Energy drinks may have more in them than an energy boost.
A report by Johns Hopkins University calls for warning labels on the bottles of energy drinks because of a dangerous combination of ingredients and high levels of caffeine.
Energy drinks are marketed as performance enhancers, which put consumers at risk, according to the report.
The caffeine content of energy drinks varies over a 10-fold range, with some containing the equivalent of 14 cans of Coca-Cola, yet the caffeine amounts are often unlabeled and few include warnings about the potential health risks of caffeine intoxication, according to the report.
Dr. Mary Rae, primary physician at the Brown-Lupton Health Center, said energy drinks have many negative side effects.
“Symptoms such as anxiety, headache, nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, increased heart rate, increased or decreased blood pressure can be caused by caffeine toxicity or overconsumption of caffeine,” Rae said.
Symptoms for withdrawal include fatigue, headache and depression, Rae said.
“Withdrawal wouldn’t actually cause clinical depression, but you would feel less stimulated then you would if you had an energy drink,” Rae said
Because caffeine is a diuretic, overconsumption of caffeine can cause damage to kidneys and other organs through dehydration, Rae said.
Yvonne Giovanis, assistant director for Alcohol and Drug Education, said caffeine itself can be fairly innocuous, but the amount that comes in energy drinks can be similar to that of a double espresso as opposed to a soft drink or a basic cup of coffee.
According to the Energy Fiend Web site, there are 145 milligrams of caffeine in an eight ounce cup of black drip coffee. Red Bull contains 80 milligrams of caffeine and other drinks such as Monster or Full Throttle contain as much as 160 milligrams of caffeine, according to the Web site. Coca-Cola Classic contains 34.5 milligrams of caffeine.
Craig Stevens, vice president of communication for the American Beverage Association, said energy drinks are harmless when consumed in moderation.
“Energy drinks can be enjoyed and considered part of a healthy lifestyle when consumed sensibly,” Stevens said. “Most energy drinks have half the amount of caffeine as a cup of basic coffee purchased at Starbucks.”
The American Beverage Association represents energy drinks and soft drinks created and distributed by Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola and South Beach Beverage Company, or SoBe.
Giovanis said the concern over energy drinks is the combination of caffeine and herbal ingredients in energy drinks.
Many students are not aware of the adverse reactions caused by the herbal stimulants or how they can react with other medications, she said.
“Herbal supplements such as guarana or ginseng are not subjected to the same stringencies as other drugs because they are in food products,” Giovanis said. “So you can’t verify how safe or harmful one batch of energy drinks are compared to another batch.”
According to the Coca-Cola Web site, energy drink Full Throttle contains caffeine, ginseng extract, Taurine, guarana extract, and B-vitamins.
Ginseng is used to promote overall wellness, and guarana is a weight-loss supplement. Side effects of consuming these supplements include sleeplessness and anxiety. which can be increased when used in conjunction with caffeine, according to WebMD.
Giovanis said consumers may not be aware of how the herbal supplements interact with their medication or other vitamins or supplements in their system.
“A common ingredient in energy drinks is St. John’s wort, and many students may not realize how that interacts with anti-depressants or birth control,” Giovanis said. “Birth control and anti-depressants can be rendered ineffective when taken with St. John’s wort.”
Stevens said all ingredient information is located on the back of the product.
“Consumers who take other medications should consult their doctors before consuming a product that has an ingredient they are unfamiliar with in it,” Stevens said.
Energy drinks don’t provide the exact amount of caffeine milligrams or herbal supplements on their labels, Rae said, so students should pay more attention to how their body responds to caffeine and know their limits.
“Also, it’s good to alternate between caffeine and water,” Rae said.
Caffeine content in drinks
Coca-Cola Classic – 34.5 milligrams
Red Bull – 80 milligrams
Full Throttle – 144 milligrams
8 oz. cup of coffee – 145 milligrams
Monster – 160 milligrams