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The Real Hype About Energy Drinks

Lifestyle & Opinion

By Krystal Balboni

It has been four days.  The cravings start to set in.  David begins to get antsy.  Much to his dismay, he feels he may be addicted.  Giving up his Monster energy drink cold turkey was harder than he thought.

“I’ve been drinking a minimum of 2 Monsters a day for 4 years straight,” says David Michael Lilya, 28, a former student of the Aveda Institute.  The Monster energy drink David consumes helps him work on his clients during his long eleven-hour days.  David says, “They wake me up fast and help me feel so much more refreshed for my clients.”

Within the last fifteen years, energy drinks have become the go-to remedy for lack of sleep and energy.  Redbull, Monster, and Rockstar are the three main energy drinks that reign supreme in the United States.  By 2017, CSP.net estimates the energy drink industry to reach $21.5 billion.

The main components in energy drinks are caffeine, glucose (sugar) and Taurine, a type of amino acid. Health Canada states that the daily recommended dose of caffeine is 200-300 milligrams, and the average 8-ounce energy drink contains about 80 milligrams.  This would be the equivalent of five ounces of coffee or two 12-ounce cans of caffeinated soft drink like as Mountain Dew, Coke, Pepsi, or Dr. Pepper.

Because caffeine has a bitter taste, energy drinks counteract that undesirable flavor with lots of sugar, or glucose.  Taurine is safe to use at a rate of 3,000 milligrams or under a day, and most energy drinks contain a third of that in one 8-ounce serving. The FDA does not regulate the ingredients in energy drinks and considers them to be a dietary supplement.

Energy drink users may experience heart palpitations, anxiety, the jitters, and lack of sleep after only 1.4 milligrams of caffeine per pound of body weight. The effects of energy drinks tend to last about 90 minutes and wear off, followed by what is known as a “crash.”  The “crash” is identified with a high sense of exhaustion, fatigue, and some dizziness. Many college students consume energy drinks back-to-back in order to avoid this, which increases the levels of caffeine, Taurine, gluose and other supplements in the drink being put into their bodies.  Too much of these items could cause a student to pass out or overwork his or her heart.

Mary Blinkhorn, a Social Service major of St. Petersburg College comments, “I usually drink Redbull, and I think it helps me concentrate, but it makes my anxiety go through the roof.”

Anxiety can cause a lack of concentration in class and hinder important test-taking skills.  Energy drink studies published in the Nutrition Journal have shown that college students who consume energy drinks have experienced chronic headaches and elevated blood pressure, which makes focusing on classroom activities difficult.

The College Student Journal published a study in December of 2011 that explained how elevated levels of caffeine energy drink use was associated with poor sleep quality, slower sleep duration, and lower habitual sleep efficiency. 71% of college students surveyed in 2011 by the American College Health Association reported that they had insufficient sleep and woke up not feeling rested when consuming energy drinks.

“I usually drink about two sugar-free Redbulls on the days I have class, and then at night I get about 4 hours of sleep and wake up wired,” says Chelsea Massey, 25, of St. Petersburg College when asked about her sleeping habits in conjunction with the use of energy drinks.

A study in 2011 at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine concluded that energy drinks are bad news, and the university could not find any beneficial effects. They warn college students and student athletes that energy drinks can contribute to dehydration of the body.

The deaths of a two boys, 19 and 14 years old, have been attributed to the excessive use of Monster energy drinks, in addition to three other deaths which the FDA is now investigating.  The cause of death with the 19-year-old boy was due to a cardiac arrhythmia.  According to Mayo Clinic, an arrhythmia can occur when the electrical impulses in your heart that coordinate your heartbeats don’t work properly, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. As this is happening, the heart may be unable to pump blood to the brain and other organs, causing the loss of consciousness or death.

The Permanente Journal published a study in 2011 that investigated the relations of coffee drinking to risk of cardiac arrhythmia.  They found that moderate caffeine use would not cause cardiac arrhythmia.

Of course, the marketing campaigns of energy drinks do not mention any of the possible adverse health effects.  Slogans and advertising instead may mislead consumers by promising extraordinary things. Redbull claims to “Give you wings”, while Rockstar energy drink says you can party like one.  Monster energy wants you to “Unleash the Beast.”

Avid Monster consumer David Michael Lilya says, “Monster has become more of a way of life for me.”

These energy drinks provide a pick-me-up for a long day at work, a late night partying, or for the stressed-out student cramming the night before an exam.  However you choose to consume these drinks, one thing is for sure: caffeine is the new “it” drug of this day and age.

Originally published Nov 22, 2013.

Header photo by MrkJohn (flickr creative commons license)

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