A shot of energy

Renee Rosenow

With two tests tomorrow and a paper due the next day, what is the best way to stay awake for all of the time you’re going to need?

For some college students the answer often becomes energy drinks, which are an easy way to gain liveliness. But, can consuming them too frequently be dangerous to one’s health?

Initially, there were no concerns about energy drinks and people’s health, but recently doctors, dietitians and health buffs alike all have begun to gain alarm.

History

According to The American Beverage Association, energy drinks were first produced in Scotland in 1901 when a company came out with a drink called “Iron Brew” in 1901.Since the 1960’s, energy drinks have been found in Japan. Most of the energy drinks from Japan show little resemblance to soft drinks (as in the United States), and are available in small brown glass containers. The drinks are known as “Genki Drinks” and are also sold in South Korea.

The first American energy drink was introduced in 1985 when the soda Jolt came out on the market. In 1997, Red Bull was brought to the United States and became the dominant energy drink retailer.

By the time 2001 hit, the energy drink market had over eight million beverages sold per year. In the next five years sales grew an average of 50 percent per year, eventually totaling over $3 billion in 2005.

A 2008 poll by the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s Institute for Good Medicine found that 20 percent of people between the ages of 21 and 30 had used energy drinks in high school or college to stay awake for studying longer or to write a paper. On top of that, 70 percent of people said they knew someone who had used energy drinks for the same reason.

“I probably drink about two or three (energy drinks) a week,” junior Kyle Walker said. “Just to help me study when I don’t have enough energy from work or class.”

What they do

Robin Fedie, a dietitian at St. Joseph’s Hospital, 2661 County Highway I, Chippewa Falls, says they are a significant source of sugar and caffeine. The high levels of caffeine quickly deliver the body energy, but this is not a very safe way to regain your energy levels.

“There is concern about the amount of caffeine in the drinks because it is not currently regulated,” Fedie said.

Laura Knudsen, a dietitian at Red Cedar Medical Center, 2321 Stout Road, Menomonie, says the “benefits” of the drinks are short-lived.

“All that caffeine and sugar in there make you have more energy temporarily,” Knudsen said. “It usually only lasts a couple of hours before you’re even more tired.”

Fedie added that sometimes they also have an amino acid or vitamins and herbs included as well. However the amounts of those ingredients are not often known.

“Usually because we don’t know how much is in there, the safety of that is also questionable,” Fedie said. “Most times there’s probably not even enough to have any benefits.”

Why they’re hazardous

Unfortunately some people do not even realize the risk they are taking when they consume energy drinks often.

“I had no idea that it could have long term affects on my health,” Walker said. “I knew there were large amounts of sugar, but I didn’t know they could be bad for other reasons.”

Energy drinks are considered to not only be dangerous to your physical health, but also unsafe to your mental health as well. All of these problems are due to the large amounts of sugar and caffeine in the beverages.

Fedie said that because caffeine is a stimulant there are a lot of things to worry about when it is consumed regularly. The large doses of caffeine are even more risky for people who have heart issues.

“It can cause things like nervousness, insomnia and irritability in some people,” Fedie said. “It can also contribute to increased heart rates.”

Knudsen agrees that energy drinks are especially hazardous for people with prior heart conditions.

“The temporary effect that gives you the energy makes your heart beat faster,” Knudsen said. “So if you have heart disease or something like that it can definitely cause problems.”

According to a research project done at Johns Hopkins University, consuming caffeine frequently in the form of energy drinks can lead to caffeine dependency. Dependency eventually brings addiction, and no longer drinking energy drinks could involve withdrawal symptoms. Some of the symptoms include tiredness, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, dysphoric mood, difficulty concentrating and depression.

What to avoid

If people are going to consume energy drinks, there are many things that should be avoided.

Knudsen thinks it is vital that consumers of energy drinks aren’t permanently using the beverages as a way to regain liveliness. People need to maintain a healthier lifestyle to ensure that energy drinks aren’t the only way they can stay awake.

“There’s obviously much more healthy ways to get more energy,” Knudsen said. “Like getting enough sleep, making sure that you’re eating right and exercising.”

The people who drink energy drinks often also need to make sure they aren’t letting the things in energy drinks replace important parts of their diet.

“Consumers of energy drinks need to make sure they take a look at the overall quality of their diet,” Fedie said. “And to make sure that the sugars and caffeine are not replacing the vitamins and minerals and fibers that you would get from fruits and vegetables.”

Fedie also thinks that parents need to beware of younger kids consuming energy drinks.

“We especially don’t recommend (energy drinks) for children,” Fedie said. “They can begin to replace things like milk, which is a great source of calcium for children.”

Knudsen mentioned that consuming energy drinks with alcohol is a foolish idea.

“Energy drinks and alcohol are a very bad combination,” Knudsen said. “Combining something that brings you up and something that brings you down at the same time can be dangerous.”

Fatigue in the body is its way of communicating that it has had enough to drink, and trying to fool your body into thinking that you aren’t as drunk as you feel can be potentially fatal.

Both dietitians agreed it is important for consumers of energy drinks to evaluate their reasons for consumption.

“I just really think people need to look at what they are using them for,” Fedie said. “Do they really even need an energy drink?”