February 2021

“Functional Waters” Angling for Anxious Consumers

The “functional water” market category is picking up steam. You might start getting questions about these products, particularly those that claim to have “calming” effects during these stressful times. So what’s in these products?

Driftwell is one example. It’s a new PesiCo product promoted to help you “sip into relaxation.” Along with natural flavors, it contains 200 mg L-theanine and 40 mg magnesium per can. Some early research shows that taking 200 mg theanine, an amino acid, reduces anxiety and might prevent blood pressure from increasing due to stress. But there’s also conflicting evidence that shows it increases relaxation in people who are already calm, not in those who are stressed. When it comes to magnesium, there isn’t any clinical evidence that it has calming effects.

Recess is another product being heavily promoted on social media. It’s a sparkling water claiming to be “an antidote to modern times,” by helping the “body and mind maintain a calm and balanced state.” Like Driftwell, this product contains theanine. It also contains hempAmerican ginseng, and lemon balm. Early research shows that hemp does not reduce stress. And while early research shows American ginseng might improve short-term memory and reaction time, there isn’t any evidence that it has calming effects. Some research shows that taking lemon balm in single doses of 300 mg or 600 mg reduces anxiety and increases calmness and alertness in healthy adults. But it’s not clear how much lemon balm is in the Recess product.

Lastly, Zenify is a “calming stress relief” sparkling water also promoted to improve focus. Like the other two products, it contains theanine. Other ingredients include the amino acids gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) 350 mg and glycine 250 mg. Early research shows that taking 100-200 mg of GABA can prevent brain waves that are linked to stress, but it does not reduce subjective measures of stress. It’s also important to note that GABA isn’t able to cross the blood brain barrier when taken by mouth, so it doesn’t have the same effects as prescription drugs that act like GABA in the body. While there isn’t any evidence that glycine has calming effects, early research shows that it might improve memory and mental performance.

If patients ask about these products, tell them that for the most part, the evidence is murky. While some ingredients might be beneficial, not all products list ingredient amounts. This also makes it difficult to make any recommendations regarding safety or potential interactions with drugs. Most importantly, they’re very expensive – Zenify is $30 for a 12 pack. Recess will set you back $40 for just 8 cans. For now, advise patients to save their money, and put their efforts toward more proven stress relief methods like meditation and exercise.

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