ON THE JOB:
Q: What is it that puts the “energy” in energy drinks? Is it just caffeine?
A: It is the caffeine that gives the energy along with sugar and the B-vitamins, which are purported to help unlock the sugar energy. Most contain guarana, which is the highest caffeine-containing plant in the world. So, they get a double dose of caffeine. A recent consumer report found that (some) energy beverages actually contained more caffeine than they advertise on their label.
Q: How do energy drinks impact different people?
A: The effects of caffeine on the individual may be altered by genetic effects, by use of medications or drugs, individual factors (such as) age, weight, sex; presence of liver disease, heart disease, environmental exposures, regular use of caffeine and whether consumed at rest or before/during exercise. Some groups are more sensitive to the physiological effects of caffeine, including women, nonsmokers and caffeine naive subjects — (people who) don’t use caffeine regularly. Those in their 20s-40s socializing often combine energy drinks with alcohol. Essentially, it results in a wired — or wide awake — drunk, who is more likely to indulge in high risk behavior, such as driving drunk or attempting stunts that they cannot properly coordinate. The combination of energy drinks and alcohol might also increase significant arrhythmia in patients with underlying heart disease. We have seen cases of young college students presenting a rapid heart arrhythmia after consuming several energy beverages combined with vodka drinks in one session.
Q: Does the FDA approve these drinks, and if so, why?
A: No. They’re not regulated as a normal consumer food product would be. Instead, energy drinks are considered a dietary supplement because they claim to have all-natural ingredients that are exempt from FDA regulations. And like many other dietary supplements currently on the market, serious questions about the safety of these products certainly exist as more and more people report health problems associated with their use.
And because energy drinks like Monster are not subject to regulations, records on the reported problems associated with them are sparse, especially considering how popular they are.
About John P. Higgins, MD:
COMPANY : The University of Texas Medical School at Houston
EXPERIENCE: Associate professor of medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), director of exercise physiology at Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine Institute, chief of cardiology at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital, principal investigator with Houston Early Age Risk Testing & Screening (HEARTS) study
EDUCATION: Medical degree from University of Queensland, Australia; masters in philosophy (epidemiology) from the University of Cambridge, England; MBA from George Washington University, Washington, DC
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