James sat at his desk in an afternoon haze and yawned. He had been working on a spreadsheet since noon and needed a fast boost if he was going to make his 5:00 p.m. deadline. He scooted to the kitchen and grabbed an energy drink from the stocked fridge. Anticipating a high, he started drinking it right away. By the time he was back in his seat, he was already starting to feel more awake. Forty minutes later, the report was almost finished, and he had THE BUZZ!
Energy drinks are known for their stimulating properties, and the talk around the water cooler is that they are replacing coffee all together. With celebrity endorsements, extreme sports shows sponsoring energy drinks on WebTV channels, and creative marketing strategies, it’s no wonder these drinks have become so popular.
Manufacturers of energy drinks connect with their market and target small niche groups including extreme sports enthusiasts, students, night clubbers, risk-taking executives, shift workers, long-distance drivers, and the hip-hop and rave goers. Due to the potential young age of the target markets and reported potential health risks, warnings on labels have increased, and the amount of caffeine is restricted to no more than 180 mg in any size drink.
Not all energy drinks are equal as ingredients vary by brand. Some have added nutrients or have more sugar or have more herbs than others, but all energy drinks have some form of stimulant—namely caffeine, taurine, or guarana—which increases energy.
Besides energy, some drinks claim to offer added benefits, such as a memory or immune system booster. This is the result of having additives such as ginseng or echinacea. Some other added benefits to drinks include fat-burning properties from additives such as ephedra and a calming effect from additives such as St. John’s Wort. An amino acid, taurine, is touted to help improve athletic performance.
Although controversial, these additives are appealing to the consumer. Some say that when taurine is combined with caffeine, it enhances mental performance. Guarana seeds (produced on the guarana shrub) contain up to three times more caffeine than coffee beans and are presumed to improve mental alertness, fight fatigue, and increase stamina. Some evidence suggests that guarana suppresses appetite and burns fat.
While these drinks can contain unhealthy ingredients such as sugar and sodium, and a sharp low can be produced after the ephemeral high, the energy drink industry has grown 75 percent since the year 2000 to become a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. However, one of the first energy drinks, called Lucozade, was sold in Newcastle, England, in 1927. Lucozade was used to give sick people a source of energy and replenishment.
Health risks associated with energy drinks are still unclear; however, this does not take away from their popularity. In January 2013, U.S. lawmakers started demanding that energy drink producers disclose documents proving that the drinks are safe. At the same time, Health Canada is transitioning energy drinks from natural health products to foods, so that they will be marketed with similar restrictions as other food products.
Recently, natural energy powders have entered the mix as a healthier alternative to energy drinks and are claiming to give a more natural “high” that does not result in the crash that energy drinks are known to produce.
All in all, the ingredients and effects of energy drinks vary widely. As with any food or beverage, consumers have the right to be informed. Governing agencies are overseeing this responsibility by paying more attention to the ingredients in these drinks and placing more restrictions on the labels, which will help educate and inform the public.
In the meantime, enjoying the buzz from a can of instant energy might not be the worst thing you can put in your body.
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