Energy Drinks: What's the Buzz?

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Energy Drinks: What's the Buzz?

Are These Stimulants Good or Bad News for Our Health?

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Despite having names like Jolt, Red Bull, Venom, Adrenaline Rush and Whoopass, energy drinks aren’t just taking the under-30 demographic by storm. With people putting in longer work hours, the target audience is ever increasing. But is this good or bad news for our health?

What are energy drinks? Typically, a soft drink advertised as an energy drink has an average of 80 mg of caffeine per eight fluid ounces and may also contain vitamins (especially vitamin B) and herbal supplements. Guarana, an herb with high caffeine content, is a popular additive to energy drinks, as are taurine and ginseng. Although there are some “diet” energy drinks, the majority relies on high sugar content to contribute to the buzz (and the subsequent crash in blood sugar levels that make you tired, reaching for another one).

There have been studies that prove the stimulants in energy drinks can provide a boost to physical activities and mental alertness. If you’re cramming for an exam or burning the midnight oil on a big project at work, the contents of that bullet-shaped aluminum can help you stay focused a few more hours than you normally would. Caffeine has also been proven to help improve muscle performance in athletes, so a small amount can definitely be a boon to your daily gym workout.

Other studies indicate that more than 400 mg of caffeine per day can be harmful, with adverse effects that include nervousness, sleeplessness, abnormal heart rhythms, irritability and stomach upset. To give you caffeine content comparison, a cup of joe contains 80-175 mg of caffeine depending on how it is brewed; American teas have about 40 mg; green teas, 15 mg; Pepsi, 55.5 mg; Mountain Dew, 55 mg; Dr. Pepper, 41 mg; and even decaf coffee has three to four mg.

I was surprised to learn that people have landed in the hospital after drinking too many energy drinks. More than three or four have led to nausea and seizures, and there are cases in the past several years that have named Red Bull as a possible contributor to death. One example happened in November of 2000 when Ross Cooney, an 18-year-old athlete from Ireland, shared four Red Bulls before a basketball game and then died of adult sudden death syndrome.

So while consuming one energy drink per day probably won’t hurt you, four or more might be something to worry about, especially if you’re also a daily coffee drinker. Moderation is key.

What are the alternatives? Staying hydrated with water is still the most natural way to go. If you feel yourself flagging while the day wears on, chances are you are simply dehydrated. Don’t reach for the energy drink until you’ve had a tall glass of H2O to quench your thirst. If that doesn’t refresh and renew you, have another one and take a walk around the block.

Orange, apple or grape juices can give you that sugar rush as well, and when accompanied with a small square of 70 percent cacao chocolate it will give you a safe — and enjoyable — caffeine buzz to boot. Even better than juice is consuming a piece of fruit (bananas, apples, oranges are all easy to transport to work) with protein such as almonds, sliced turkey, cottage cheese or yogurt. With a little bit of effort, you’ll be able to maintain your energy throughout the day and save money on those expensive energy drinks.

Katy Allgeyer is an artist and freelance writer. She is a columnist for Working World and Working Nurse magazines. Her features have appeared there and in Feng Shui Times, Art of WellBe­ing and You & Me Magazine.

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