What is a Functional Drink?

What is a Functional Drink?

What is a Functional Drink?

Lately, there's been a noticeable shift in how people, especially the younger and wellness-focused crowd, approach drinking. With a growing awareness of alcohol's hefty toll on health—ranking worryingly high on harm assessments globally—many are veering towards booze-free options. Think non-alcoholic beers, wines, and zero-alcohol spirits that let you enjoy a drink in hand without the baggage of alcohol. Yet, while these alternatives do a solid job mimicking the taste, they’re not designed to mimic buzz that makes alcohol a hit at social gatherings. Enter the innovative realm of functional non-alcoholic drinks: how the search for new molecules—and very old ones—could bring the best parts of alcohol to the table, minus the downsides.  

How Alcohol Does Its Thing  

Alcohol's charm lies in its knack for tinkering with the brain's wiring, affecting everything from how we feel to how we move. At first, it's all about boosting GABA, a neurotransmitter that calms the brain and makes us more sociable by dialling down anxiety. But, as one drink turns into more, alcohol keeps cranking up GABA's volume, leading to less inhibition but also roping in dopamine and endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals, but they’re closely linked to addiction. Drink too much and alcohol starts messing with memory and coordination, leading to some risky outcomes. Long-term, it's even worse, which has sparked the quest for better alternatives.  

The GABA Story  

GABA is central to relaxation and sociability, balancing out the brain's excitatory signals. GABA is something of a big deal beyond just calming nerves, playing into gut health and behavior. Targeting GABA receptors, specifically the ones alcohol affects, could help replicate that vibe of a few drinks without the worry of hangovers or health effects down the road.   

Diving into Molecules  

The search for alcohol's stand-ins has uncovered a bunch of molecules, both from nature's pantry and the lab, that can tweak the GABA system. There are molecules that amp up GABA's effects, offering a glimpse of what a safer buzz might look like. Then there are also the ones that dial it down—in the past studies have looked into substances like flumazenil as “antidotes” to potential synthetic alcohol alternatives, to sober you up after you’re done getting merry.   

Synthetics on the Scene  

Scientists have been busy whipping up molecules that get choosy with GABA receptor types, aiming to deliver the good times without the bad. From molecules that give a general buzz to those that target specific effects, the goal is a safer, sociable lift. The team at Sentia’s sister company, GABAlabs, have been tinkering with a molecule they’re calling Alcarelle, a hopeful contender designed to hit the sweet spot of quick onset and minimal fuzz, promising a future where we can socialise without the side effects.  

Natural Alternatives to Alcohol  

Alongside the lab efforts, there's a growing interest in natural sources that tap into the GABA system, using food plants and supplements known for their chill factor and others that help get functional ingredients from your gut, on up into your grey matter. The natural route digs into GABA's primordial role in stress relief, blending the building blocks of life itself, ancient wisdom and cutting edge science to concoct beverages that keep the spirit of drinking alive, minus the alcohol.  

Leaping the Regulatory Hurdle  

Bringing these innovative drinks from concept to shelf isn't just about nailing the formula; it's also about playing by the rules. With botanical brews like Sentia, Three Spirits, Kin Euphorics and Impossibrew making their debuts in the past few years, there's proof that the market's ready. But for the lab-born alternatives, it's a whole other ball game of safety testing and getting the green light from food and drug watchdogs.  

Functional Drinks for the Sober Curious  

Placing these alternatives next to traditional alcoholic drinks might just be the nudge people need to give them a go, especially for those looking to cut back on alcohol. These options aren't a cure-all for alcohol dependence, but they're a step towards a healthier social scene. It's not just about offering a safer choice; it's about re-imagining our drinking culture to keep the fun but ditch the downsides.  

The journey towards functional alcohol alternatives is more than just finding a safer way to unwind. It's about reimagining how we celebrate, connect, and relax, blending tradition with innovation to offer choices that don't compromise on health or enjoyment. As we explore this new frontier, the blend of age-old botanicals, cutting-edge science, and regulatory savvy will chart the course for a future where the social buzz comes with a clean bill of health.