by Wilson Kozel Talon Staff Writer
As you welcome the new school year and all the homework that comes with it, you may turn to energy drinks to keep yourself awake so you can finish your assignments without dozing off. Or maybe it’s a caffeine boost before rushing out the door to help you stay awake in class. Whatever the motivation, you’re not alone.
After increasing by almost three million between 2004-2007, the number of teenagers that drink energy drinks has remained steady at roughly 7.6 million teens (31 percent of teenagers). The energy drink industry brings in a whopping $5.4 billion annually, and it grew 80 percent in 2006.
Whatever the reason behind your caffeine consumption, depending how much you consume and how often, you could be doing yourself harm. Although energy drinks can cause you to feel alert and awake, there are many side effects of caffeine use that are not so beneficial.
“Excessive caffeine can be detrimental in the sense that it causes nausea, dehydration, and can deplete the body’s calcium and potassium causing sore muscles and delayed recovery time after exercise,” said Andrea Jensen, a certified personal trainer and team nutrition coach at Lifetime Fitness.
Not surprisingly, caffeine intake can also disrupt sleep patterns. Prolonged use can lead to nervous disorders and, in rare cases, it can aggravate heart problems. It was once thought that caffeine consumption even stunted children’s growth, but no evidence was found to support that theory. Caffeine is not the only thing to watch out for in energy drinks though.
“Generally sugar taken in the high amounts found in energy drinks can cause addiction,” said Jensen. “It also affects your blood sugar levels, increasing your insulin, which is a precursor to diabetes.”
There is also the danger of hospitalization due to overdose on caffeine.
“I’ve seen cases of people who have been hospitalized due to taking too many energy drinks where they were having a seizure-like episode,” said David Aughey MD, licensed pediatrician at Children’s Hospital MN. “It wasn’t a true seizure, but the person was so hyped up that they were jittery and their reflexes were hyper and they didn’t know what was going on. I think they had five or six red bulls in a short period of time.”
Aughey has also witnessed cases of teenagers who are unable to stop vomiting and headaches that last for hours.
There is also a new, popular trend developing, involving teenagers and college students mixing alcohol with energy drinks.
“Even though [the energy drink] has stimulants in it, the alcohol is still going to have similar effects on you,” said Steve Clarke, director of the College Alcohol Abuse Prevention Center. “You may feel more alert but actually the alcohol is having the same effect on you. So you might perceive that you are less impaired when in actuality you are not less impaired.”
Aughey has seen people hospitalized for alcohol poisoning because they didn’t realized how much they were drinking.
“In urban areas, we are seeing also people being hospitalized because of the combination of alcohol and energy drinks,” Aughey said. “Alcohol is technically a depressant, from the body’s point of view. So, the competition between alcohol and the energy drinks that make you feel energized can result in overdose.”
Although most teens drink energy drinks for the buzzed feeling, which is where the main health concerns come from, or for the caffeine boost to stay awake, Junior Walker Larson has a different reason.
“I honestly just drink them cause I like the taste of certain ones,” Larson said. “I know a lot of kids drink them cause they think it’s cool to be hyped up on caffeine, or to help them stay up late, but it’s never been like that for me. I like how they taste and I would still drink them if they were ever sold caffeine free.”
The more serious athletes like to stay away from energy drinks, though.
“I used to be a huge fan of Red Bull, but that all changed when I got more serious into track,” said Senior John Bedingham. “You’re putting unwanted materials into your body, and it may work well short term in keeping you awake, but it will catch up to you in the long run.”
All in all, you can drink energy drinks if you need an energy boost, but there are safer and healthier ways to get your energy.
“Kids generally have enough energy as it is, so they don’t need to take in that excess sugar, caffeine, or B vitamins that come with energy drinks,” Jensen said. “I would just as soon get your energy from whole foods, taking in enough water throughout the day, making sure you’re hydrated, and getting enough sleep.”