This week on Twitter Brian has thrown down the science blog gauntlet about an Indegogo start-up. Specifically a spray on “energy drink”.
I accept the challenge.
Energy Drinks are a broad category of stimulant drinks. Some energy drinks have ingredients that are useless, dangerous, or a completely unknown. The common active ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine. There can be a carbohydrates but not always. There can be a broad range of additives mostly for marketing generally pseudoscience. The investors assert that their spray is superior, cheaper, safer and lasts longer than conventional energy drinks. At this point they have raised nearly 10 times their goal of 15,000 usd for their start-up. Lets take a look at their claims and apply our “Skeptical Eye”.
“Sprayable Energy Welcome to the end of tired. We’ve developed a liquid you spray on your skin to get the energy you would from energy drinks”
Caffeinated Products Currently Suck
They are too expensive, too inconvenient, too filled with calories and questionable ingredients, and in many cases taste terrible.
You also have to buy them multiple times a day, store them at the right temperature, and in 20%+ of the population they can cause nausea, headaches, and a feeling of being overly wired.
We hated making all these unfair compromises and developed a solution.
I don’t have a problem with most of this claim. My objection is that many of those side effects are due to the caffeine. Ironic that the energy spray originators object to the calories in the energy drinks, since it is the only actual energy. I would also disagree that all caffeine products “Suck”.
“Sprayable Energy is the world’s first caffeine based topical energy spray. It can be taken in seconds, doesn’t make you crash, is way more affordable than current products, and isn’t full of mystery ingredients.
Sprayable is a colorless, odorless liquid you spray on your skin to get a steady stream of energy for hours. Our patent-pending technology (described below) enables us to deliver just one active ingredient, caffeine, to give you the energy you need without the side effects or safety risks.
Sprayable is way safer to use than the cocktail blends of current energy products. Never be concerned for your health when using caffeinated products again.”
Many problems with the previous statement.
Changing the delivery of an active ingredient rarely diminishes risk. There is no energy in this spray, there are no calories. It is a stimulant spray. They are claiming longer lasting effects than oral caffeine. Why? how? Transdermal does not automatically mean extended release. Nicotine transdermal is designed to be slowly released. If this formulation is extended release then multiple applications would be dangerous, possibly deadly. High dose caffeine can induce, hallucinations, muscle fasiculations, heart arrhythmia, hypertensive crisis or stroke. Dumping the energy drink woo ingredients is safer, but the active ingredient is still dangerous. By eliminating the drink part of the energy drink you have removed a barrier to overdosing. The volume of the drink is protective to an extent. If you drink a 100 cups of coffee you will wash it out quicker than you can overdose yourself. Plus if you consume that much fluid the bloated full feeling will slow you down. A topical spray could be dosed and dosed and dosed until you pass out from an arrhythmia. That is the primary reason why pill caffeine is dangerous and caffeinated beverages are usually not. Finally it is absolute fallacy to claim that delivery method will give all the positives without any of the problems. That is an out and out lie.
It is not energy it is a caffeine spray.
At this point, you’re probably wondering how Sprayable works and we don’t blame you.
Our active ingredient is caffeine, which can actually naturally enter your body through the skin by passing through cell membranes (caffeine is very structurally similar to nicotine – which also easily passes through cell membranes, if you’ve ever seen a nicotine patch).
So what’s our great breakthrough? Well, it turns out caffeine isn’t very soluble in water, and so it’s difficult to transport enough caffeine in a spray to have a significant effect. After months of research, we discovered we could increase caffeine’s solubility five-fold by using a simple derivative of a naturally produced amino acid, tyrosine.
Thus, our patent-pending technology opens up a whole new realm of possibilities when it comes to energizing as effectively as possible without all the drawbacks and side effects.
This is mostly nonsense revealing the investors complete lack of pharmacological and chemical knowledge about their own product. Nicotine is not the same as caffeine except that they are both atypical stimulants from plant evolved pesticides.
“Well, it turns out caffeine isn’t very soluble in water, and so it’s difficult to transport enough caffeine in a spray to have a significant effect”
Caffeine is hydrophilic it is soluble in water. It is dissolved in soft drinks all the time. Your skin is water repellent so dissolving it in water is the opposite of what you want.
“Our active ingredient is caffeine, which can actually naturally enter your body through the skin by passing through cell membranes” “caffeine is very structurally similar to nicotine – which also easily passes through cell membranes”
Caffeine pharmacological action is extracellular it does not need to cross cell membranes. Caffeine is believed to work by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain and other organs. This reduces the ability of adenosine to bind to the receptors, which would slow down cellular activity. The stimulated nerve cells release the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline), which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and blood flow to muscles, decreases blood flow to the skin and organs, and causes the liver to release glucose. Caffeine also increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. What is the benefit to intracellular caffeine? I don’t know but considering it is unlikely it is probably nothing to worry about.
Using tyrosine, an amino acid, as a transdermal transport agent? In vivo transdermal caffeine experimentation found the best results with a lipid agent. Simply put the fat based system worked best in the lab. The spray uses an amino acid, the building blocks of proteins. In my opinion, they probably chose tyrosine based on guesswork and because it sounds jazzy. Plus who would buy spray on fat. In any case there is no research so pure speculation.
“Thus, our patent-pending technology opens up a whole new realm of possibilities when it comes to energizing as effectively as possible without all the drawbacks and side effects.” Energizing, again there is no energy involved. I suppose you could call it feeling energized.
Bringing this all together.
- Previous in-vitro studies show poor transdermal absorption of caffeine. There is no published research by the inventors, or anyone using a protein as a enhancer.
- Despite the excessive use of the word energy. There is no human usable energy in caffeine.
- It is complete speculation if not outright confabulation to say that transdermal caffeine results in longer or sustained effect comparative to oral.
- It is a lie to say that caffeine through the skin will result in effect without any side effects/rebound. If you get enough into your system to have an effect you will have a similar scale side effect. No way around that.
- The mode of delivery is not safer than drinking a caffeinated beverage. In fact it is more dangerous due to easy overdosing.
- Their proposed mechanism of action is unfounded and probably useless.
- They demonstrate a lack of basic knowledge about the chemical properties of the drug that they are selling.
- It is not an energy drink substitute. It is not a drink and it contains no energy. It is a spray on drug.
- It is an untested unknown. How much caffeine do you absorb per spray? What are the side effects? What is the dermal effects? What are the problems?
- I think they may have FDA troubles since this is a drug delivery system not a supplement or food. Caffeine is ok as an additive, here it is the only ingredient. I suspect that the tyrosine is necessary to get around FDA and call it a ingredient. Making it legal to distribute without testing or safety checks. Even though they mentioned an FDA approved manufacturer about 20 times. That does not make this an FDA approved item, but they are desperately trying to get you to draw that connection.
So if you have been dying to dump your energy drinks for a untested, unknown dosage caffeine cologne. This may be the item for you. It would be more effective and definitely safer just to take a caffeine pill and have a bottled water. On thing is certain no matter how many times you spray it there will only be caffeine no energy.
Personally I rather have a good coffee with skim milk.
1. Trauer S, Patzelt A, Otberg N, Knorr F, Rozycki C, Balizs G, Büttemeyer R, Linscheid M, Liebsch M, Lademann J. Permeation of topically applied caffeine through human skin – a comparison of invivo and in vitro data. Br J of Clin Pharmacol 68(2): 181-186.
2. Int J Pharm. 2011 Dec 12;421(1):34-44. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpharm.2011.09.014. Epub 2011 Sep 19.Investigation of microemulsion microstructures and their relationship to transdermal permeation of model drugs: ketoprofen, lidocaine, and caffeine.