Be Cautious with High-Energy Drinks
By all accounts, Jason is smart, responsible and enterprising — a student holding down an evening job and taking a full course load at his local community college with the ultimate goal of transferring to a four-year college to finish a secondary education degree.
But in the view of many health and nutrition experts, he is about to do something stupid and irresponsible. To pull himself through the next round of studying for a midterm exam, he has bought a 6-pack — not of beer, in this case, but of so-called high-energy drinks loaded with caffeine.
Chances are he is as unaware as most teenagers and young adults are of just how much caffeine he will consume from these drinks.
“What’s happening here — and what’s worrying people like me — is that these energy drinks now include caffeine at unusually high levels, and the consumer typically is unaware of just how much,” says Dr. Robert Keith, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System nutrition and health specialist and Auburn University professor of food science.
“All they see on the label is that it simply contains caffeine.”
Talk about understatement: Some of these products may contain as much as 500 milligrams of caffeine — roughly the equivalent of three to five cups of coffee.
Compare that with caffeine tablets, the preferred study aid for many college students a generation ago. These tablets typically contain between 100 and 200 milligrams of caffeine.
Here’s another irony: Over-the-counter caffeine-containing products are required to carry labels. High-energy caffeine-containing drinks are not.
And exposure to especially high levels of caffeine causes some significant and unpleasant side effects, Keith says. These effects, such as a heightened level of concentration, are far removed from what many young people hope to get from these beverages.
“If you’re consuming one of these drinks to study for a test, chances are you’re not going to be able to concentrate very well,” he says. “Instead, you will be nervous and unable to focus on much of anything.”
Physical reactions may include increased nervousness, inability to concentrate, insomnia and increased urination, Keith says. Users also have reported increased laxative action, nausea and greater susceptibility to heat stress. Among competitive athletes, the high doses of caffeine from these drinks may even result in urine drug test failure.
The problem seems to be getting worse. For example, a 2007 survey of almost 500 college students revealed that 51 percent reported consuming at least one energy drink during the previous month. Of these, 29 percent reported “weekly jolt and crash episodes.” Nineteen percent reported heart palpitations.
Twenty-seven percent of the students reported mixing high-energy drinks with alcohol at least once during the previous month.
Keith and a growing number of nutrition and health experts are calling for labeling of these products, much as they have for another largely underregulated category of products popular among many young people — dietary supplements.
“Consumers need to know just how much caffeine is in these drinks, just as they need to know what’s in a dietary supplement,” he says.
Also, much like counterparts in the supplement industry, some high-energy drink makers seem to be engaging in one-upmanship with competitors, adding extra levels of caffeine to maintain their competitive edge, Keith says.
“It’s starting to get out of hand,” Keith says. “It started as a marketing ploy with a little bit of caffeine and mushroomed into something that offers serious risks to some people.”
The high-energy drink industry also shares another trait with the supplement industry — it’s growing by leaps and bounds. The high-energy drink market already stands at $5.4 billion and is growing by 55 percent annually.
Posted by Jim Langcuster at October 15, 2008 09:45 AM