Energy drinks: risky or rewarding?

en•er•gy drink ˈɛn- ər-dʒi drɪŋk -noun. A beverage consumed to supply mental and physical stimulation for a short period time.

Twenty-four hours in a day just isn’t enough sometimes. Life can seem a bit overwhelming when there are papers due, mid-terms to write, classes and work to attend and other extra-curricular activities that are always on the go. Oh, and there is also that other little matter of eating and sleeping. Unless you’re Superman and can turn the Earth back on its axis, there is no way of extending those 24 hours. So, if you can’t add time to your day, you may need to find new energy to increase your efficiency, or at least to prevent yourself from falling asleep at your desk. In that case, you may have tried consuming beverages with names such as “Impulse,” “Dark Dog,” “Shark,” “Hype” or “SoBe Adrenaline Rush.” If the names weren’t a dead give away, these are energy drinks. Even though you may not be familiar with any of those names,, I know everyone at least recognizes the most infamous energy drink of all — “Red Bull.” Red Bull, was the first of these energy drink concoctions on the market, hitting US shelves in 1997. Since this time, energy drinks have become an increasingly popular trend in the beverage world. The energy drink category is now a $4.8 billion USD industry with a growth rate of more that 400 per cent since 2003.

Energy drinks not only appeal to consumers because of their soft-drink-like taste and appearance, but also because they have that added bonus of keeping you energized. These mysterious potions usually contain caffeine, taurine (an amino acid) and glucuronolactone (a carbohydrate).

While the energy drink is oh-so-appealing, like anything there are risks to consider. Four incidents of adverse reactions involving energy drinks have been reported to Health Canada. The symptoms experienced from these reactions included electrolyte disturbance, nausea, vomiting and heart irregularities. These four occasions all involved the improper use of energy drinks. There are two main ways in which these beverages can be misused. The first of these is when they are consumed too often. When energy drinks begin to replace water, you know you have a problem. For example, energy drinks are sometimes treated like sports drinks. While these beverages may quench your thirst, they don’t really re-hydrate the body; in fact, they actually lead to dehydration.

The second, and most prevalent cause of negative reactions from energy drinks comes from the increasing trend of mixing them with alcohol. The danger of energy-alcohol drinks is that the caffeine and other chemicals within the energy drink mask the intoxicating effects of the alcohol. This is dangerous because you get more drunk faster, but do not feel the effects. In other words, you have a more difficult time realizing when you should stop. Although there is limited research on this subject, there have been studies that suggest that university students who combine energy drinks with alcohol get drunk twice as often as those who consume alcohol alone.

If you do consume energy drinks, it is important to drink them responsibly in order to ensure that you decrease the risk of negative side effects. First of all, don’t drink excessive amounts. The limit on Red Bull is 500 mL, or two cans a day, a rule which is indicated on the packaging itself. Red Bull is the only energy drink that is regulated and considered a natural health product in Canada. All other energy drinks have not yet had their safety evaluated. As a result, it is advised to treat them like you would Red Bull. Secondly, do not mix energy drinks with alcohol. So, if your go-to-drink is a Red Bull and vodka, find a new one.

So with these tips in mind, there shouldn’t be any reason why you can’t chase your “on-the-go meal” down with a “Red Bull”. Just remember that the goal of consuming these beverages is to increase your efficiency. Guzzling energy drinks irresponsibly will only counteract the desired effects, causing you to become sick which takes away from valuable study time. My thought is that it’s always better to be working at half speed then it is to be puking in a toilet!