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Energy Drinks
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Photo:Elizabeth Lilja
If you’re around teenagers often, you’ve probably seen many carrying an energy drink in one hand. Unlike coffee or sodas, energy drinks include a heavy dose of caffeine and sugar, in addition to other ingredients such as guarana, ginseng and taurine. 1 Teens claim that these high-powered drinks help them keep awake when they drive, stay more alert at school and perform better in sports. And the drinks, which have been around for about a dozen years, are only gaining in popularity. Americans spent 4.2 billion on such drinks last year.

For some, energy drinks have taken the place of water. But how safe are they? Let’s take a closer look at their basic ingredients.

Caffeine: The amount of caffeine in one energy drink equals about two 8-ounce cups of coffee—enough to make some people jittery. Add another energy drink, or some other caffeinated beverage, and the sum total could bring about a headache, a sleepless night or even nausea. Worse could happen if you suffer from high blood pressure. Finland researchers discovered that a person’s BP could spike by up to 14 points with the amount of caffeine in just two to three cups of coffee.

Sugar: Some energy drinks contain about as much sugar as a 20-ounce soda. That sudden surge of sugar can cause blood sugar levels and insulin to rapidly increase, telling your body to stop burning fat. This would be especially dangerous if you are glucose intolerant or overweight. And besides, you’re just drinking empty calories with no nutritional value.

Guarana: Scientists recently conducted tests on this seed from a South American shrub and discovered that the amount in most energy drinks isn’t enough to be harmful. But there’s still a question whether or not the higher level obtained by drinking more than one energy drink a day, is safe.

Ginseng: Since the amount of extract from the root of a ginseng plant is minimal in energy drinks, it’s unlikely that this ingredient is harmful. However, larger amounts ingested have been known to cause diarrhea and other negative side effects. And a word of caution: ginseng can alter the effectiveness of blood-thinning medications.

Taurine: Most 16-ounce energy drinks contain 20 mg to 2,000 mg of taurine, a sulfur-containing amino acid. Although it’s probably fine taken in smaller doses, the jury is out on larger amounts. A hospital in Arizona reports that three people experienced seizures after drinking approximately two 24-ounce energy drinks within a short time. So far there has been little research on the effects of taurine on humans, or strong evidence that it will actually boost your energy.

We need to reintroduce our kids to pure, refreshing cold water, and occasionally to 100-percent fruit juice. We can start by setting the example ourselves. In addition, their energy (and ours) needs to come from a good night’s sleep, a healthy diet and exercise. Not from a man-made drink.

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By Nancy Canwell. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.


1 http://health.msn.com/nutrition/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100217852&GT1=31036


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