The Power of Rest

Why sleep alone is not enough–and how to reset your body

Are Energy Drinks Safe?

More is not always best

 

Energy drink manufacturers say yes — absolutely — they’re safe. They have evidence, many studies. Proof.

They may be correct — especially in laboratory settings. But it would be best to have independent clinical epidemiologists check the data; outfits like the Cochrane Collaboration  or the National Institute of Medicine should provide impartial reviews.

Why Are People Concerned?

Energy drinks are getting “linked” to multiple deaths and thousands and thousands of ER visits.

Do They Kill People?

Energy drinks include high doses of caffeine with combinations of amino acids, minerals, vitamins, sugar, and other supplements. Chances are very good that different populations — particularly teenagers — are more vulnerable to their effects.

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Why Are Teenagers Vulnerable?

Because 1. Their brains are still developing and changing. Perhaps a third of synaptic connections disappear in puberty. Kids brains’ are rewired rapidly. Energy drinks will change their development in ways presently unknown.2. No one really knows what high dose caffeine with high dose amino acids/other supplements do when put together in combination. In many of these drinks multiple drugs are added with very different survival characteristics between bottling and usage; many ingredients simply degrade. However, the studies that exist usually investigate only individual ingredients — and for short periods. Energy drinks may possess several or a dozen or more with unknown synergistic effects. 3. Kids are ingesting far more than energy drinks. They’re using over the counter cold medications, stimulants like methylphenidate and amphetamines for ADD, antidepressants, bath salts that mimic marijuana. Put all that stuff together — particularly when performing punishing athletics — and the chance of sudden death may really go up. And using energy drinks to hide the sedating effects of booze is a worldwide problem.

Why Is Sudden Death At Issue?

Because high dose caffeine by itself can cause arrhythmias. The heart is a pump with a beautiful but delicate and complex electrical system. Some kids (and adults) have underlying heart arrhythmias.  They may rarely get symptoms — or in particularly in the case of kids, ignore them altogether. If that electrical system — a pearly chain of pacemaking cells around the atria and ventricles — functions chaotically, you die. And you can have a perfectly good pump and go out in a minute.

It’s a horrible feeling on autopsy to see a dead kid and find that “nothing” was wrong with them. Their heart was fine — it just stopped. Just like with any pump, turn off the electricity and it stops working. The heart has no backup. It works or you’re gone.

Plus not all kids have a perfectly good pump.

Why Do People Like Energy Drinks So Much?

Caffeine, sugar, marketing. Consumers of all ages are told they can get “up” quickly and feel “enormous energy.” They’ll feel “the buzz,” experience markedly improved athletic performance — or so they’re told.

Caffeine is a potent drug. Use it in the high doses of energy drinks and you may feel more energized, able to stay up despite chronic sleep deprivation..

It may wreck your sleep. But you can buy “relaxation drinks” to come down.

A previous generation’s cycle of up with cocaine and down with alcohol can now be replicated — legally — with “up drinks” and “down drinks.” The combination can ruin rest, make people jittery and anxious, worsen obesity, cognition and judgement and leave people dazed and confused — until they get their next hit.

Is Caffeine Addictive?

At this writing Starbucks' stock capitalization is over $37 billion.  Caffeine and sugar sell very, very well in virtually every country. Fortunately for us, coffee is a much preferable source of caffeine than energy drinks.

Why Is Coffee Superior to Energy Drinks?

Because its highly varied ingredients appear healthier than pure, extracted caffeine. Coffee can produce caffeine addiction — which can be nasty. Yet in reasonable doses coffee can also decrease risks of diabetes, parkinsonism, perhaps even depression. Its use is generally social, convivial, a pleasant part of many cultures. People sit down with their cups of coffee. They converse, argue, tells jokes. Energy drinks are often marketed as “shots.” Culturally and psychologically they feel like drugs.  Coffee and tea are and act like food-drugs.

Are There Alternatives to Energy Drinks?

People can energize themselves through physical activity. They can get energized by social engagement. They can become energized walking outside, feeling the activation brought by sunlight and experiencing the natural world. They can feel energized through yoga, meditation, and thousands of rest relaxation techniques. They become more energized after many forms of rest, including proper sleep.

Use your body the way it’s built and you don’t need — and may not want — the “buzz” of energy drinks. You’ll regenerate normally and naturally generate strength, versatility, and vitality.

That said, over the counter caffeine pills are much cheaper than energy drinks. They don’t include the other “stuff” like amino acids and “super supplements” which may or may not be safe. They can be cut up into small pieces, easily controlling dose. 

And at 20-30 cents for a 200 mg pill, you’ll know what you’re getting and won’t be searching your wallet trying to find greenbacks to pay for your energy drink habit.

Bottom Line:

Energy drinks are commonly used yet their overall health risks are poorly known. What you don’t know can hurt you.

Living well is the best revenge. Coffee, tea, even caffeine pills represent a safer, generally healthier alternative — especially for adolescents.

Matthew Edlund, M.D. researches rest, sleep, performance, and public health; he is the author of Healthy Without Health Insurance and The Power of Rest.

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