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Effects of energy drinks still largely a mystery

Effects of energy drinks still largely a mystery

August 29, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Joe Fox started drinking energy drinks like Sobe Adrenaline Rush when he was at Smithsburg High School and needed a quick boost before his wrestling match.

Now 20 and owner of JF enterprises, Lawn and Design, Fox still drinks them occasionally when he's working in the sun, is tired and needs "that extra little push."

He finds they do as advertised, giving him a quick energy boost. The Cavetown resident said he feels tired later but not as tired as he would without it. He also sleeps less after having one, though he doesn't have trouble getting to sleep.

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Fox said he was unaware of concerns some medical professionals have about the highly caffeinated drinks, though even those professionals are not sure about all the drinks' effects as not many well-known studies have been done and new products are constantly entering that market.

A common source for concern about energy drinks is the amount of caffeine they contain and whether or not they have a diuretic effect that can lead to dehydration. Diuretics make people urinate more, thus losing fluid.

The 80 milligrams of caffeine in an 8.3-ounce can of Red Bull is similar to the caffeine amount in a cup of strong coffee, said Tim Higgins, clinical nutrition manager for Washington County Hospital.

According to Coca-Cola's Web site, 8 ounces of Coke has about 23 milligrams of caffeine.

Drinking more than 300 milligrams of caffeine a day might create a fluid imbalance leading to dehydration, Higgins said, after researching the topic.

Nancy Clark, a registered dietitian who has a sports nutrition practice in Chestnut Hill, Mass., said caffeine is no longer considered a diuretic, mentioning a recent study by professor Lawrence Armstrong.

However, Armstrong said that doesn't mean energy drinks aren't diuretics.

Armstrong, a professor of environmental and exercise physiology at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, said not enough research has been done on energy drinks to determine whether they are good or bad for people.

Blanket statements cannot be made about the drinks because their ingredients vary, Armstrong said. People should read the labels to see what's in them.

Armstrong's study concerning caffeine, published in June, had about 60 college males consume up to 500 milligrams of caffeine capsules a day with their caffeine intake controlled.

His study found that caffeine does not dehydrate the body, Armstrong said.

However that study cannot be applied to energy drinks because they have lots of ingredients and it's not known how they interact together, he said.

Higgins is aware of the controversy over caffeine and diuretics, but he also knows that when a lot of caffeine is consumed, people urinate more.

People who cut back on caffeine should replace that fluid, preferably with water, he said.

Higgins said people who get a quick jolt from an energy drink need to beware. "The body needs sleep. The body needs rest. If you're revving your body up, you're going to crash."

What about the calories?


Other concerns medical professionals have about energy drinks deal with sugar content, the circumstances under which they are consumed, who is consuming them and what they are mixing with them.

Dr. Vincent Cantone, chairman of pediatrics with Washington County Hospital, said energy drinks are often loaded with sugar.

Carbohydrates should provide much of a person's energy level, Cantone said. This can be achieved through eating breads, pastas, grains, fruits and vegetables.

Cantone said many energy drinks are "so chock full of pure carbohydrates it promotes fatty youths."

Some energy drink brands, such as Red Bull, Rockstar and Sobe Adrenaline Rush, do offer a sugar-free version.

Getting back to the caffeine, Dr. Jeff Jones, a cardiologist with Hagerstown Heart, said anyone with a heart problem shouldn't drink these energy drinks.

While he doesn't know of a study that proves energy drinks can cause a heart attack, Jones said there is no question that large amounts of caffeine or even moderate amounts would increase heart rhythm abnormalities.

Jones said people don't need to consume caffeine, but, if they do, he recommends not exceeding more than one or two moderately caffeinated drinks a day. To those who drink energy drinks, he suggests having no more than one a day.

Even in young, healthy people, caffeine - a stimulant - can cause all kinds of heart irregularities, he said.

Jones also is concerned that people are drinking a beverage that lists ingredients for which there are no daily allowances established.

Fitting into this category, in a can of Sobe Adrenaline Rush, are taurine, D-ribose, L-carnitine, inositol, guarana and Panax ginseng.

Energy drinks and exercise


The concerns with drinking energy drinks are the same as with drinking coffee, except people might be drinking energy drinks when they are exercising, said Allan Goldfarb, professor of exercise physiology at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

People like Fox consume energy drinks before athletic activities.

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