Energy Drinks for Life

During our Chinese New Year celebrations for 2018, where we completed 44 performances in 4 days, I discovered that consuming energy drinks was a big help to get my 47 year old body through the ordeal without too much muscle soreness, fatigue, or any trauma. Now you might wonder why a traditional martial artist, well versed in the methods of classical Chinese and Japanese medicine might be doing taking an energy drink?? But more on that later. For now let's look at why you wouldn't want the put energy drinks into your body.

The following information is from
Fatigue is extremely widespread in our society, affecting up to 80 per cent of the adult population. Chronic stress is the most common cause, while lack of rest, sleep deprivation and poor diet often exacerbate the problem. Your body reacts to stress with a 'fight or flight' response. Here the sympathetic nervous system triggers the adrenal glands to release stress hormones into the bloodstream especially cortisol. Prolonged stress can overstimulate your adrenal glands leading to excessive cortisol production and consequent health problems including high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Cortisol, known as the 'stress hormone', plays an important role in regulating resistance to physical and mental stress as well as your blood glucose levels, immune function, inflammation and fat metabolism. When stress is short lived, blood cortisol levels peak to enhance performance then quickly return to normal. However, prolonged stress can deplete the adrenals resulting in suboptimal blood cortisol levels and characteristic symptoms of 'burnout', as follows:

  • Tiredness, lethargy, and generally feeling 'unwell'
  • Poor stress resistance and feeling overwhelmed
  • Poor mental performance and concentration
  • Muscular weakness, poor physical performance, exercise intolerance and low pain threshold
  • Nervous exhaustion, anxiety, irritability and low libido
  • Insomnia and unrefreshed sleep
  • Poor immunity, recurrent infection and slow recovery
  • Weight gain and cravings for sweet or salty foods

In our culture we commonly make the mistake of reaching for a stimulant when we feel fatigued. This is usually something that usually contains lots of sugar and caffiene, like energy drinks. The problem is that our Qi is already low, the Kidneys are weak, and our mental power cannot be sustained yet we ask them to work even harder via the consumption of these energy drinks. The outcome after this spike and rush of energy is even more weakness, fatigue, and depletion. Our answer - I need to have another one!! This is a sure road to many health problems as we get older.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) energy drinks should be regarded as a public health risk, and wants doctors to be vigilant for signs of caffeine intoxication, withdrawal and dependence. The WHO wants tighter controls for the drinks, which are becoming increasingly popular with children and adolescents around the world.

Studies in a WHO review suggest caffeine intoxication can lead to heart palpitations, hypertension, nausea and vomiting, convulsions, psychosis, and in rare cases, death. “In 2007, a man in Australia was reported to have suffered cardiac arrest after consuming seven to eight cans of an energy drink while taking part in vigorous physical activity,” the researchers report. Deaths have also occurred in the US and Sweden.

Outright bans of the drinks are in place in Denmark, Turkey, Norway, Uruguay and Iceland. In Sweden sales of some products are restricted to pharmacies and sales to children under 15 are banned.

How can Chinese herbs help?

Traditional Chinese herbs can help prevention of and recovery from adrenal fatigue. Specific energy tonic herbs (also known as 'adaptogens') optimise physical and mental performance, economise energy production and enhance recovery during rest. Adaptogens work by enhancing the body's adaptive energy and economising physiological responses to stress. By helping to maintain the optimal stress response, they support the adrenal glands and tonify the nervous system, improving stress resistance.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, the concept of 'adaptive energy' is equivalent to 'vital force' or Qi. Adrenal fatigue correlates to Qi deficiency. Adequate Qi depends on the body's reserves of strong inherited Qi called Jing, which is stored in the Kidney organ-meridian system. Herbal adaptogens work to generate healthy Qi, supplement Jing and tonify the organ-meridian systems involved in transformation and transportation of Qi. The Kidney organ-meridian system is particularly important as it governs the adrenal cortex and autonomic nervous system.

So what was I taking to have me feeling like it was still day one of performances by day 4? Here's the herbs -

Sheng Yi Ren (barley) : tonifies the skin, brain, ligaments. Protects the intestines, boosts body fluids, and removes damp heat, strengthens the Spleen (the organ in charge of joint health).

Sheng Jiang (ginger) : normalises Qi flow in the centre, warms the middle, warms the Lungs, adjusts Ying Qi (nutritive energy) and Wei Qi (protective energy/immunity).

Da Zao (Chinese dates) : tonifies Spleen, Stomach, and Qi, nourishes blood, calms the spirit.

Dang Sheng (codonopsis root) : tonifies the middle and augments Qi, tonifies the Lungs, restores the constitution, nourishes the blood, promotes the generation of body fluids.

Rou Gui (cinnamon bark) : warms the Kidneys, Spleen, and Heart, strengthens Yang Qi and Ming Men Fire (Kidney Yang Qi), disperses deep cold, warms the channels, unblocks the channels and vessels, alleviates pain, leads heat/fire back to its source (moves heat from above and at the surface back down into the body), assists in the generation of Qi and blood.

You can see from these herbs that many have warming properties, and where possible I drank it warm too. This is the opposite to the energy drink out of the fridge that contains sugar which is cold and damp in the body. In East Asian medicine cooling the internal functions of our body leads to many diseases, premature ageing, and death.

These herbs are not asking the Kidneys, adrenals, muscles and joints to work harder during physical exercise. Rather they a tonifying and strengthening them, nurturing them over time to become strong and healthy again. And there are many other herbs that can be added to this drink to enhance its effects or to change its focus.

So the next time you feel like you need a boost of energy, especially if you are looking at high performance loads (mental or physical), forget the modern energy drink and go for something that has been around for centuries and will work with you to gain better health, not against you!