Energy Drinks: A Jolt of Education

So you’re dog-tired, beat, exhausted. Maybe you’re a mom, a dad, a busy working professional trying to make ends meet. Maybe a college student, an athlete, a world traveler. Maybe you’re a little bit of all these people. Whatever your role, you run all day every day from here to there and not enough sleep is your norm.  One thing you know for sure… you would NEVER make it through the day without an energy drink, or two or three. Sound like you?

Drinks produced with stimulants for the purpose of keeping you awake and alert have been around a loooong time…since the early 1900s in fact. So their reputation as being a necessity in life is to some extent not unfounded. Here are some things you should know.

What is an energy drink?

Energy drinks can be classified as “dietary supplements” or “beverages.” This classification is often strategic and dictates what facts about the product must be reported to the FDA and disclosed to the consumer. Some drinks tout the addition of other vitamins and supplements while others flaunt the amount of punch they pack per serving with slogans like “Attitude in a Can” or “Bring Out the Beast.” Regardless of the label, the products typically all contain the same main active ingredient: CAFFEINE.

Though caffeine is commonly found in many foods and beverages and not regulated as a drug, it is still a performance altering stimulant that is addictive and can be toxic or fatal. Unintentional caffeine overdoses and poisoning have gained the media’s attention recently and rightly so. ER visits related to energy drink consumption have doubled from 10,000 to 21,000 in the years 2007-2011 with cardiac arrhythmias being the most common cause of caffeine related deaths.

So how much is safe?

The most current research in this area indicates the need for more studies to determine a safe threshold, however all studies point to some common recommendations to stay healthy, safe and ENERGIZED at the same time.

Know how much caffeine there is in each beverage and consider all sources of caffeine you ingest in a given period of time. Remember there is caffeine in coffee, sodas, teas, chocolate and other foods. Most people get in to trouble when they are unaware of how much caffeine they are consuming. The Mayo Clinic reports that in general, up to the equivalent of 4 cups of coffee, two energy shots or 400 mg of caffeine per day is probably ok for most healthy adults. No more than 100 mg is recommended for children or those on medications with other health conditions.

Anything else I should know?

Don’t mix it up. More studies are showing that the growing trend of combining energy drinks with alcohol is simply a bad mix. Stimulants in energy drinks tend to mask the cues we normally rely on to gauge our level of intoxication. The result is more alcohol consumption and impaired judgment increasing the likelihood of risky behaviors, including being involved in alcohol related motor vehicle accidents.

Hydrate for your health. Caffeine is a natural diuretic, meaning even though you are drinking, your body may be losing more water than it is taking in. Since energy drinks are often combined with other activities that can cause dehydration, such as athletic endeavors or alcohol consumption, the risk of dehydration is high.  A fluid loss greater than just 1% of an individual’s body weight can cause a 10% decrease in performance… the opposite effect of what people are trying to accomplish by consuming energy drinks. Dehydration in turn causes more fatigue in addition to altered performance and the toxic cycle of a perceived need for more caffeine continues.

Prioritize your ZZZs. If you are so tired that you cannot possibly get through the day without a jolt of caffeine every hour, than you are more than likely simply not getting enough sleep. For random occasions, this is not awful, but sleep deprivation over time has some serious health risks.   If you think you are addicted to caffeine (i.e. you get a headache if you don’t drink it all day), try gradually replacing the caffeinated beverage with water and design a plan to prioritize sleep in to your regular routine.

Provide energy education. Education for young adults and adolescents about the risks associated with the consumption of highly caffeinated drinks is as important as teaching them about drugs and alcohol. Teaching healthy sleep and eating habits is critical in addition to pointing out the financial impact of purchasing pricy energy drinks on a routine basis. For more energy, teach them to spend their money on healthy foods and maybe a gym membership!

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