Energy Drinks: The Silent Health Hazard

Friday, November 19, 2010

In France, a young athlete prepares for a game; he does his stretches, drinks an energy supplement, goes out onto the field, and then dies. Later, it is discovered that the cause was the energy supplement. The energy Supplement is Red Bull; an energy drink with the key ingredient being caffeine and sugar. As a result of this, France bans Red Bull from their market.

 This is not the only record of Red Bull being banned because of it’s caffeine levels, other countries have experienced problems with their energy drinks that pack a little more then energy. “They are the Red Bull "blue can" produced in Austria and the Red Bull "blue band" (with blue strip) produced in Thailand. "Blue can" is banned because it has been linked with three recent deaths in Sweden. Two people reportedly died after mixing the drink with alcohol, and another after taking the drink after exercising. He said the ministry is keeping in touch with Sweden's National Food Administration - which is in charge of investigating the deaths - for more information. The canned "blue band" has been banned as a test shows it exceeds the amount of caffeine allowed, which is set at 200mg/litre, he said after launching the Robin Good Health Program here.” (Syima)

The recent energy drink fad started with the introduction of Red Bull in 1997. The ingredients of which include taurine, glucuronolactone, caffeine, b-group vitamins, sucrose, and glucose. Taurine is an amino acid, glucuronolactone is a carbohydrate, and sucrose and glucose are both sugars. (Red Bull). The amount of caffeine in the average 8.2-ounce can of Red Bull is 80 milligrams. That is a lot of caffeine, especially when compared to the average 16 ounce Coke-a-cola which has only 34 milligrams. (Willstar). “Basically, an energy drink is simply a glorified can of soda. Both are carbonated beverages containing caffeine and sugar, the difference being that the energy drink contains a lot more. The average soda holds 25-40 milligrams of caffeine, whereas most energy drinks have double that. One new energy drink advertises a whopping 280 milligrams of caffeine per can!” (Burgundy). When caffeine is consumed it gives the drinker a better feeling of concentration, however if one is used to consuming caffeine on a daily basis and then is deprived of it, they would experience withdrawal symptoms. Caffeine is no different then a drug, and consuming it on such high levels is a bad idea. “The main health risk associated with consuming these quantities of caffeine is the effect it has on heart rate and blood pressure. With large doses of caffeine, the heart rate can become so accelerated that it may lead to an irregular or quickened heart beat. This can last long after the initial effect of the drink.” (Burgundy). The health risks are severe when it comes to the amount of caffeine, there is even an account of a country illegalizing Red Bull – “In 2000, the French government decided to ban Red Bull after the brand was linked to the death of an 18-year-old Irish athlete. The teenager died after drinking four cans of Red Bull at a game.” (Watson). Approximately eight years later Red Bull is allowed back on the French market.

One might consider that Red Bull, or any other energy drink, helps them through the day, one might say that “the caffeine doesn’t effect me” or “I can handle the rush that such drinks provide”. Yes, many people use energy drinks, but just because they think they can “handle the rush” does not mean they are not addicted. Energy drinks are no better than cigarettes and alcohol. The energy drink’s effect is most noticeable, and even frustrating for any observer of the drinker. A schoolteacher in the United Kingdoms has banned her students, whom are the number one consumer of energy drinks, from drinking the ever-famous Red Bull.

 “We noticed a change in the behavior of some of our students, and when we investigated we found they had been buying these drinks on the way to school,' says the head of the 600-pupil school in Worthing, West Sussex. 'Students are finding themselves getting into difficulties, and we don't want it escalating. They are drinking more caffeine, which is making them hyperactive in some lessons because they haven't had the time to run off all that energy. They are noisier and may not respond to instructions. Some are coming in later than they should do.” (Rawstorne). The problem is not only associated with hyperactivity, on many cases one finds that Red Bull, when consumed in mass quantities in a short period of time can give the drinker a buzz.

 This is dangerous because of the intoxicated state of the drinker is not really intoxicated by law, one mans report on an experience where he conveys this point. “I was designated driver for the night when me and my mates went out,' it reads. 'I had 13 cans of Red Bull that night! We came out and I was buzzin' more than anyone else leaving the club who was hammered!! It was quality! Another night when I was desi [designate driver] I had seven cans of Red Bull in a really short space of time.. . that night I crashed my two-week-old car so that was not such a great night!” (Rawstorne).

In the early 2000’s the new energy drink fad arrives in the United States and begins to have it’s long-term effect on the youth of America. It isn’t long until this fad becomes a part of everyday life among many Americans. These drinks contain caffeine, sugar, and other chemicals that’s sole purpose is to heighten one’s state of awareness and boost the amount of physical activity of a person, in layman’s terms, to provide energy. However, over time, the consumed energy drink’s effects will wear off and leave the drinker in a state of sluggish behavior, a crash. The energy drink ultimately proves to be just an allusion of hope, the drinker feels more energetic, but is only experiencing a short lasting sugar rush. In order to keep this feeling the drinker may consume more throughout the day, increasing the intake of sugar and other chemicals into their body every day. One can imagine that all that sugar will have adverse affects on the human body, such as weight gain and teeth decay; not to mention other ingredients such as guarana, ginseng, and caffeine can act almost as a drug to the human body. The energy drink may be a good concept, but the evils out ways the good, and therefore energy drinks are just damaging to the human body and should be avoided.

“The very first "energy" drink to reach the United States wasn't really an energy drink at all -- it was more of a hyped-up soft drink called Jolt Cola. The "jolt" in the cola was a lot of added sugar and caffeine.

 Introduced in the 1980s, Jolt Cola quickly became a staple of college campuses.” (Watson). The Jolt Cola soon branches itself into more flavors but keeping it’s ingredients the same. With the new caffeine levels in drinks such as Jolt there are many health problems to consider. A well-known effect of caffeine is that it is a stimulant, however there are other aspects that elude the common consumer. “Consuming a lot of it can lead to heart palpitations, anxiety and insomnia -- it also can make you feel jittery and irritable. Over time, caffeine can become addictive. It is also a diuretic -- it causes the kidneys to remove extra fluid into the urine.” (Watson). There are cases of law suites against such energy drinks in addition to the instances in Sweden and France, some that strike a little more closer to home; “A jury awarded more than $1 million US to a family whose son died after taking a supplement that contained the stimulant ephedrine. In 1999, 24-year-old Charles Bryant Scurlock II took the energy-booster Ripped Fuel and collapsed during an Army National Guard physical fitness test. He died a few hours later. Mike Grimes, the lawyer for Scurlock's parents, told the Austin American-Statesman that the jury decided Ripped Fuel's design formulation -- including a combination of caffeine and ephedrine -- was unreasonably dangerous.” (CanWest).

The main consumer of energy drinks falls under the student demographic. Students will stay up all night with the help of countless energy drinks and then wake up early in the morning and consume more energy drinks just to perform the day’s activities. The student has become addicted and there seems to be no end. This is unacceptable for a lifestyle and has extremely adverse effects on ones health. Is the fact that people have been reported to have died not enough to convince one that energy drinks are just as bad as cigarettes and alcohol? All of these common products can be bought at a local convenient store, perhaps a little too convenient, when they are also selling the means to kill one self slowly. America’s youth cannot afford to be addicted to something that is easily bought, with the energy drink bringing so called energy, when in truth it brings health concerns and some times death, the best thing one can do is simply don’t drink them.

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