Herbal Drinks: the New Liquid Drugstore?

IMAGE Walk down any beverage aisle in your local supermarket, and you may think you have been transported to a pharmacy. Once plain juices, waters, and sodas are now bursting with exotic additives—ginseng, ginkgo, and others—that promise to pump you up, relax you, or improve your memory. There is even a name for these drinks: “functional beverages.” Do these ingredients really “work” when added to drinks?

What Is Being Added?

To avoid entanglement with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has strict guidelines about product health claims, most drink manufacturers carefully refrain from making direct promises about benefits or curing diseases. However, product labels list ingredients and often outline general benefits of these ingredients, leaving consumers to draw their own conclusions about the potential health effects of the drink.Some common herbal ingredients used in functional drinks and their supposed associated benefits, as listed by the manufacturers, include:
Herbs Health-Related Claims
Ginseng Enhances energy
Ginkgo Enhance memory and mental alertness
Guarana Enhances energy
Echinacea Stimulates the body’s defenses
St. John’s Wort Enhances mood
Kava Promotes relaxation

Safety Issues

Questions have been raised about the possible risks and benefits of adding herbs to beverages. Herbs are not essential nutrients. Therefore, you cannot be deficient in ginseng or echinacea, as you can be deficient in, say, iron. Foods that are fortified with iron can provide health benefits to people who do not consume enough of these nutrients.In some cultures, herbs are prescribed in specific quantities and combinations to treat certain medical conditions. But, how effective is that small amount of ginseng that has been added to diet iced tea? And what are the long-term effects of consuming these products?There are still many questions that need to be answered through scientific research. There have not been as many studies focused on herbal remedies as for traditional medications. Some studies have been able to point out side effects, but in many cases, the overall effectiveness of herbals is inconclusive.

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