Katy Beth Boyers, Contributing Writer
Energy drinks have grown in popularity, especially with teenagers and college-age students in the past few years. Alongside their benefit, experts and data now suggest that these drinks may have potential drawbacks such as health problems for consumers.
Teenagers and college students mainly consume these drinks to better deal with their busy schedules, which includes school, sports and jobs. One such individual is a Samford freshman, Stephen Steiland, a business entrepreneurship and marketing major. Steil drinks a Monster energy drink twice a week, normally during the weekends to stay up late.
“We have a lot of stuff to get done, and sometimes we have to stay up crazy hours,” Steil said.
Freshman Samantha Kay Reach, a journalism and mass communications major, said the amount of energy drinks she consumes varies, but she drinks around three cans a week at the most and usually drinks them at night while studying.
“I think it’s like a placebo effect that makes you think you have more energy than you actually do so that you get your work done,” Reach said.
According to National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, energy drinks have gained popularity because they deliver a high dosage of caffeine to the human body thus giving a person more energy than usual.
The Food and Drug Administration states that one energy drink contains 40-250 mg of caffeine. Another common substance shared among many energy drinks is the ingredient guarana, which also contains caffeine. Guarana further increases the total amount of caffeine in these drinks, but when it comes to advertising, this extra caffeine from guarana is generally excluded from the drink’s nutrition label. This large amount of caffeine is what gives consumers that boost of energy.
Samford University professor and dietitian Keith Pearson said energy drinks have shown to improve consumer’s mental performance. Pearson has a doctorate in nutrition sciences and wrote for Healthline on many different topics including energy drinks.
“One study I came across found that drinking one 500 mL can of Red Bull improved both the memory and concentration of the study participants by around 24 percent,” Pearson said.
However, while energy drinks improve alertness and mental performance, there have been some negative effects noted by the FDA and other official sources that warn against consuming too much caffeine and energy drinks.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health said that between 2007 and 2011 the number of energy drink-related visits to the emergency room doubled, and that too much caffeine can cause serious heart and blood vessel problems and may be associated with anxiety, dehydration, digestive issues and sleep problems.
According to the Operation Supplement Safety, other drawbacks of consuming too many energy drinks include nervousness, insomnia, headaches, increased incidence of risky behavior and drug and alcohol abuse. There have also been reports of cardiac arrest and strokes due to consuming too many energy drinks.
When it comes to regulations, the FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements the same way that they regulate beverages. According to the FDA, the regulatory process for dietary supplements and ingredients is different than the regulatory process for beverages, which is stricter. Because the FDA identifies energy drinks as dietary supplements, the regulations are more lenient than regulations for beverages.
“I think they should (be regulated by the FDA). It would be nice to know for a fact that they’re safe to drink,” Reach said.
According to Pearson, the FDA is responsible for taking action against products that are accused of being misbranded or harmful after it reaches the market. This has resulted in brands, including Red Bull, switching from being classified as dietary supplements to beverages. The regulation of dietary supplements and ingredients is different than the regulations of beverages or food.
“Because of more lenient regulations, it is likely that manufacturers would prefer their products to be marketed as dietary supplements if possible,” Pearson said. “Traditionally, most energy drinks were classified as dietary supplements. But in recent past, multiple energy drink manufacturers have now made the switch to classifying their products as beverages, likely due to reports of these products being connected to negative health consequences.”
Pearson recommends that students look for other alternative drinks that do not have as much sugar and caffeine due to the many drawbacks energy drinks have.
“Current dietary guidelines recommend limiting calories from added sugars to no more than 10% of our daily calories. And drinking just one 16 ounce Monster energy drink could put you close to or over that amount depending on the individual,” Pearson said. “My recommendation would be to look for some of the lower carbohydrate, artificially sweetened products that are on the market and even in our vending machines on campus.”
Steil, who drinks energy drinks moderately, argue that they do not have many side effects.
“I don’t really see any drawbacks from it, and I don’t see many benefits from it either. So, it’s kinda even,” Steil said.
Reach agrees and said the amount she drinks has not caused any negative side effects.
“With how many I consume I don’t think there are any drawbacks, but I like getting that little burst of energy when I am trying to cram something in before I go to sleep,” Reach said.
Teenagers and college students who have busy schedules turn to energy drinks for a boost of energy and drinking them moderately seems to not have many side effects. However, people who consume too much could develop many health problems.