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Coming Off Caffeine: Herbal ‘Relaxation’ Drinks RI’s Latest Trend

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

 

There must hundreds of different ways to caffeinate and energize: energy drinks, energy shots, energy bars. There must also be hundreds of different natural herbs that are marketed as energy-boosting, like Guarana, B12, acai, Ginseng, B6, and Taurine.  

Now, though, among the rows of natural and herbal drinks, there are a select few that might be a liquid backlash to the energizing beverage: herbal relaxation drinks. Solixir: Relax has arrived on the shelves of RI markets leading what may become a wave of products marketed as relieving stress, quelling anxiety, and chilling out. It is marketed as an antidote to the herbal energy drink that it glistens next to on the Providence Whole Foods' wall of candy-colored liquids.  

The need to calm down

“I started to look around and see there were a ton of energy drinks on the market but nothing really to calm you down… So after a few stressful afternoons at work I decided why not make a relaxation beverage,” writes Scott Lerner, Solixir’s founder. Solixir has avoided using common calming additions, like melatonin and valerian root Lerner says, and “chose a higher path of entirely fruit and plant based ingredients like Chamomile, Lemon Balm, and Passionflower.”

Mary Flynn, PhD, a nutritionist with Miriam Hospital and Brown University, says these drinks should be treated with cautious concern.  “Most consumer think herbs are nice, warm and fuzzy," Flynn says, "so they tend to be not as concerned [as they are with] caffeine, MSG, etc.”  

Miriam Hospital's Flynn: treat these drinks as a drug

“I am certain people will pick them up and say ‘What's the harm? It is not a 'sleeping pill,’“ she says. But Flynn warns: though these drinks are marketed as calming stress and serving as a detoxification, they should be treated as a drug.  

The language that Solixir uses is calming. They focus on the strong benefits that herbs provide, while downplaying their power. Solixir contains more than 1,400 milligrams of botanical extracts: “They’re just plants, flowers and herbs that have been used for thousands of years. Combined properly they can do amazing things,” explains the Solixir label. Marketing these drinks as natural and healthful may lead to a less critical attitude on the part of the consumer.

Lack of regulation 

Natural herbal energy drinks and relaxation drinks exist in a difficult place to regulate. Herbs can’t be patented and the FDA doesn’t require the manufacturers to prove their claims or standardize their products. “Now the consumer basically needs to prove harm but anything could be sold,” says Flynn. “While they should be held accountable to the claims, I doubt anyone will go after them.”  She says with this system, the consumer can never be sure of the dose or concentration, which could cause “a potential mess.”

After all, herbal supplements aren’t anything new for consumers.  What would be the big deal with packaging them into drinks?  These drinks are already aimed at teenagers and young adults.  Some health experts, like Flynn, are concerned this might continue to propagate unhealthy habits. 

Though the University Heights Whole Foods in Providence says that Solixir: Relax is the only relaxation drink sold so far, Flynn estimates that these drinks will be as popular at natural energy drinks have been.  “There is a big issue with kids not sleeping, as there is 24-hour entertainment," she says. "I would guess people would be more likely to want to take a drink then to regulate their life.” She says that there is a tendency to want something to do the work for you - a pill or a drink that will magically wake you up and calm you down. This is not addressing the problems of why the consumer is tired, jittery, or anxious.  

Solixir: Relax is marketed as a panacea to stress, as the promotional materials say: "A great choice for when your day needs to settle down, but you simply can’t.” It’s not about you calming down; it’s about a product calming you down.

 

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