Energy drinks are very popular at all-night dance parties, bars and clubs. Students drink this to pull them through all-night sessions, athletes drink them to boost performance. A cocktail of caffeine, herbs and other stimulants, energy drinks are popularly consumed during gym work outs, sports practice or in parties, mixed with alcohol. The global market for these types of drinks currently exceeds $3 billion a year and new products are introduced annually.
Why should I be aware of this?
Are energy drinks safe? Why should one need an artificial jolt of energy at all? What happens if these drinks are consumed over a long period of time? Are there any safer alternatives to processed drinks available over the counter today? These are some questions consumers must ask themselves before picking up that bottle of Red Bull.
Energy drinks are formulated to give the consumer an energy jolt with a combination of methylxanthines, B vitamins, and exotic herbal ingredients. Marketed to people under 30 years of age, mainly to college students, these drinks contain large doses of caffeine and other legal stimulants like ephedrine, guarana, and ginseng. They also contain taurine(an amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein) and glucuronolactone, a carbohydrate. Energy drinks contain a high dosage of caffeine (80mg), almost as much as a cup of coffee and twice as much as a cup of tea. In comparison, Mountain Dew and Coca Cola Classic contain 37gm and 23 gm respectively. 
Energy drinks and health
Energy drinks are safe if consumed in moderation. Caffeine is a stimulant and excessive consumption can lead to heart palpitations, anxiety and insomnia. It can also make one feel jittery and irritable.
Excessive consumption of energy drinks may bring about seizures in those who suffer from certain forms of epilepsy. This is caused by the "crash" that follows the energy high after consumption. Red Bull was banned in France following the untimely death of eighteen-year-old athlete Ross Cooney. He died after playing a game of basketball shortly after consuming four cans of the drink. The drink has also been banned in Denmark. Britain has cautioned pregnant women about energy drink consumption.
According to a study conducted by Wayne State University researchers, health drinks are likely to increase blood pressure even among healthy people. In a study conducted among 15 healthy adults with an average age of 26, it was found that drinking two cans of a popular health drink a day increased blood pressure and heart rate. Though the increase was not significant in the young and healthy, it could be so in patients with heart disease or among those who consume energy drinks often.
Teenagers, who tend to be heavy consumers of health drinks, often don’t realize how much caffeine they are taking and run the risk of becoming dependent on the stimulant. If they drink for a few days and quit they run into withdrawal symptoms like headaches, mood swings and trouble concentrating.
All about energy drinks
During the last two years over 200 new health drink brands entered the global market which is led by Red Bull. Brand names such as Full Throttle Impulse and Pimp Juice convey strength, power, speed and sexuality, and are targeted at the 18-30 year crowd. To underscore the product attributes in a competitive market, certain brands are introducing higher levels of caffeine.
The US energy drink market grew at an average of over 50% per year, totaling over $3 billion in 2005. Diet energy drink, which falls within the category, is growing at twice the rate. Major players such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Molson, and Labatt have had marginal success in this category, in spite of best efforts.
Energy drink and alcohol: A deadly cocktail
There is a common perception, especially amongst college and university students, that a mix of energy drink with vodka helps one party harder and longer. However, this is fraught with hazards: combining energy drinks with alcohol means consuming a stimulant and a depressant at the same time. The stimulating attributes of caffeine make it difficult to recognize the true effects of alcohol. This gives a false sense of security, may prevent slurring and stumbling, but has a greater risk of dehydration because of the dehydrating qualities of caffeine.
Energy drinks are often mixed to reduce the unpleasant taste of alcohol. This runs the risk of increasing ingestion of alcoholic beverages and consequently to alcohol abuse. Energy drinks, when mixed with alcohol and consumed in large quantity are known to lead to:
- Electrolyte disturbances
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heart irregularities
- Ginseng – Stress reduction and increasing energy levels are among its many medicinal properties
- Ginkgo biloba – Believed to have qualities of improving memory
- Yerba Mate – Believed to impart energy, feelings of well being, appetite control, mental clarity, and allergy and asthma relief.
What can I do
Look for the best energy drink
- B vitamins – metabolism enhancer; this also helps in the proper functioning of the immune and the nervous systems. Drinks that are rich in B vitamins are better taken on a daily basis for more effective results.
- Caffeine – helps hold off fatigue and drowsiness. This acts as a stimulant and lasts only for up to four hours, which means that you have to drink re-ingest the drink again for another energy boost.
- Sugar – sugar-based drinks only provide a short energy boost. As soon as the sugar runs out, the body is compelled to seek for additional energy resources. For diabetics, this drink is definitely the one for you.
To make energy drinks safe and effective:
- Do not drink excessive amounts. The limit on most energy drinks is 500 ml or two cans a day, as indicated on the product label.
- Do not mix energy drinks with alcohol.
- Following intense physical activity or exercise, re-hydrate the system by drinking enough water.
- The origin of energy drinks may be traced back to a brand called Iron Brew in Scotland in 1901.
- In the early 1960s the energy drink phenomenon started in Japan with the release of Lipovitan, which was then available in medicine bottle-type containers or cans. This product was targeted at the salaried class to help them work long hours.
- In the UK, Lucozade Energy, which was originally a drink to aid recovery of patients in hospitals, was re-launched in the 1980s as an energy drink for "replenishing lost energy."
- In 1995, PepsiCo launched Josta, the first energy drink introduced by a major US beverage company.
- Red Bull, developed by Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian entrepreneur, was introduced in the US in 1997. Red Bull is based on the Thai drink Krating Daeng, which in turn was based on Lipovitan. In Europe, energy drinks were pioneered by the Red Bull group.
Energy boosters: real or imaginary?
Energy drinks do boost your energy. But health experts feel that it is only for a temporary period. The boost takes place solely from the large amount of sugar and caffeine contained in them. The following ingredients used in energy drinks contribute to the temporary energy boost:
- Ephedrine - Stimulates the central nervous system. There are concerns about its effects on the heart
- Taurine - A natural amino acid produced by the body that helps regulate heart beat and muscle contractions. Many health experts aren't sure what effect it has as a drink additive (and the rumor that taurine comes from bull testicles is false).
- B-Vitamins - Convert sugar to energy and build muscles
- Guarana seed – Works as a stimulant.
- Carnitine – Aids metabolism of fatty acid
- Creatine - An organic acid that helps supply energy for muscle contractions.
The effects are said to last for about 12 hours. However, manufacturers' claims, that Energy Drinks improve performance, concentration and memory power, should not be taken too seriously. While caffeine does have a temporary stimulant effect, none of the energy drinks available result in long term energy enhancement.
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- Fox News Report on Study: Energy Drinks Risky for People with Heart Problems, High Blood Pressure
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