Monday, November 26, 2012

Energy Drink Fiasco

The Ruiz Family
Christmas Tree- 2012!
With the holiday season in full swing (I finally put my tree up tonight...photo to the left), we are all, including myself, looking for a little extra energy. Whether its decorating your house, buying gifts, baking goodies, or in my case...trying to do all of the above in between being at the hospital..there just never seems to be enough time in the day, more so during this time of the year, then ever. So, what do we do? In my hospital, there is this little jolt of energy called a cafecito..which is basically a shot of caffeine and sugar (and lovingly/jokingly called "Cuban Crack"). Some drink regular american coffee and some of us (yes, I am guilty too) drink energy drinks.  I am a Red Bull generation girl. I admit, I have had my fair share of Red Bulls at 2 am admitting patients to the hospital (hmm..I never grew wings though). BUT, there seems to be a growing and scary trend of highly caffeinated energy drinks that are now being linked to DEATHS!

Dos Cafecitos...yes, they are that small..
Recently, the FDA publicly released an adverse event (AKA bad things happened) report for four popular energy drinks- 5 Hour Energy, Monster Energy, Rockstar Energy and Red Bull. To date, there have been 18 deaths which have been linked to these highly caffeinated energy drinks, 5 deaths to Monster Energy and 13 deaths to 5-Hour Energy. There are federal reports too, that these energy drinks have been linked to over 13,000 ER visits in 2009, that the New York Times first reported.

Let's break down some of the ingredients in these drinks and go over why they may be harmful

Caffeine- Although coffee and green tea (my favorite!) have caffeine, these energy drinks contain caffeine in a concentrated amount. So, as 5 Hour energy may have the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee, it is so concentrated and easy to get, that a lot of people combine the energy drink with coffee or, even another type of energy drink. An average coffee has approximately 250 mg of caffeine, 5-hour Energy about 200,  Monster Energy 160 (per SERVING), and Red Bull at only 80 (per SERVING). So what does caffeine do to you? Well, besides giving you a higher level of alertness, if can cause nausea, GI upset, fast heart rate and sleep disruptions.

Sugar- Sugar is a carbohydrate that is quickly absorbed by the body for fast energy, so it only makes sense that a lot of these drinks will contain sugar...but how much? Rockstar Energy has a whopping 62 grams of sugar and Monster with 27 grams of sugar. I will say, most companies have no-carb or sugar-free options though, to be fair.
Just a FEW of the Energy Drinks
on the market.

B-Vitamins- This one I can not figure out. First of all, B-vitamins are water-soluble..meaning that whatever you do not use (or whatever your body has excess of)...you pee out. That's number one. Number two- B-vitamins have to "build-up" if you will, in your body...so having an energy drink with B-vitamins is going to do absolutely nothing for your energy that day.  Also, the B-vitamins by their self do not contain energy..rather, they help to "unlock" the energy in food. The 5-Hour Energy "shot" contains 8,333% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B-12 and 2,000% of the RDA for vitamin B-6. So, basically you will be peeing out anything over 100% And, I would venture to say that most people in this country who have a somewhat normal nutrition get 100% of these B-vitamins from their normal day-to-day diets.

Taurine- Taurine is an amino acid..AKA a "building block" of the body. There is no proof that it provides any extra energy or mental performance. It also seems that a lot of the studies are controversial or that they contradict each other. Physiologically, taurine supports neurological development and helps to regulate water and mineral salts in the body. 

Here's the kicker...the FDA does not require beverage-marketers to list the naturally-occuring caffeine in these ingredients. So, substances like guarana, coffee bean extract or yerba mate (whatever that is)..which have natural caffeine qualities are not required to calculated...or even listed as caffeine!

This made me laugh..
Who in the world drinks
a beverage named "Bawls"?
Really?!
So..what do I think? Well, I think it is likely a combination of a lot of things. The problem I see with these highly caffeinated drinks is that they mask fatigue..and likely mask dehydration. Along with dehydration causing health problems (kidney problems, high heart rates just to name a few), the caffeine can add to these problems, having a sort-of compounding effect.

Take home message? Avoid the energy drinks if possible. Sure, a coffee is fine..and you know what? Most likely, an energy drink every once in a while is likely okay too. But why take the chance?  I will say, however, that anyone with heart problems should avoid these beverages all together. I recommend a small snack, like a banana or a handful of nuts for natural energy without the "crash-and burn" effect of tons of sugar. And as always, consult with your doctor before trying any of the products listed here.


Wishing everyone an energy-filled holiday season,



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