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Misc. News : Consumer Affair Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Energy drinks: What you need to know
By David Liu, Ph.D.
Sep 28, 2008 - 6:03:49 PM

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Credit: wikipedia

Editor's note: Please note that the statement "Energy drinks are soft drinks (meaning with alcohol) that ---" is incorrect.  The author meant to say "Energy drinks are soft drinks (meaning without alcohol) that ---."  By definition, soft drinks are non-alcoholic beverages!  We apologize for the error.

Common Questions and Answers about energy  drinks


What are energy drinks?


Energy drinks are soft drinks (meaning without alcohol) that contain caffeine and other stimulants such as ephedrine, guarana, and ginseng.   The beverages may not contain more calories than normal soft drinks, but they are often believed to help enhance performance and boost alertness as some studies showed.   Energy drinks are often marketed to people under 30, particularly to college students.


Is it true that energy drinks boost alertness and enhance performance?


At least two studies showed significantly improvements in mental and cognitive performance and increase subjective alertness in those who drank an energy drink. In repeated cycling tests in young healthy adults, an energy drink drastically increased upper body muscle endurance.


Are there any dangers to drinking energy drinks?


High doses of caffeine are known to pose a range of short-term side effects.   The problem with energy drinks is probably that there is no regulation in the US about caffeine, which is a natural stimulant.   Energy drinks may contain caffeine at a level anywhere between from 50 mg to 505 mg per can or bottle, according to a recent Johns Hopkins study. Without paying attention, people may over-ingest caffeine leading to unintentional caffeine intoxication.   Normal adverse reactions induced by high doses of caffeine, particularly in those who are sensitive to the compound, include increased heart rate and blood pressure, in severe cases dehydration, and inability of falling into sleep.


One study showed side effects associated with caffeine in energy drinks include insomnia, nervousness, headache, and tachycardia.   Four caffeine-related deaths and four seizures have been reported.


When should energy drinks not be used?


Energy drinks should not be used when exercising as fluid loss from sweating and the diuretic activity of caffeine can cause severe dehydration.   Energy drinks should not be used in an attempt to offset the effect of alcohol on one's capability of operating a vehicle.


What would happen when energy drinks are combined with alcoholic drinks?


The real danger of caffeine to someone who is drinking is that caffeine could mislead him to believe that he is drinking the right amount of alcohol without realizing that actually he could have been drinking too much.


It is true that caffeine provide alertness. But it does not change the level of alcohol in the blood. Once the stimulant disappears, the depressant effect of the blood alcohol at high concentration would manifest leading to vomiting in one's sleep or respiratory depression.


Both energy drinks and alcohol can be very dehydrating and thus inhibiting the body's ability to metabolize alcohol and boosting the toxicity of alcohol and the hangover.


How safe is it to use energy drinks?


Energy drinks in itself are relatively safe.   Most ingredients including ginseng, maltodextrin, inositol, carnitine, creatine, ginkgo biloba, taurine, vitamins and herbs appear to be safe. The only concern is probably caffeine, which varies in its content greatly from brand to brand.


A recent report authored by Reissig CJ, Strain EC, and Griffiths RR at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and published in the Sep 20, 2008 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence calls for warning labels for energy drinks.

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