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Energy Drinks-New Kids on the Beverages Block

In today’s fast paced life everybody wants to have everything too early and too soon making the word ‘instant’ a buzz word. The attitude applies not only to just money, power and status, but even to an abstract thing like –energy or capacity to do work. Energy drinks claim to give instant energy and therefore are being very popular.

What are energy drinks?

Energy drinks are beverages that claim to increase energy and alertness after consuming them. There are others that offer extra nutrition and promise to boost your athletic performance or powers of concentration. Bar-goers mix them with vodka to stay up and party longer. Students drink them to help pull all-night study sessions. And some athletes down them to boost performance. It is not a soft drink and it has its own functionality.

In the west, these drinks have already made their presence felt amongst the youth in particular, but in Asia, they are relatively new. Markets abroad have a wider variety to choose from the labels like – So Be, Arizona, Red Bull, Blue Ox, Guru, Whoop Ass, Endurance, Recovery, Cobra, Pyru Force etc. With the emerging trend of a 16-hour working day, the ‘work hard, party harder’ phenomena, changing lifestyles, people are beginning to demand something that can boost energy levels and give them more than 24 hours in a day. M-150 leads the energy drink market in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, and the company plans to boost its sales in other Asean members.

What do they contain?

Energy drinks have caffeine and carbohydrate. They may contain as much as 80 mg of caffeine, the equivalent of a cup of coffee. Caffeine may be legal, but it is a stimulant drug as it stimulates the central nervous system. “It can cause side effects like jitteriness, upset stomach, headaches, and sleep problems — all of which drag you down, not power you up! Plus, taking certain medications or supplements can make caffeine’s side effects seem even worse” warns senior gastroenterologist, Dr. Sandeep Lakhtakia . Another principal ingredient in energy drinks is carbohydrate which is in high concentrations—glucose, sucrose, maltodextrins, fructose, and/ or galactose.

T h e y m a y c o n t a i n m y s t e r i o u s ingredients. In addition to caffeine and sugar, some brands of energy drinks can have ingredients whose safety or effectiveness hasn’t been tested — things like guarana seeds(a source of caffeine) and taurine (an amino acid thought to enhance caffeine’s effect) kola nuts, and Yerba mate leaves. Because there is wide variability in the sources and processing of these herbs, it is nearly impossible to know the exact amounts of caffeine or other components of the plants that are contained in the energy drinks. Some contain herbal supplements that are not authorized to be used. These kinds of ingredients may cause problems for people who are taking certain medications or have a health condition.

Are they safe?

“They like the taste. They like the kick. But they don’t know about any of the negative side effects” says Dr. Lakhtakia about the people who like to consume energy drinks. Despite assurances from the drink-makers, who say the products are harmless most health experts aren’t convinced energy drinks are safe. They say young people already consume unhealthy amounts of caffeine and don’t need a product that raises that intake. They are also of the opinion that long term effects of these drinks are unclear. So are there shortterm dangers to drinking energy drinks either? “Individual responses to caffeine vary, and these drinks should be treated carefully because of how powerful they are. Energy drinks’ stimulating properties can boost the heart rate and blood pressure (sometimes to the point of palpitations), dehydrate the body, and, like other stimulants, prevent sleep” cautions cardiologists. “Energy drinks should not be used while exercising as the combination of fluid loss from sweating and the diuretic quality of the caffeine can leave the user severely dehydrated.”

A Deadly Combo. Why?

Energy drinks mixed with alcohol can be a deadly combination. Since energy drinks are stimulants and alcohol is a depressant, the combination of effects may be dangerous. The stimulant effects can mask how intoxicated you are and prevent you from realizing how much alcohol you have consumed. Fatigue is one of the ways the body normally tells someone that they’ve had enough. “The stimulant effect can give the person the impression they aren’t impaired. No matter how alert you feel, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the same as it would be without the energy drink. Once the stimulant effect wears off, the depressant effects of the alcohol will remain and could cause vomiting in your sleep or respiratory depression” says homoepath Dr. Shivani. “Both energy drinks and alcohol are very dehydrating. Dehydration can hinder your body’s ability to metabolize alcohol and will increase the toxicity, and therefore you have the hangover, the next day”.

What Appeals to Athletes?

Athletes are very active individuals and they often complain about “energy drain” and fatigue. Because they are regularly reminded to consume adequate fluids and fuel to minimize early fatigue and to maximize performance and recovery, the concept of an “energy” drink—fluid and energy together in one bottle—is very appealing. For many athletes who need to juggle sports, careers, school, and personal lives, squeezing in time for optimal eating and drinking is not a part of the athlete’s lifestyle equation.

For these athletes, gulping down an energy drink may be perceived as a quick way to consume extra energy to get through the day, compensate for a perceived deficiency in vitamins, minerals, herbs, or some other nutrient, boost endurance, expedite recovery from exercise, burn fat, increase lean muscle mass, or improve brain function. Unfortunately, most of these energy drinks cannot deliver on such high expectations.

“In addition to good hydration and sufficient food energy, an athlete needs adequate rest, frequent meals or snacks, and optimal consumption of carbohydrates to help feel energized. Moreover, there are likely to be additional elements that cause fluctuations in various neurotransmitters in the brain that can lead one to feel energized; these elements may have nothing to do with either food energy or hydration status” adds Dr. Trehan.

Be a sceptical consumer

When it comes to choosing any food or beverage product, athletes must be sceptical consumers and ask questions before buying. Educating athletes about these products is critical for their health, safety, and sport performance. Here are some guidelines: -Label reading is necessary! -Athletes using medications should avoid any product that contains herbs. -If there is no Nutrition Facts or Supplement Facts panel, athletes should not buy the product. -Athletes need to know if the ingredients are legal and safe. -Athletes should examine the Nutrition Facts panel for the total carbohydrate content as well as calories. -Avoid the product if the evidence for claims is non-existent, incomplete, or unsubstantiated!

Moderation is the key

So should you have these drinks? As with everything else, moderation is the key. The occasional energy drink is fine, but people who usually have them about three or four every day are overdoing it. There’s some clever marketing behind energy drinks, and you’ve got to be a pretty savvy consumer to see through it. So be critical when reading labels. As with everything, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The truth is that the best energy boost comes from healthy living. People who eat well, drink water, and get enough physical activity and rest will have plenty of energy — the natural way.