Relaxation in a can: the rise of the anti-energy drink

Australian 'relaxation drink' Koala Karma.
Australian 'relaxation drink' Koala Karma. Photo: Supplied

There are drinks that claim to give us energy, improve our health and help us lose weight, and now a growing number of "functional beverages" promise to deliver a dose of tranquillity.

Relaxation drinks, also called "anti-energy drinks", contain ingredients associated with stress reduction, such as chamomile, valerian and magnesium.

The concept emerged in Japan in 2005 with the launch of drinks containing the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which has been found to have a calming effect. Locally, there are a handful of products, including Koala Karma, Everyday Sunday and bChill, as well as Good Night, which is claimed to improve sleep quality.

Crowd-funding success ... the NOA Relaxation drink.
Crowd-funding success ... the NOA Relaxation drink. Photo: Supplied

Founded by Jaime Turner and Cheryl Stewart, Koala Karma launched in mid-2013. In developing their product, they consulted nutritionists, naturopaths and the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

Koala Karma contains 285 milligrams of herbs (passionflower powder, chamomile powder, valerian powder and hops extract), plus 100 milligrams of the amino acid tryptophan and 150 milligrams of magnesium. It also contains 10.4 grams of sugar per 100 grams, to counteract the herbs' bitterness.

"We wanted the herbs to retain their full effect – hence no pasteurisation has occurred – so the drink was not just a gimmick," Turner said. "We are in the process of developing a sugar-free stevia version of Koala Karma that will be released in 2015."

According to Australian Beverages Council chief executive Geoff Parker, relaxation drinks are a small but growing segment, comprising about 0.5 per cent of all non-alcoholic drinks sold in Australia. This compares with the 3 per cent held by energy drinks, which Parker said have been experiencing strong single-digit growth over the past few years, despite health concerns.

In the US, there are more than 450 relaxation drinks on the market, up from about 400 in 2012, according to a 2014 IBISWorld report. American relaxation drinks include everything from herbs to melatonin (a hormone commonly used as a sleep aid, which requires a prescription in Australia) and even marijuana. Canna Cola is a "medical marijuana soda pop" available from some dispensaries.

It is a growing trend in other parts of the world, too.

Advertisement

"Relaxation drinks tend to be very popular in many Asian markets and are part of a very broad health and wellness portfolio of drinks in these markets," Parker said.

Meanwhile, Swedish start-up NOA Potions just took out "best premium drink" at the World Beverage Innovation Awards. Its NOA Relaxation drink has only been on sale in Sweden for a month or so.

The question is: Do relaxation drinks actually work?

"Several of these drinks do contain ingredients that are claimed to be effective in helping people to relax," nutritionist Arabella Forge said. "But the quantities of the herbs are variable; many do not contain ingredients in sufficient quantities to have a therapeutic effect. Furthermore, the extraction and processing methods of the herbs is often unspecified, and this can also impact effectiveness and potency of the herbs."

Forge said relaxation drinks were generally a healthier option than alcohol and soft drinks. But it is always worth reading the label.

Her advice: "For starters, look at the order of ingredients listed, and check that the quantity is listed next to each ingredient. If there is limited information, it may be a red flag. Also look for any additives, preservatives or sweeteners listed on the label. Check the serve size, as multiple servings can indicate a greater potency of the drink."

Whether you love or hate the idea of relaxation drinks, their novelty factor is high and our stress levels are higher, so expect to see them on a shelf near you soon.