Neurosurgeon offers what he sees as a more functional energy beverage

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Dr. Warren Roberts, a neurosurgeon at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center, created what he sees as a healthier energy drink option.

Like many who have attended college, Warren Roberts recalls jittery late nights fueled by entire pots of coffee.

“Almost everyone would get wired and not be able to study,” the Tualatin neurosurgeon and Lake Oswego resident recalls. “Really, what they wanted was to be able to perform at a maximum cognitive level.”

With energy drinks crowding the market, he found that little has changed since the mid-’90s.

“There is no smart alternative for an energy drink out there,” Roberts said. “Everything’s a facsimile for 5-Hour Energy, Monster.”

And so Roberts staked a claim to his own corner of the energy beverages market, which proved to be a $12.5 million industry in 2012 in the U.S. alone. Roberts says his motivation was to create what he calls a functional alternative: an energy drink that contained “above-board ingredients” that would encourage focus, rather than an instant buzz.

The result is Next10 Energy, a 2-ounce beverage that contains gingko biloba extract, a supplement that has shown promise in enhancing memory and concentration. Next10 has some ingredients in common with Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy, like the amino acid taurine. But Roberts maintains that throughout the research and development stage, he kept to a philosophy of “moderation and tried-and-true ingredients.”

“The concept is of smart energy,” Roberts says. “I was looking at providing a cognitive benefit to people who consume the beverage. (Next10) is for people who are looking for improved focus, concentration and cognitive benefit.”

“We don’t want to give you wings,” he added, alluding to Red Bull’s long-standing slogan. “We don’t want you flying all over the place.”

A concerning trend

Roberts pursued his medical degree at a time when NoDoz caffeine caplets were widely used by college students, he says. Fifteen years later, little had changed: At his practice in Boulder, Colo., Roberts saw a spike in patients complaining about strange numbness in their extremities, or tingling in the head or feet, and realized the common denominator was caffeine.

“We found they were all consuming energy drinks,” Robert said, identifying 5-Hour Energy shots and cans of Monster Energy as popular brand choices among his patients.

The high caffeine content of these beverages can be a threat to cardiovascular health. But many of his patients also had elevated levels of B6 in their blood, Roberts said.

The vitamin B6 is delivered naturally through foods like meat, citrus fruits and starchy vegetables. It is essential to metabolic function and immunity, but when consumed in excess, poses the risk of neuronal damage and can impair sensory and motor functions. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily allowance of B6 for adults is 1.3 milligrams. The FDA defines an upper-level threshold for safe intake as 25 milligrams per day for the same group.

But most mainstream energy drink brands contain far more B6 than that: One 5-Hour Energy shot contains 2,000 percent of the recommended daily value, while a can of Red Bull contains 250 percent and one Monster Energy contains 200 percent.

Roberts refers to such products as “a time bomb in a bottle.”

“And a lot of these ingredients in 5-Hour are not really mainstream, well-known, scientifically studied ingredients. They are off-the-wall, with side effects not completely known.”

“To me, that was the alarm bell,” Roberts explained. “I’m thinking, ‘This is almost a public health issue.’”

States weigh in

Data supports Roberts’ concerns about energy beverages widely available. In October 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed it was investigating more than 90 adverse events reports related to 5-Hour Energy use, including more than a dozen reported fatalities. There were 7,301 emergency room visits nationwide that involved energy drink use between 2004 and 2009, according to a 2011 report issued by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Meanwhile, more than 30 states have opened investigations into the exact formulas of energy beverages, which contain up to 4,500 milligrams per serving of ingredients vaguely labeled as either proprietary or energy blends. (Roberts’ product contains 1,190 milligrams of proprietary blend.)

Oregon is involved in this inquiry, which in June made the state Department of Justice the subject of a complaint filed by the makers of 5-Hour Energy, which is fighting to protect what it classifies as trade secrets.

Alternative energy?

During the past year, Roberts worked with consultants to develop Next10, named in honor of Roberts’ longtime personal philosophy toward productivity. Since college, he’s viewed his to-do list in groupings of 10, often resolving to sit down and study 10 chapters of a textbook at a time, he explained.

Of course, he made sure his formula contained no more than 2 milligrams of B6 per 2-ounce bottle.

Although Roberts hopes to fully move operations in-state, Next10 is currently produced at Dominion Liquid Technology in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Three flavors of the Next10 Energy line were launched in November 2012, debuting on the shelves of Walgreens stores throughout the Pacific Northwest. The brand is also sold at New Seasons, and can be ordered through Amazon.

Roberts says he has sold upwards of 100,000 units through these retail partnerships.

He believes that much of his success comes from recognizing a different kind of energy drink consumer. His core demographic is largely women at the tail end of other energy beverage targets, age-wise.

“Women over the age of 30 tend to care what they put in their body,” Roberts said. “They don’t want to be buzzing all over the place, they don’t want raw energy. “

In his opinion, Next10 consumers are a headier sort — the college student cramming for a final exam, an attorney preparing for a deposition the next day.

But as he grows his business, Roberts isn’t giving up his practice on the campus at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center anytime soon.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Next10 Energy drinks, created by Tualatin-based neurosurgeon Dr. Warren Roberts, debuted in November 2012 and currently come in three flavors.

“In terms of creating this huge company, all over the world, that’s for someone else to do,” he said. “I have a job. I’m happy being a neurosurgeon.”

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