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The Drain of Energy Drinks

00:00 October 14, 2013
By: David Vicari

Much like coffee and sodas, energy drinks sugar coat the guts and dose the nerves with a jolt of caffeine, keeping the mind and body awake. These easily attainable products are found on the shelves of supermarkets and convenience stores making them particularly attractive to a younger audience. Statistics indicate that between 30 - 50% of adolescents drink some form of energy drink on a regular basis. The Journal of Pediatrics states that out of 5,448 caffeine overdoses in 2007, 48% were in kids under 19. Another study of 1,060 students found that energy drink consumption by college sophomores was associated with an increased risk of prescription drug abuse (namely stimulants) in their junior year of college. "Energy drinks, like prescription drugs, might be regarded by some students as safer, more normative, or more socially acceptable than using illicit 'street' drugs," the researchers wrote in a 2010 issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine.
You might ask why these products are still even on the market given their known ill effects. Perhaps the FDA deemed safe lists of plant-based natural ingredients like sugar, ginseng, yohimbine and guarana are the reason. If consumed in excess each has their own adverse side-effects. One gram of guarana contains anywhere from 40 - 80 grams of caffeine - that's enough to cause increased heart rate, headaches, and insomnia. The negative effects of prolonged use can range anywhere from: restlessness, insomnia, tachycardia (increased heart rate), headache, anxiety, palpitations, tingling in the skin, and tremors. This isn't to scare the bejesus out of you, but to make you aware that these products aren't intended to become habit, nor are they a great mixer in cocktails.
High amounts of caffeine have been proven in studies on college students to actually impair cognition, leading to a delayed reaction time and poor mental processes. Imagine that delay paired with the effects of alcohol. Perhaps the biggest hazard in consuming alcoholic beverages mixed with energy drinks is the perception of being less impaired when in actuality the user is just as impaired as they'd be drinking straight alcohol. The body displays fatigue when it is genuinely running low on energy. Substituting caffeine for energy and simultaneously ingesting a depressant is a cocktail for disaster. A mental crash can take the form of a blackout, and if the user feels less impaired when conscious, poor decisions could jeopardize their safety and the safety of others, like driving. There is also concern that mixing alcohol and energy drinks may keep people awake for a longer period of time, allowing them to consume more alcohol than they ordinarily would, according to an editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"Energy drinks have a lot of stimulants in them like ginseng and taurine, while alcohol is a depressant so by mixing the two you're sending mixed messages to your nervous system which can cause cardiac related problems," Steve Clarke, director of the College Alcohol Abuse Prevention Center said. According to the Red Bull website there is no indication that the drink has any negative effects related to alcohol consumption including the elimination of ethanol. However, Red Bull contains 80 mg of caffeine per can. High levels of caffeine can boost heart rate and blood pressure, causing palpitations, according to National Institute of Health. Mixing these drinks with alcohol further increases the risk of heart rhythm problems. But now you don't even have to do the mixing. Four Loko, a powerful combination of alcohol and energy inducing ingredients is available at markets and gas stations.
Dietary supplements have to inform the FDA when their products are linked to death or injury hence the thirty consumer injuries reported to the FDA by the makers of popular energy product 5 Hour Energy. Research following the consumer medical cases has proven that the products raise blood pressure, a factor that could potentially cause stroke. Dr John Higgins of Houston based Texas Medical School warns that caffeine causes heart cells to release calcium, affecting heartbeat, which can lead to arrhythmia. "The drinks may also disrupt the normal balance of salts in the body, which has also been linked to arrhythmia. However, there is not enough evidence to say unequivocally that energy drinks cause heart problems. More research is needed to determine the amount of energy drinks people need to consume in order to experience these negative effects."
It certainly makes sense now why some competitive sports consider the use of energy drinks before and during competition a form of doping, yet they continue to sponsor athletes and teams. All in all, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and exercise provide a far safer way to increase energy, but unfortunately that doesn't come in a can. Juicing wholesome vitamin and mineral rich produce is the best natural way to attain energizing benefits in drink form. Combining these juices with protein powders, superfoods, and FDA regulated supplements begets the same stimulating advantage, albeit safer. Beaucoup Juice is a local smoothie and juice bar that is located Uptown on Freret Street. The menu has The Mardi Gras Mango smoothie (mango, peaches, soymilk, honey) and the Mimi In The Acai (acai, mango, banana, soymilk, honey) among many others which provide energy via natural fruit ingredients. They also serve up a local favorite, the sno ball, in some pretty unique combinations like ginger passionfruit. Now that's something I could handle adding a flavored vodka to.
Whole Foods is quite possibly one of the first major markets to jump on the juicing train and run with it, at least locally. When a natural juice bar can make organic vegetables and fruits taste that good with no additional sugars or additives, we love that they took the initiative to introduce the concept to the masses. Their version of organic carrot and apple comes spiced with fresh raw ginger - a perfect harmony of earthy, sweet, and heat.
On a more local and boutique level, Blend by Sheena is a small business committed to fresh juices. Organic, raw green smoothies, cold-pressed juices, tonics for delivery and pickup are available in a bounty of flavors. The Monkey Business includes a hefty helping of local greens, banana, apple and lemon and The Masheen blend includes major doses of kale, cucumber, cilantro, pear and pineapple. Cleanses and subscription options are also available, and for more information you can contact the woman of the brand herself at [email protected]
So you might ask why, after knowing all these negative effects exist, are these energy products still available? Well, its the same thing with junk food. Cheetos can make you fat, energy drinks can cause health problems, but they don't always. Moderation is key. Trust me, you know when you've had one cup of coffee too many. Knowing your limitations with caffeine and natural energizing products will help you gauge and pace yourself. Becoming a siesta enthusiast may be the answer as well. Naps will restore energy, but limiting those naps to 15 - 45 minutes will allow the brain to release just enough seratonin and melatonin to replenish the mental capacities needed to get on with your day. We've all had that day we just couldn't wake up, or that one night we simply couldn't get quality rest. It happens. Utilizing the ways nature intended you to deal with these situations is always best for the body.

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