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Field Guide to Energy Additives

What's lurking in your favorite energy drink? Consult this guide to the common energy-boosting additives to find out what you're assimilating.

B Vitamins
None of the B vitamins bestow energy, but all of them help with biological processes. Though they are numbered (B with a subscript number), you may see them listed by their chemical names: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12). Most energy drinks pile on the B's.

Vitamin C
Like the B vitamins, C does nothing for energy, but vitamin C is the O.G. of antioxidants, slaying free radicals (renegade, destructive ions) left and right. As a secondary benefit, it'll keep scurvy away. Arrrr!

A major component of bile (yum), taurine may help promote weight loss by regulating insulin levels in the body. The jury remains out on its energy-conferring potential, but just about every energy drink includes it as an ingredient.

Remember mitochondria from high school biology? They're the "powerhouses of the cell" that help convert food into energy. And L-carnitine helps them get the job done. It's also an antioxidant.

This stimulant has had a long and healthy relationship with humans. Found in coffee, tea, and (in smaller quantities) chocolate--not to mention in energy drinks--caffeine helps the world wake up and stay awake.

Known primarily as an aphrodisiac, ginseng also seems to have a stimulant effect, most often noticed in the symptom of insomnia. Siberian ginseng, though popular, is not a ginseng at all, as it is not a member of the Panax (ginseng) genus.

A South American berry seed, guarana contains about five times the percentage of caffeine that a coffee bean does. Other alkaloids in guarana may increase resistance to stress and increase memory retention, as well as having antioxidant and antibacterial affects.

Gotu Kola
This is not the same thing as kola nut (the flavoring in cola drinks). A medicinal herb that has been in use for thousands of years, gotu kola is said to promote youthfulness and increase mental clarity and memory. These claims have not been confirmed by research.

Roger Hibbert is a freelance tech journalist living in New Orleans. Because one man can consume only so many energy drinks in a single month, PC World senior editor Tim Moynihan contributed to this report.

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