Are Energy Drinks a Silent Killer? - The Jewish Voice
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Are Energy Drinks a Silent Killer?

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Since energy drinks were introduced in the United States just 16 years ago, sales have increased steadily, reaching nearly $9 billion in 2011--- but are these beverages simply harmless, mild stimulants, as the industry claims?
Since energy drinks were introduced in the United States just 16 years ago, sales have increased steadily, reaching nearly $9 billion in 2011— but are these beverages simply harmless, mild stimulants, as the industry claims?
Energy drinks are filling up the deli coolers as of late, from Rockstar to Red Bull and everything in between, they’re a quick pick me up for the midday blues. Specifically, sales of stimulating beverages hit $12.6 billion last year, which means a 14 percent jump from 2008, according to market research firm Packaged Facts. But as they saying goes, with popularity comes greater scrutiny.

A recent study shows that annual energy drink-related trips to the emergency room have doubled in just four years from 10,000 to 20,000.

Likewise, the FDA has been asked to look into 15 deaths possibly connected to the drinks.

With the help of MNN.com, here’s a rundown of some alarming health issues that have been linked to consumption of these popular beverages:

(1) Heart problems

In recent years, the company that markets 5-Hour Energy has filed around 30 reports with the FDA of serious injuries related to its products, one being heart attacks.

There’s also the red alert heard round the world, to 2007 death of a 28-year-old Australian man who suffered cardiac arrest after consuming eight cans of an energy drink, containing 80 mg of caffeine each, over seven hours. The patient did not have a known history of chest pain.

“Caffeine can cause heart cells to release calcium, which may affect heartbeat, leading to arrhythmia,” says Dr. John Higgins, associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston. The doctor insists that the drinks may also disrupt the normal balance of salts in the body, which has been linked to arrhythmia as well.

(2) Risk of drug abuse

A study of 1,060 college students found that energy drink consumption in the second year of college was associated with an increased risk of prescription drug abuse (use of stimulants or prescription painkillers without a prescription) in the third year of college.

One explanation for the link “is that energy drinks, like prescription drugs … might be regarded by some students as safer, more normative, or more socially acceptable than using illicit ‘street’ drugs,” the researchers wrote in a 2010 issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

(3) Impaired cognition

While some college students rely on energy drinks to pull all-nighters and stay up for exams, there is also evidence that the excessive levels of caffeine in the drinks impair cognition. Specifically, a small 2010 study showed that drinking moderate amounts of caffeine, about 40 mg, improved performance on a test of reaction time, but drinking higher amounts — equivalent to the levels found in a (250 ml) can of Red Bull, or 80 mg — worsened performance on the reaction test.

While experts still say that energy drinks can be OK, there are things to know before you reach for another one.

Along with the caffeine, the drinks carry herbs that are also stimulants and can be especially damaging for athletes.

“When I was working with professional athletes and toward the end of the season they were tired, they needed a little boost. They downed one of these energy drinks in a large quantity and ended up in the ER instead of the game,” Nutritionist Ruth Carey told a media source.

But it’s hard to know which brands to stay away from, as most energy drink companies don’t disclose their full list of ingredients on the back label because they’re not regulated by the FDA.

Still, some energy drink companies are on board with making changes. Rockstar, a popular brand, has announced it will be regulated by the FDA as a beverage instead of a supplement. Monster, the nation’s biggest seller, has recently announced it will follow in its footsteps. It will also start listing the amount of caffeine on the can.

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