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Instant energy—at a cost

There is growing craze for energy drinks among the young and old in the country. Some have become addicted to these drinks in the belief…

There is growing craze for energy drinks among the young and old in the country. Some have become addicted to these drinks in the belief that they help keep them alert and sharpen their minds. Many fail to ask or ponder what these drinks are made of, or if they actually perform all the wonders that their manufacturers claim for them, of indeed if they are good for the body.

Energy drinks often make big promises, but actually deliver little. Some say they help increase energy and alertness, others say they offer extra nutrition, and some even claim that they boost athletic performance or power of concentration. But once you cut through the hype and look past the colourful packaging, chances are what you are mostly getting are concentrates of sugar and caffeine.

Most energy drinks are carbonated  and contain large amounts of caffeine and sugar with additional ingredients such as vitamin B, amino acid and herbal extracts and marketed primarily to people of between the ages of 18 and 30 years as stimulants, which is why they have names that convey strength, power and speed as well as sexuality, such as Red Bull, Power Horse, Power Fist, Dark Horse, Passion, Rox, Burn, Hype, Rhinos, Blos, Contac, Wellman, Wellwoman, Baterry, Burn and Blast, among others.

While these drinks are fast gaining acceptance, some consumers are unaware of their effect on the body, or choose to ignore them. Research has shown that the amount of caffeine in energy drink is not always indicated on the label, or is understated, making it difficult to gauge how much one is consuming. And because it is unlike hot coffee or tea, which is sipped slowly, it is common for a typical energy drink consumer to gulp large amounts quickly.

The active ingredients in energy drinks vary, so do their side effects. According to Dr. Abu Yazid, a consultant with a government hospital in Abuja, all carry the potential to do harm to the body. He gives the following instances:

Caffeine: it’s good enough for coffee or tea but it might not be so for most energy drinks. It works like amphetamines, cocaine and heroin, in a way that it stimulates the brain. Gaurana, a common ingredient in energy drinks contains caffeine.

Caffeine works by blocking the chemical that makes you naturally drowsy. The chemical is also responsible for dilating the bleed vessels and caffeine also causes the brain’s blood vessels to constrict.

He further says these chemicals increases the heart rate, tightens the muscles and blood pressure rises. Caffeine he explains is a cardiac stimulant and a mild diuretic which is responsible for the feeling of happiness. While the short term benefits may seem positive but the long term effects can be more dangerous. Once the temporary stimulation wears off, your brain suddenly starts to recognize a sudden mental sluggishness. Sleep is affected because the internal effects of caffeine are not over when the ‘high’ is. It takes up to twelve hours for the caffeine to completely wear off your body. Moreover long term and heavy caffeine use can cause osteoporosis.

Ginseng, Taurine and B vitamins: these three ingredients are mostly found in energy drinks. Vitamin B is important and helpful for many functions in the body however too much of it can cause nausea, insomnia, reduced insulin release and gout. Taurine on the other hand helps move potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium in and out of cells and generates nerve signals.

Sugar: most energy drinks are high in sugar. A can of energy drink contains all the sugar you should take for a day and half.

Sugar raises blood sugar level and gives quick energy. Though, this is often short lived because the body quickly releases a blast of insulin. Type II diabetes has been linked to sugar misuse. The real truth is that most people are already consuming too much energy, which is why there is an increasingly obesity problem.

Another dangerous trend which most people addicted to these drinks do is to mix the energy drink with alcohol. Many young adults mix energy drinks with alcohol because they believe the energy drink will offset the effect of alcohol. This is a dangerous practice. The mix of depressants with stimulants can be very detrimental to the heart. It can cause heart rhythm problems, and energy drinks which include stimulants such as ginseng and taurine can send mixed messages to the nervous system and cause cardiac complications. Mixing energy drinks and alcohol can also increase dehydration.

So by guzzling a caffeine and sugar laden drink in the name of getting a boost of energy should get those addicted to it thinking about their health. If you feel you need a boost, rather reach for an unsweetened beverage that contains less caffeine and no trace of sugar. That way, you live a better and healthier lifestyle.

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