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Dying In America: Energy Supplements and the Productivity Obsession

People use energy drinks for a boost, but what are the side effects of misusing these products? People use energy drinks for a boost, but what are the side effects of misusing these products?

 

In our current economy, if you are not the fastest, smartest, most-efficient, or hardest working, someone else who is one (or all) of those things may just come along and take your job. At least, that's how it feels. Many employers are happy to let us feel insecure; it keeps us on our toes, trying our hardest to keep them happy, rather than making sure that we are happy ourselves.

We will often bend over backwards and overlook some things (like unpaid overtime, harassment, or insufficient pay) so as not to ruffle feathers and to appear to be a team player. This may be good for companies in the short run, with the best and brightest competing to fill positions, but in the long run it leads to a worn out, super-stressed, ultra-competitive, backstabbing group of employees and, ultimately, to a worn out, super-stressed, ultra-competitive, backstabbing world.

This kind of world, and the fast-paced lifestyle it promotes, has led to the invention and popularity explosion of energy drinks, like Red Bull, Rockstar, Monster, and Full Throttle, and supplements like 5-Hour Energy, which has been in the news a lot lately, amid reports that the potent little bottle of caffeine-packed liquid may be a little too potent for the health of its users.

There have been several young men and teenage boys who have died after either drinking too many energy drinks, or drinking them while playing sports, which can be a major problem.

Energy drinks and supplements, which for the purposes of this article we will just combine and call "energy products," are popular for a few reasons.

First, they contain boatloads of caffeine, appealing to someone who may not have gotten enough sleep (a problem becoming more and more common according to CNN, whose latest poll has Americans sleeping an average of 6.7 hours per night, well under the recommended eight hours), with analysts blaming the shrinking shut-eye on extra hours spent both working and worrying—both symptoms blamed on the economy and our culture of competition.

Second, energy products are usually fruit- or soda-flavored, rather than tasting like coffee, which has a flavor many people, especially young people, do not like. Energy products are popular among the younger generation, whether members of the workforce or just those who want to have the energy to be, you know, cool and stuff. (Skateboarding videos don't go viral by themselves, you know.) But that coolness often comes with a price–there have been several young men and teenage boys who have died after either drinking too many energy drinks, or drinking them while playing sports, which can be a major problem.

Energy products give us "energy" by increasing our heart rate and blood pressure, which gives us a temporary burst of what we consider to be energy, but can also overwork our hearts. This is especially dangerous to anyone with an underlying heart condition. Ironically, the main source of actual energy that comes in energy drinks (at least the non-diet ones) is the sugar that they contain. That sugar does become energy, but it is a temporary kind of boost that leads to a crash in a few hours, and often causes headaches.

Some energy drinks also come with herbal ingredients that add amino acids, which (many growers know) are the building blocks of proteins. These are actually good things, but they come in such small amounts that if you are taking energy supplements for the amino acids, you might want to reconsider your choices.

Energy products also do some other things, like causing us to urinate more and increasing perspiration, which can lead to dehydration. Considering the increased heart rate and blood pressure, if someone is playing a sport and drinking energy drinks, it can create a perfect storm of cardiovascular and renal situations that can each lead to life-threatening events, like strokes and heart attacks—events that should not be happening to otherwise-healthy teens and twentysomethings. Unfortunately, they have been.

Even if you are not an athlete you can have some serious side effects from energy products. Consumption, especially in higher concentrations or on an empty stomach, can cause tremors and shakiness.

Even if you are not an athlete you can have some serious side effects from energy products. Consumption, especially in higher concentrations or on an empty stomach, can cause tremors and shakiness. As we have already learned, energy products cause dehydration. To people who are sensitive to caffeine, energy products can lead to insomnia (and the inevitable cycle of energy product consumption and sleep deprivation that will follow).

The scariest thing about energy drinks and supplements, according to most scientists, is that we do not know about the long-term repercussions of consuming them daily. Most researchers feel that it is likely that energy products increase the chances of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and possibly liver and kidney problems.

Since many people are beginning their use at a young age, they may have a lifetime of ingesting caffeine, sugar, and various herb and plant products (many of which increase metabolism or mimic the effects of caffeine) to affect the various functions of their bodies. However, since these energy drinks and supplements are relatively new, no one knows what exactly those effects will be.

Three scientists from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston and the University of Queensland, Australia, did a study recently to determine how much is known about the long term effects of energy products, and how much still needs to be studied. They looked at all of the scientific literature available regarding energy supplements, and their research led them to seriously question the safety and effectiveness of energy products.

Those three researchers, along with others who have looked into the subject following their study, found that the average energy drink contains the same caffeine as two to three cups of coffee, that there have been four deaths officially blamed on energy drinks, and five individual cases of seizures. There are also four reported cases of manic episodes among bipolar individuals blamed entirely on the effect of the energy drinks on the underlying disorder.

Nothing can replace a good night's sleep and healthy food to keep us going.

Most recently, energy supplements have been in the news because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating 13 deaths and 33 hospitalizations which may be linked to the consumption of 5-Hour Energy, an "energy shot," which contains 212mg of caffeine (according to Consumer Reports).

The company that makes 5-Hour Energy will not release their products’ estimated caffeine level, simply saying it is "about as much as a cup of coffee" in their commercials. Well, they are telling the truth, if a "cup of coffee" to you is a 16oz. grande from Starbucks. An eight ounce cup of coffee has about 100mg of caffeine, half that of 5-Hour Energy.

Because 5-Hour Energy is a "shot," all of that caffeine is consumed at once, whereas a cup of coffee, or even a canned energy drink, is consumed more slowly. Some scientists and doctors worry that drinkers of 5-Hour Energy are more prone to caffeine toxicity than drinkers of coffee, and even other energy drinks, though doctors don't recommend caffeine in any of its forms to give their patients energy.

Perhaps that is the moral of this tale. In this crazy, fast-paced world, it can be easy to take a supplement or drink something to keep your brain and body going, but we need to resist the urge to use this quick fix as an everyday solution. As someone who spent eight years working in retail (many of those as a manager) and now as a writer with deadlines, I can certainly relate to the need to wake up fast and stay awake. I have been guilty of sipping those macchiatos and downing those Red Bulls before and during work.

But at some point we all need to slow down. Nothing can replace a good night's sleep and healthy food to keep us going. Sometimes we can add supplements, like B Vitamins, Omega 3s, or trying things like Kombucha Tea (there is a great guide to making your own right here) to keep us going, but we should stick to replenishing things that naturally occur in our bodies to keep us healthy.

When working properly, the human body an extraordinary machine. We have the natural energy to live up to whatever our potential may be. We just have to keep our machine well oiled.

© Copyright RosebudMag.com, 2012



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Last modified on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 18:35

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