Amped Up – Hands off My Favorite Beverage

A somewhat hardheaded look at whats in my energy drink and why the media and legislators have to lay the hell off it. 

     My morning routine has changed. Once upon a time I was able to roll out of bed, step into the shower and spend ten blissful minutes deciding between drinking a Dunkin Donuts coffee or an Amp energy drink. The bliss ended on February 14th, since then that shower time is spent cursing the media for trying to sell the story that energy drinks are harmful to our health.

     It seems doctors and researchers at the University of Miami authored a paper in the medical journal Pediatrics that connected energy drinks to health dangers in teens. The headlines it caused were sensational and fit every criterion for good journalistic exaggeration. Here are two examples of how CNN handled the coverage. In the second link the “expert” Elizabeth Cohen went as far as to convey the message that “No one should drink these things because we don’t know what’s in them.”

     Chances are everyone reading this rant has drank a caffeinated beverage of some form. It is no secret that caffeine is a stimulant and that our bodies react to it, if they didn’t then would we even drink coffee? The Pediatrics paper cites blood pressure increases, insomnia, and jitteriness as common risks of caffeine usage. It also goes as far as grouping in extremely rare side effects like mania, seizures and death with the common ones.

     We knew this already, millions of Americans experience these “symptoms” on a daily basis, and still we categorized caffeine as “generally safe to consume.” How safe? Well let’s look at what Pediatrics tells us. In 2008 there were 4852 calls to the poison control center because of caffeine overdose and 1208 (25%) of those calls were for children under 6 years old. Out of all those calls only 1281 needed to be treated and only 11 had life threatening affects. Sadly, out of the 4805 there was 1 reported death from caffeine overdose. Ireland has already been hit with a wave of horror, from 1999-2005 2 people died because of Energy Drink consumption. Do these figures warrant a nationwide slander of a 9 billion dollar energy drink industry?

     Caffeine is not easy to overdose on; the paper cites Health Canada’s toxicity estimates which say toxicity starts around 1gram (6 Cans of Amp) and lethality begins at around 5grams (480ounces of Amp).

    Energy drinks are attacked because they are trendy and marketed aggressively as supplements. Would you believe Red Bull was once banned for being dangerous? The makers add Guarana, Taurine, L-Carnitine, and Ginseng to make the drinks sound therapeutic. It is no exaggeration that we go a little crazy over these ingredients. Many people respond positively to the idea of drinking these substances, while others denounce them as foreign and dangerous. I have made a post describing the "not so mysterious" ingredients in PepsiCo’s Amp energy drink.

Ingredients and descriptions

After looking at the ingredients the main issue that remains is caffeine content. There is no reason to consider Taurine and Ginseng Root as dangerous since these substances have been studied and found to be therapeutic and safe to humans. Even so, energy drink makers probably don't include them in high enough concentrations to be affective. Gaurana is a seed that contains a large concentration of caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline all of which can be found in everyday items such as tea and chocolate. 1 gram of Gaurana can contain 40 to 80mg of caffeine (4-8%).

      The dangers of energy drinks are not due to the drink, the danger lies in either having an underlying condition or recklessly abusing the drink. The pediatrics paper points to studies that don’t support the hypothesis that energy drinks are abused. One German study said that 3% of teens drink between 1-7 energy drinks a week and another cited a study that reports college age males drink on average 2.5 energy drinks a month. The dangers are not that serious and not that widespread, and until the media start framing this debate properly I am going to be spending a lot of time cursing at my shower head.

(3)Sara M. Seifert, Judith L. Schaechter, Eugene R. Hershorin and Steven E. Lipshultz
Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults Pediatrics. Pediatrics Pediatrics 2011;127:511–528

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