Are energy drinks putting you in danger?

Art by Alex Phelps/The Foothill Dragon Press

Taylor Kennepohl

Art by Alex Phelps/The Foothill Dragon PressOver the past few years, hospitals and school health offices have seen an influx of teens with heart issues and organ failure. Fearing the worst, very few patients expect to hear that these are sometimes symptoms of guzzling too many energy drinks.

“My cousin is kind of an energy drink addict and he drank so much that, recently, he found himself in the hospital for liver failure because his cells started to die,” said Foothill junior Matt Williamson of his 15-year-old cousin.

Energy drinks such as Red Bull have been ingested by youth since at least 1987, but it hasn’t been until the past couple of years that scientists, health care professionals, and consumers have started paying attention to their possibly dangerous contents.

Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and the University of Queensland in Australia last month published some shocking results about the consequences of drinking these sugary beverages in succession.

According to the authors of the study, “four documented cases of caffeine-associated death have been reported, as well as five separate cases of seizures associated with consumption of energy/power drinks.”

Researchers also reported that individuals consuming energy drinks may experience dangerously high blood pressure and heart rate as well as impaired brain functioning.

Foothill school nurse Mary Johnson said she has had several encounters with students suffering from these types of reactions to the beverages.

“They give you heart palpitations. Kids come in here with heart pains, and we take their blood pressure and it’s off the charts,” said Johnson.

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One Rockstar equals nearly three cups of coffee

And these are only the observed effects of short-term ingestion of these drinks. Very little is known about the long-term effects of energy drinks.

Aside from heart attacks and other related problems, researchers theorize that energy drinks could cause issues with liver and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and insulin resistance.

Foothill junior Jazzy McInnis may have experienced firsthand the frightening consequences of drinking too many Red Bulls or Monsters.

“I was actually in the hospital and they said that it was most likely because of drinking energy drinks. It got hard for me to breathe, and my heart was racing, and I started hyperventilating,” McInnis recalled.

Consuming 120mg to 300mg of caffeine per day is considered moderate to average consumption. A single cup of coffee has between 95mg and 130mg of caffeine in it; however, one Rockstar Punched Guava contains 330mg of caffeine, and one Rage Inferno contains 375mg.

Despite her health scare, McInnis still drinks at least five energy drinks a week and thinks that attempts to regulate them for minors will only make the issue worse.

“If there was a restriction on age, it would be just like those (laws) on alcohol. Kids can still get it no matter what,” she said.

‘Dietary supplements’ not regulated like soda or juice

Companies that produce these highly caffeinated drinks seem to be becoming more skilled at finding loopholes in FDA regulation. Because some of the drinks are marketed as ‘dietary supplements,’ they don’t face the same regulations as sodas and juices.

The separate classification of these energy drinks enables them to put labels on the cans that claim that they improve mental and athletic performance.

Though skeptical about any substantial physical benefits of the energy drinks, Foothill nurse Johnson acknowledges that when used sparingly, they are fairly harmless.

“They can help you if you want to focus, and do work and all that. They have their place,” she said, “But it’s a personal choice. Use common sense: if it makes you feel jittery or you can’t sleep at night, they’re probably not a good idea.”{jcomments on}

What do you think?