Ester Marsh column: Energy drinks, are they bad for you?

  • Posted: Monday, March 17, 2014 1:36 a.m.

My soldier-daughter Frankie Belk asked me to do an article on energy drinks, so here it is.

Let me first tell you my personal story about energy drinks. When we just opened our new YMCA on Jake Alexander Boulevard, all kinds of representatives were trying to get some business in our booming YMCA.

A sales rep from a known energy drink company came in to see if we were interested in selling their product in our YMCA. He was so hyped up that to this day I still have not tried that product. It truly scared me enough not to touch it. As much energy as I have, I figured it would make me bounce of the walls.

I see so many children and young adults drinking energy drinks that it concerns me for their health. Every article I researched it stated that there is no place for energy drinks in the diet of a child or adolescent.

As it is with all cases, too much of anything typically isn't good for you. The same goes for energy drinks. Most people know I am a coffee drinker, and as tea time is an English downtime, the Dutch have coffee breaks. Yes, I do drink too much coffee, about 200 milligrams over the safe limit.

Research shows that safe limits for a healthy adult is 400 milligrams (a typical 8-ounce cup of coffee is 100 milligrams), 200 milligrams for pregnant women and 45-85 milligrams for children.

As I mentioned, regular coffee is 100 milligrams for 8-ounce serving, but a coffee at coffee shops could be 165 milligrams for the same size.

When I looked at the energy drinks, besides lots of other ingredients, caffeine is a major ingredient in most (but not all) of them. It could be 92 milligrams for one 8-ounce serving to 242 milligrams for a 1.9-ounce serving (or 1,075 for 8-ounces).

If someone drinks at least 6 cups of coffee a day (already 200 milligrams over my limit), add caffeinated sodas and possibly one energy drink, they are way over their limit. Know what is going into your body. Speak to your physician about your energy drink intake. If you already have irregular heartbeats, many of those drinks, including coffee and caffeinated teas, are probably off limits to you.

Dangers of too many energy drinks at one time can be:

1. Cardiac arrest. People with underlying heart conditions have gone into cardiac arrest after too many energy drinks.

2. Headaches and migraines. Caffeine withdrawal can lead to headaches and migraines — even a change in caffeine intake can cause them.

3. Insomnia. You got that energy, now what? They could make falling asleep difficult or you might wake up sleep deprived, so you need more energy drinks to stay awake. The vicious cycle goes on and on.

4. Sugar. Many energy drinks are very high in sugar, therefore abuse can wear the pancreas out to produce insulin and cause type 2 diabetes.

5. Medication. Beware of the medication you take and the drug interaction with these energy drinks.

6. Addiction. People can actually get addicted to caffeine and energy drinks.

7. Dangerous choices. A study in the journal of American College health showed that teens on high levels of caffeine can make risky, dangerous choices which could result in injury or legal trouble.

8. The “shakes.” Too much caffeine and energy drinks can give people the shakes and “jitters.” Some studies stated that just 250 milliliters of an energy drink can increase anxiety in young men.

9. Too many energy drinks can make you sick to your stomach and vomit, which causes dehydration and acid erosion of the teeth.

10. And of course you can experience an allergic reaction from ingredients in an energy drink since caffeine is not the only ingredient and/or the only energy stimulant.

An alarming trend is that energy drinks are mixed with alcohol. Not only does it not stop with one or two (getting huge amounts of caffeine and other stimulants and sugar), it can give the consumer a “superman” complex. Emergency rooms around the nations have seen an enormous increase in energy drink/alcohol related injuries. Most of the cases involve 18-25 year olds, followed by 26 to 39 year olds.

So, in a nutshell, too many energy drinks are bad for you (as is too much coffee). Drink in moderation; do not mix with alcohol. Talk to your doctor about it — you don't want to be that person with underlying heart problems finding this out after drinking a couple of energy drinks!

Ester H. Marsh ACSM Cpt Health & Fitness Director JF Hurley YMCA

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