Many use energy drinks in place of healthy habits

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    Wake up at 6 a.m. Drink a Red Bull. Rush to campus praying to find any parking. Drink a Red Bull. Attend class, grab lunch and spend the rest of the evening cramped in a corner at the library. Drink Red Bull intermittently throughout the night. In the fast-paced, competitive world of today’s collegian, students around the nation are reaching for anything to give them that extra surge of energy for a long day’s work.

    But research shows that these cans of sugar may be doing more harm then many consumers realize.

    According to an article on Forbes.com, consumers drank 1.9 billion cans of Red Bull last year, generating nearly $2 billion in revenue.

    TCU students are only a small portion of this sales niche.

    Rick Flores, general manager for TCU Dining Services, said TCU sells a little more than 2,100 individual cans of Red Bull on average each week.

    “It seems to be very popular with students,” Flores said. “It gives you the caffeine you need to keep you going and staying active.”

    Energy drink producers claim the same thing – these drinks provide a healthy pick-me-up for sports, work or studying.

    “Red Bull is popular because it works,” said Patrice Radden, a spokeswoman for Red Bull Communications. “Red Bull is an energizer, developed particularly for periods of mental and physical stress and strain.”

    Producers also say there are no risks associated with the consumption of energy drinks.

    “Red Bull is a functional drink and not a thirst-quencher,” Radden said. “Generally, you can compare its digestibility with that of coffee, and this is a good guide to the amount you can drink.”

    Some research claims otherwise.

    Amanda Kreller, a senior nutritional science major, said she does not drink Red Bull and that students are relying on these drinks as a last resort for energy.

    “Students are drinking Red Bull because they aren’t getting enough sleep and aren’t fueling their bodies on a regular schedule,” Kreller said. “They assume their only option is to turn to energy drinks like Red Bull for a quick fix.”

    The nutritional facts concerning some nutrition experts are the 27 grams of sugar, 200 milligrams of sodium and 80 milligrams of caffeine in a 250-milliliter can of Red Bull.

    Kreller said the high amounts of unsavory ingredients in these drinks are ultimately leading students to poor health habits.

    “A common cause for being fatigued is dehydration and many college students are dehydrated from all the sodas and alcohol they drink,” Kreller said. “All their body needs is water to have more energy – the last thing they need is to be pumped with more sugar, sodium and caffeine to make you worse off after the energy high wears off.”

    Red Bull could also cause other oral hygiene problems.

    Biology instructor Mark Bloom said, “High caffeine impairs the ability of the body to absorb calcium from the intestines, which could contribute to a weakening of the bones and teeth.”

    Other oral problems may also ensue in the same way that consuming other drinks high in sugar may cause.

    “The high amounts of sugar can lead to cavities and tooth decay because sugar starts to break down in the mouth,” Kreller said. “If someone drinks Red Bull and isn’t brushing their teeth afterwards, the bacteria in the mouth ferment the sugars and in that process, produce an acid that dissolves tooth enamel.”

    Moreover, critics question the high use of energy drinks being mixed with alcohol in bars and nightclubs. Bar-goers frequently order a mix of Red Bull and vodka or drinks called J„ger bombs, a mix of J„germeister and Red Bull.

    “The caffeine in these drinks may enhance energy by easing the perception of fatigue, which makes people think they have more energy when they are really just masking their tiredness,” Kreller said.

    She said this is the same idea that occurs when mixing a stimulant, such as Red Bull, with a depressant, such as alcohol: Energy drinks mask the usual effects felt when drinking alcohol and may then lead to higher consumption levels.

    According to mayoclinic.com, a foundation for medical education and research, “Some doctors recommend limiting caffeine to 200 milligrams a day.”

    A can of Red Bull includes 80 milligrams of caffeine, and a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 34 milligrams of caffeine. If students drink two Red Bulls during studying on top of the usual consumption of caffeinated drinks, they are surpassing the recommended amount and may experience health problems.

    “Caffeine is a stimulant, so high levels can have an effect on the heart rhythm,” Bloom said.

    Mayoclinic.com also states that people should “avoid caffeine right before activities that naturally increase your blood pressure, such as exercise, weight lifting or hard physical labor.”

    Radden, as well as the Red Bull Web site, said specifically, though, that the consumption of Red Bull “can make a significant contribution to the enhancement of performance in sports.”

    It further recommends a number of ways to use the product before, during and after physical activity.

    Junior interior design major Melissa O’Dowd said that although she doesn’t like Red Bull, she has had the drink on a few occasions mixed with alcoholic beverages or for an energy boost, but said she knows many people who drink Red Bull.

    “I think a lot of people are becoming more concerned with the health effects of it, though, because most of the people I know drink the sugar-free Red Bulls now,” O’Dowd said.

    Flores, with Dining Services, said as far as the nutritional value of energy drinks, he can only supply the nutritional data.

    “All we can do is provide the information that’s on the label for students to make the decision,” Flores said.

    What will come of energy drinks in the future?

    “If I don’t provide (Red Bull), students will find somewhere else to get it,” Flores said.