Do Those Stress-Relieving Drinks Really Work?

A new crop of wellness beverages claim to help you feel more calm and relaxed, but some experts are skeptical that they can live up to the hype.

By Dani Blum

Wander down the beverage aisle of your local supermarket or bodega, and you might spot some dreamy-looking cans, in sherbet and pastel hues, promising to help you do something that seems in short supply of late: Relax. “Drink your meditation,” urges the label of one fruity, herbal tonic; “transcend stress, and open a portal to peace,” advertises another. One hemp-infused sparkling water claims it can help you feel “cool, calm, collected.”

Stress-reducing beverages — like sparkling waters, tonics and teas suffused with trendy ingredients like CBD, hemp, amino acids and more — have been growing in popularity in recent years. The company that makes Recess, a “calming” sparkling water with hemp and botanicals, said its monthly revenues increased by 600 percent between March 2020 and September 2021. Another brand called Moment, which sells a “stress-reducing” drink with amino acids and herbs, said its sales rose by 1,775 percent between September 2020 and September 2021.

Experts say that these drinks probably won’t hurt you, but the evidence on how, or if, they can help you is murky. Here’s the science behind the eye-catching advertising and bold claims.

What’s in these drinks?

The labels and marketing materials of many of these stress-relieving drinks point to an alphabet soup of wellness ingredients and buzzwords. Some contain small doses of CBD, or cannabidiol, a compound found in marijuana and hemp that doesn’t get you high but is often taken to relieve ailments like anxiety, insomnia and pain.

Some brands also infuse their drinks with “adaptogens” — or “super-herbs,” as some people call them — which are a group of medicinal herbs, mushrooms and roots that include ashwagandha, lemon balm and ginseng. Such plant-based substances have been used in Chinese, Indian and Western herbal medicine to treat stress, said Dr. Yufang Lin, a doctor at the Center for Integrative Medicine at Amherst Family Health Center in Lorain, Ohio.

Some stress-relief beverage companies also advertise that they contain amino acids like L-theanine, L-serine and L-tryptophan, which they purport can reduce stress and create a sense of calm.

What does the evidence say?

The research on how well these ingredients work to promote a sense of calm and relaxation is limited at best. Some small studies in humans and animals have hinted that supplemental CBD might help with anxiety and insomnia. One 2011 study of 24 college students with social anxiety, for instance, concluded that those who took a single, 600-milligram dose of CBD before a public-speaking exercise felt more comfortable and less anxious than those who took a placebo. Another study, published in 2019, found that of 72 adults with anxiety, poor sleep or both, 57 reported improved anxiety and 48 reported improved sleep after one month of taking a daily CBD capsule. A 2015 review of 49 studies also showed promising evidence, particularly in animals, that CBD could improve certain anxiety disorders, including those linked to post-traumatic stress and obsessive compulsive disorders. Other limited studies have also suggested that CBD may help people with pain and addiction.

Even more limited is the research that looked into using adaptogens or amino acids for stress. Those studies tend to be small and inconclusive, Dr. Lin said. “The question here is: What is the optimal dose?” she said. “And nobody knows that. There’s just not enough study.”

Is This A Scam?

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