Can energy drinks really improve gamers' concentration and memory?

Gaming often involves late hours. You may have a coffee or energy drink next to you right now. I do. Or you may find caffeine makes you jittery and interferes with your gaming, so you avoid it. It wasn't going to be long before manufacturers caught on to our often nocturnal lifestyle and targeted us with a specific solution.

Description: Can energy drinks really improve gamers' concentration and memory?

Can energy drinks really improve gamers' concentration and memory?

The folk at GungHo, maker of a new 'energy shot ', claim to have solved our all-night session needs with one handy sachet, illustrating their website with a pic of a game controller. 'Over 50 per cent of gamers are not satisfied with current energy shots and drinks,' claims an article1 on PR Web, which actually refers to research funded by GungHo itself. This is followed by a quote from Dr Dan Mowrey, who I note attained his PhD in experimental psychology (not neuroscience), and who in 2005, was charged by the FTC2 with 'falsely claiming to be a medical doctor.' Dr Mowrey says, 'Most energy shots or drinks fail at both ends of your experience. The initial “rush” and “jitters” often disrupt mental focus and physical performance - the result of critical compositional imbalances that provoke the customary “crash”.'

As is often the case, it's best to be guided by scientific consensus rather than a definite 'that's that', despite what Dr Mowrey says. Some studies show caffeine improves memory, others show it impairs it. Some of these studies are flawed, some are robust. The current consensus is that a lot of caffeine impairs the capacity of short-term and working memory, and that's a good enough reason to cut down, particularly in gaming where working memory is vital.

Description: You may have a coffee or energy drink next to you right now.

You may have a coffee or energy drink next to you right now.

So caffeine might screw with your working memory. Does GungHo contain caffeine? Yes! But I don't know how much, because the page with the ingredients3 doesn't say. When I emailed GungHo for more information, the company said, 'Anyone can put a different label on caffeine and some B-Vitamins, add a dash of Taurine and call it a new product. We wanted to improve on it.' It then linked me back to the same ingredients page. However, GungHo made it very clear that its 'flagship ingredient' is something called Cognizin.

Cognizin is the brand name of Citocoline. The FDA (the body responsible for approving drugs in the USA) refused to approve it as a medicine. It doesn't appear to have any solid evidence behind it, with studies showing it works no better than, to quote Professor Farnsworth, a big fat placebo. However, the FDA doesn't regulate food, so it's marketed as food in packets, such as the GungHo energy shot, without needing to provide any proof of efficacy. You can't buy GungHo in the UK, but you can buy Citocolin.

The GungHo website claims the product 'can actually increase your capacity to focus, store and memorize over time', which would be handy for gamers. I asked neuroscientist Dr Dean Burnett of Cardiff University if that's possible. He said, 'I'm not sure how they'd argue this. If you perform a repeated task in laboratory settings, then you'd get better at recalling it (that is, storing and memorizing), with or without the product. Also, there's no known capacity for human memory as of yet, so how they'd know they're enhancing it is anyone's guess. This is largely scientifically uncharted territory.'

Not such a flagship ingredient after all. The best way to improve concentration and performance is to drink water and get plenty of exercise. Flexing my trigger finger will be a good start.

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