Full of Energy

Above: Some of the most popular energy drinks. Photo provided by Caleb Shaw.

What are the side-effects of  high-caffeine energy drinks?

A recent article from the University of Michigan says, “Caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant, helps people feel more alert and less tired. That’s why so many people reach for a morning cup of coffee or a lunchtime soda for a quick energy boost.” That sounds great, right? And many students here agree as they have started drinking coffee regularly. Back when we were in school, we often heard people talk about drinking coffee to wake up or consuming a large soda because a student had to stay up late to study. But they might think twice about reaching for that latte. There is a surprising reason why students shouldn’t drink coffee or consume too much caffeine. 

“Statistics show that adolescents are the fastest-growing population of caffeine users,” says author Yvette Brazier in a Medical News Today article. “Studies have indicated that 83.2% of teenagers consume caffeinated beverages regularly, and at least 96% consume them occasionally.”  Coffee and sodas range wildly in the amount of caffeine they contain, from around 150 mg in a can of Pepsi Zero to none in 7 Up or Sprite and 398 mg in a 20 oz Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee with Espresso Shot or 235 mg in a 12 oz Starbucks Pike Place Roast, according to the Center for Science website. 

A study from Brescia University College in Ontario, Canada, explored adolescents’ attitudes and beliefs regarding caffeinated beverages. They surveyed more than 116 students and found, “44.6% of respondents drank caffeinated beverages one to six times per week, 11.4% consumed a caffeinated beverage every day, and only 4.8% never consumed drinks containing caffeine.” 

Magnus Health, a leading provider of cloud-based student health records, says that overindulging in caffeine “can lead to side effects including nervousness, upset stomach, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and increased blood pressure.” The site further says, “Caffeine affects each person differently. The most common effects include dehydration, upset stomach, and jitteriness, but it takes less caffeine to produce these same uncomfortable effects in teens. It’s also important to note that many caffeinated beverages also include excess sugar which can lead to cavities.” 

Author Michale Pollan said recently in an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air, “Here’s a drug we use every day. We never think about it as a drug or an addiction, but that’s exactly what it is,” Pollan said. “I thought, ‘Why not explore that relationship?” According to Fresh Air interview Terry Gross, Pollan’s new audiobook, Caffeine, “explores the science of caffeine addiction and withdrawal — and the broader impact that coffee and tea have had on the modern world.” 

“There are studies that show that people’s both mental performance and athletic performance are improved by coffee,” Pollan said. “If you have a cup of coffee after you’ve learned something or read a textbook chapter, you are more likely to test better on it the next day.”  

Wait, that sounds like he’s advocating coffee drinking. But there’s more. Pollan decided to quit caffeine and he did it suddenly,  cold turkey. That’s when he realized the addictive hold that caffeine had over him. “I just couldn’t focus,” he said. “I lost confidence. The whole book seemed like a really stupid idea. And loss of confidence is actually listed as one of the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.” Of coffee Pollan said, “I was sleeping like a teenager again. I would pop off and just sleep through the night — which I don’t do that often. And I had some great sleeps. I guess that was the big compensating benefit of giving up caffeine. Caffeine is the enemy of good sleep.” 

Nationwide Children’s says that teens need nine and a half hours of good solid sleep per night. If teens don’t get that level of sleep teens performance could suffer and teens could find themselves in a bad mood. “Caffeine takes a major toll on a teen’s sleep,” says Very Well Health. “Every 10 milligrams of caffeine a 13-year-old boy consumes decreases his chances of getting 8.5 hours of sleep by 12%.”

Coffee is not the only drink that people are using to obtain energy. An energy drink known as Bang has recently burst onto the scene in the fitness industry.  With many clever ways of advertising, Bang has quickly become one of the most popular energy drinks on the market.  Bang and other drinks like it are supposed to give the user a boost of energy, but are they what they are hyped up to be?

All energy drinks use substances that give the person who drinks it more energy.  What they all have in common is caffeine. An 8.4 ounce can of Red Bull has 80mg of caffeine, an eight-ounce Starbucks coffee has about 160 mg of caffeine, but a can of Bang can contain as much as 300 mg of caffeine. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, a person shouldn’t consume more than 400 mg of caffeine in a day.  A person who takes in more than 400 mg may experience some of the side effects listed on the side of the can of Bang such as nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, and rapid heartbeat.

Many of these side effects are already problems with teens around the country.  According to the Atlantic.com, products like Red Bull have sent thousands of teens to the emergency room, yet the people who market them insist they don’t need to be regulated. Energy drinks advertise their products with flashy colors or funny cartoons, but one drink in particular has completely changed the advertising game. 

That drink is Bang.  Bang has a variety of flavors that are appealing to teens like Rainbow Unicorn, or Cotton Candy.  Another way Bang advertises is through social media influencers, such as bodybuilders or Instagram models, who have unobtainable figures.  These ways of advertising are indirectly marketed toward teens and are very effective.

Above: A can of “Rainbow Unicorn” Bang. One theory about the recent increase in energy drinks can be traced back to G-Fuel, a company that made high caffeine energy powders with the aim to increase gaming ability. The company became famous by sponsoring professional video gamers. This led to development of other “game enhancing” energy drinks like Mountain Dew “Game Fuel.” Energy drinks also appeal to the weightlifting community as a type of pre-workout that will maximize energy output. Creatine is a common supplement in these drinks which takes water from its typical body-strorage areas, and moves it to the muscles resulting in the look of physically bigger muscles., as well as increasing the body’s natural level of adenosine triphosphate(ATP), an energy chemical that is produced during cellular respiration. Creatine is a banned substance for high school athletes in many states.

Sophomore Camden Tanner has had his own experiences with energy drinks.  “I had my first energy drink in the eighth grade,” said Tanner, “It made me feel like I was on top of the world.”  It was not until the summer going into his sophomore year that Tanner dove full into the habit of energy drinks. He said, “I remember when Bang first came out. I was drinking them every day.  It made me feel like I could never get tired.” However, Tanner has since cut back on drinking energy drinks. “After a while it had gotten to be a problem, said Tanner, “I had to drink two to get the effect of one; it made my stomach start to hurt.”  Of all the energy drinks, Tanner says Bang, the most dangerous; however, in excess all of them can be bad. He said, “when it comes to energy drinks, moderation is key.”

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