Energy drinks can take more than they give

October 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Health

Let’s face it, we all need an energy boost from time to time and an occasional hit of caffeine or sugar is not a problem. But a new source of ‘instant lift’ is causing health concerns. Energy drinks have been popular for years, and just look in your local supermarket and you will plenty of choice. Most contain sugar, colour and caffeine and sometimes ginseng and taurine as well, and they are a popular pick me up during working hours.

Now, a study published this week in the journal ‘Drug and Alcohol Dependence’ is raising concerns about the possibility of caffeine intoxication from energy drinks. This is a topic I have mentioned before, but it’s worth repeating. Energy drinks are usually much smaller cans than the equivalent soft drink, but the amount of caffeine in some of them is the equivalent of 14 cans of Coca-Cola. Caffeine is listed as an ingredient, but not the amount, because energy drinks are designated as dietary supplements, not food products.

They feel that anyone drinking several of these a day is in danger of caffeine intoxication, which is a recognized clinical syndrome. If you have ever over-indulged in coffee during stress or crisis you might recognise the symptoms of nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, stomach upset, tremors, rapid heartbeat, restlessness and pacing. In rare cases, caffeine intoxication can cause death so it’s not something to take lightly.

We know from previous research that too much caffeine is causing increased toxicity in our bodies, and there is also the other important factor with all soft drinks which is that the phosphoric acid they all contain leaches calcium from the bones and can lead to osteoporosis.

AND THAT’S NOT ALL Additionally, many of these drinks – particularly the low-calorie versions – contain the artificial sweetener aspartame. This is a concern because, according to new research by South African scientists from the University of Pretoria, a high intake of aspartame may lead to the degeneration of brain cells, compromised learning and emotional functioning and various mental disorders.

The research found that aspartame, marketed as NutraSweet, Equal, Canderal and Tropicana Slim, leads to both direct and indirect changes in the brain when consumed in high quantities. Among these effects, the chemical can disrupt amino acid metabolism and structure, degrade nucleic acids, and interfere with the function of nerve cells and hormonal systems. It also appears to change the concentration of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

The researchers also noted that aspartame appears to cause excessive signaling of nerve cells, and nerve cell damage or even death. By disrupting the functioning of the cells’ mitochondria, or energy source, aspartame leads to a cascade of effects on the whole system.

As I’ve always said, give me old-fashioned sugar and hold the chemicals!