for fatigue at no cost to the consumer: a good night’s sleep.
Questions? E-mail the Author: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Formica JV, Regelson W. Dec 1995. Review of the biology of Quercetin and related bioflavinoids. Food Chem Toxicol. 33(12):1061-80. Accessed on Jan 21 2011. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.libproxy.usc.edu/pubmed/8847003).
Harwood M, Danielewska-Nikiel B, Borzelleca JF. A critical review of the data related to the safety of quercetin and lack of evidence of in vivo toxicity, including lack of genotoxic/carcinogenic properties. Food Chem Toxicol. 45(11): 2179-2205. Accessed on Jan 21 2011. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.libproxy.usc.edu/pubmed/17698276).