Since energy drinks first hit the market, they have been marketed as an ideal beverage – so many tasty flavors while instantly stimulating you.
But as long as there have been people thirsting for them, there have been people poking and prodding these drinks, questioning their value and safety.
Dr. Richard Schwartz, chairman of Emergency Medicine at Georgia Health Sciences Health System in Augusta, remembered back in the early ’90s a patient being admitted after consuming an energy supplement. The patient’s heart rate was close to 200.
“It’s very common to see,” he said about these types of cases.
In 2011, about 20,000 people in the U.S. were admitted to emergency rooms because of energy drink consumption. Four years earlier, about 10,000 were admitted.
Eighteen people were reported dead last fall with energy drinks being looked at for the blame, according to The Associated Press.
Schwartz, however, has not seen a noticeable increase in local cases.
It’s been a bit more lately but not a significant uptick, he said.
Most of the reported cases involve adolescents and young adults, according to a recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey. But the words of caution don’t seem to be stopping this group from downing the drinks, at least not on USC Aiken’s campus.
“(Students) still buy them,” Bobbie Seabolt, Pacer Market clerk, said. In fact, she pointed out stock was low that day last week.
Red Bulls are a favorite, with some students buying them by the case. The store had to discontinue selling them, though, due to delivery conflicts.
Now, Monsters seem to be the hot-selling item.
“It’s good as a pick-me-up, but not an everyday thing,” said sophomore Mariah Harris, who will take in the beverages maybe once every four months.
Harris prefers the original Monsters that are marked with the green “M” on the can.
Even though Harris doesn’t really know many energy drink “addicts,” or people who can’t seem to stop drinking them, Seabolt has a steady stream of customers purchasing the drinks every day.
The beverages are also available at Pacer Market and the Bookstore.
Energy drinks can cause insomnia, nervousness, headaches, accelerated heartbeat and seizures, according to the SAMHSA. People who just occasionally report having irregular heartbeats, anxiety and heart attacks, according to AP.
However, “marketing (for the drinks) suggests benefits such as increased energy and stamina, weight loss and enhanced physical and mental performance,” according to SAMHSA.
These drinks, while consumed by a wide variety of people, are often targeted toward younger buyers.
Some see this as the problem.
“Their bodies aren’t conditioned to handle them,” Lori Comshaw, local personal trainer, said. “And it’s too much caffeine at once.”
Due to their makeup, some energy drinks can have as much caffeine as four cans of soda, said Cynthia Catts, a local nutrition therapist.
And, according to SAMHSA, the immense caffeine levels in the drinks are the main factor for this rising health problem.
Too much caffeine can lead to “fibroid cysts in breast, nervousness, anxiety, elevated blood pressure and muscle twitches,” Catts said.
Inquiries have been made as to what exactly is in the energy-boosting beverages.
Some energy drinks to note are the Java Monsters. The line combines coffee with the energy drink and contains at least six flavors. Monster also has products with tea ingredients. For more information, visit www.monsterenergy.com.
A couple weeks ago, Democratic lawmakers sent out letters to request the drinks’ ingredient information; the Food and Drug Administration has been looking into the matter for several months. Some things lawmakers inquired about were the drinks’ caffeine content and the studies the corporations conducted on teens and young adults, according to The New York Times.
“The benefits of many of the additives in energy drinks and energy shots remain to be determined and certainly can be harmful if ingested in large quantities,” Catts said.
The drinks often have high glycemic and other stimulants levels, she said. Also, they sometimes contain guarana, a small red fruit that contains a lot of caffeine, and ribose, a sugar in the body that transports energy to cells that is replicated for the drinks.
“I always caution my diabetics and my patients with pre-existing cardiovascular, metabolic, liver, kidney or neurologic diseases to avoid energy drinks or energy shots, because of (some of their ingredients),” Catts said. “Ribose supplements haven’t been extensively studied. I caution my clients from using supplements that don’t have much or any science backing.”
About half of the 2011 energy drink-related hospital visits involved patients mixed the beverages with other drugs like Adderall, alcohol or marijuana, according to SAMHSA.
The association believes the drink’s high caffeine levels tricks the drinkers, primarily hiding the “lethargic” feeling of being intoxicated.
Phusion Projects use to cater to these people.
Until November 2010, its Four Loko line contained, in addition to alcohol, caffeine, guarana and taurine, an amino acid that helps regulate water and mineral salt levels in the blood. The fruity-flavored drinks were a hit, especially among college students. However, when some of those students ended up going to the ER, the drink was investigated and banned.
To comply with demands, Projects agreed to remove the caffeine, guarana and taurine ingredients, according to the product’s website.
Now, the alcoholic drink is sold in 48 states, meeting all federal and state government requirements.
Energy drinks have even infiltrated gyms, as it is not uncommon to see people working out and then reaching for the drinks.
“If it takes an energy drink to get through a workout, then it’s not a good workout,” Comshaw said.
And you better not dare take one in her classes or her Boot Camps.
“I have been known to grab Cokes and throw them in the trash,” she said. “I don’t even let (my clients) drink Gatorade. It disturbs the electrolyte, unless you sweat for more than two hours. Powerade is worse because it contains high fructose corn syrup.”
She recommends drinking Gatorade only if you have worked out for more than two hours. She personally won’t touch it, until after she’s ran 10 miles.
“There’s nothing wrong with a cup of coffee in the morning,” she said. “But if you can’t sustain yourself throughout the day, your lifestyle needs to be addressed.”
To get natural energy, Comshaw suggests getting adequate sleep.
For her, water is the best drink to have.
If water isn’t your forte, Catts suggests vegetable juices and herbal, green and white teas as some alternatives.
Food is a vital contributor as well. Squeeze some food high in complex carbohydrates into a well-balanced diet of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains.
Someone with an energy drink problem can feel his heart rate skip, develop a headache or feel agitated. Sometimes, the person doesn’t even know he has a problem.
“It’s the people around them that see it and bring them in,” Schwartz said.
When patients come in, doctors commonly give them sedatives to decrease their blood pressure or heart rates.
Schwartz advises to either drink the drinks in moderation or just avoid them all together.
AP Photo Dr. Steve Sun looks over a heart monitor display in the emergency room in San Francisco. A new government report shows the number of people seeking emergency treatment after consuming energy drinks has doubled nationwide over the last four years.×
MCT Photo Scott Silliman uses a magnifying glass to read the label on a can of Redline energy drink at his home in Citrus Heights, California, on Jan. 31, 2007. Just minutes after washing down a burrito with a second 8-ounce can of the caffeine-laden product, Silliman said he collapsed and thought he was having a heart attack.×
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