Bogus 1-Word Label Change
Consumers of energy drinks such as Monster, Red Bull and Rock Star may have noticed that the wording on their labels has changed recently, with the word "Supplement" replaced by the word "Nutrition." The reason: according to the latest USDA regulations, beverages that have a "nutrition facts" label are considered a food product and are thus covered by the Food Stamp program, while those with a "supplement facts" label are not. Since the trend to relabeling, store owners report a surge in customers, mostly under age 20, using Food Stamps to buy energy drinks, and a tendency to buy in bulk, several cases at a time. The drinks are unchanged: water, sugar and caffeine. Attempts by state legislators to ban using Food Stamps for energy drinks have been rebuffed by the federal government.
Marketing Ploy or Real Benefits?
Emergency room visits linked to energy drinks numbered 20,783 in 2011, finds a new government report. People ages 18-25 accounted for the largest group of patients who sought treatment for headaches, anxiety and heart attacks linked to products from this $10+ billion industry which has come under scrutiny after the FDA received numerous reports of deaths and injuries in which the drinks were mentioned. (A mention does not indicate that the drinks played a role in the injury or death.) About 42% of people treated in the ER consumed the drinks with alcohol or stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. “Health professionals can discourage use of energy drinks by explaining that perceived health benefits are largely due to marketing techniques rather than scientific evidence,” the report said.
Bad News for Vulnerable Hearts
One month after the FDA noted a link between five deaths and Monster Energy drinks, the agency announced a probe into reports of thirteen deaths and 33 hospitalizations linked to 5-Hour Energy shots. The concern is that these products' high concentrations of caffeine, when combined with other natural stimulants, could pose a serious risk for persons with undiagnosed heart conditions. Unlike soft drinks, which are regulated and limited to 71.5 milligrams of caffeine per twelve-ounce serving, energy drinks are sold as dietary supplements, which are unregulated, and either don't list or often understate their caffeine content on the label. A Consumer Reports test found that one 5-Hour Energy shot has 212 milligrams of caffeine, a little more than two eight-ounce cups of coffee.
One or the Other, in Moderation
Energy drinks such as Red Bull mixed with alcohol make for risky drinking practices that may result in accidents and injuries, finds a laboratory study that compares the effects of drinking alcohol alone versus drinking alcohol mixed with energy drinks. Results indicate that energy drinks enhance feelings of stimulation from alcohol but don’t reduce the level of impulse control. Researchers feel that impaired impulse control and enhanced stimulation may be riskier than drinking alcohol alone. "Consumption of an energy drink combined with alcohol sets up a risky scenario for the drinker due to this enhanced feeling of stimulation and high impulsivity levels," says first author Cecile A. Marczinski, who adds that people need to be aware of the risks of these beverages.
Especially in Kids
New research from Oklahoma State University suggests that consuming energy drinks early in life may make some more prone to anxiety, depression and addictive behaviors later on. Dr. Conrad Woolsey calls the drinks a “pharmacological Molotov cocktail.” Because the human brain does not fully develop until age 25, it is more susceptible to being affected by the ingredients in the pumped-up soft drinks. Energy drinks often contain additives such as taurine and inositol which are used in some anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication. When taken alongside a stimulator, like caffeine or guarana, they can affect the action of neurotransmitters in the brain. Overstimulation of stress neurotransmitters early in life can cause them to be overactive later, leading to anxiety and depression.
Drink Up to Play Longer
Drinking an energy beverage before and during a game may enhance the performance of athletes ages 12 to 14, say sports scientists from the University of Edinburgh. The scientists found, for the first time, that the athletes could continue with high-intensity, stop-start activity up to 24 percent longer than athletes who consumed a placebo drink. The research, published in European Journal of Applied Physiology, revealed that drinking a 6 percent carbohydrate-electrolyte solution (similar to an isotonic sports drink) worked to enhance endurance capacity, but didn't make the athletes run faster during intermittent exercise in team sports. The drink provides a supply of energy and helps prevent dehydration, which contributes to improved endurance capacity.
Know When to Fold Em
More than 80 percent of poker players report using drugs and/or other substances to enhance their card-playing skills, says a Nova Southeastern University study. Cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana, Valium, energy drinks and caffeine are among the drugs and substances cited by those who participated in the survey. "The use of these substances could allow poker players to stay awake longer, as well as focus and concentrate better, which would be a competitive advantage," said researcher Kevin Clauson, Pharm.D., NSU associate professor. "Stamina is important for any poker player because tournament poker and cash games can go on for many hours." NSU researchers initially interviewed players who were in Las Vegas for a World Series of Poker Tournament and then expanded their research globally.
13-Year-Old Asks for a Monster
Food and nutrition columnist Jennifer LaRue Huget of the Washington Post writes today about her worries when her 13-year-old son, influenced by extreme sports hero endorsements, asked to buy a Monster energy drink. Is it O.K. for kids, she wondered? Investigating, she discovered that it contains 160 milligrams of caffeine, about four times that in a can of Coca Cola. In addition, it contained a number of exotic additives. Most of them are probably harmless and all are on the FDA's approved food additives or GRAS (generally regarded as safe) lists. On the other hand, they probably do you no good either. More than the caffeine, the sugar dose worried Jennifer. In the end she decided that energy drinks wouldn't kill her kid, but she hopes he grows out of them.