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Quick fix may lead to poor health

By Kimoy Leon Sing

Minister of Health Dr Fuad Khan during a sod-turning function at the Eric Williams Sciences Complex (EWMSC), Mt Hope recently, raised the issue of the hazards of consuming energy drinks particularly when mixed with alcohol.

Khan said, "The use of energy drinks is very dangerous as there is a very high content of caffeine in a small volume."

He noted that the caffeine content in one energy drink was equivalent to ten cups of coffee.

"This high level of caffeine may bring about physical and psychological problems and dependencies to persons who constantly use these drinks," Khan said.

"Sometimes persons cannot function without having one or more of those drinks per day," he added.

The Health Minister noted that the high levels of sugar found in energy drinks can also lead to diabetes. Described as a global epidemic by the World Health Organisation, diabetes as a cause of death ranks third, after heart disease and cancer, in the world.

During the function Khan revealed plans to run a campaign that would be geared towards educating the population on the dangers of consuming energy drinks.

Despite the Health Minister's remarks, there may still be people who may not see the use of energy drinks as a cause for great concern, however, Dr Varma Deyalsingh says parents should be warned.

He said, "Caffeine is a stimulant. It is not meant for young children. You would not give coffee to a young child why would you give a child an energy drink that can have the same or even double the amount of caffeine in it."

"These energy drinks are cleverly packaged to look like soft drinks to appeal to youngsters. These energy drinks will be giving caffeine in a form where children and parents may think is acceptable but it is not. While energy drinks when consumed in moderation may assist some people who suffer with cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer's, it poses a greater threat to children and can be deadly for adults when mixed with alcohol," he added.

In an article published February 14 in the New York Times, countries like Denmark, Turkey and Uruguay have banned the sale of energy drinks while Norway prohibits sale to children under 15 years old.

A review from the University of Texas Health Science Centre in the US, noted that some of these energy drinks contained high levels of caffeine and warned that certain susceptible people risk dangerous, even life-threatening, effects on blood pressure, heart rate and brain function.

Dr Deyalsingh said, "Children differ from adults in that they are still developing mentally and emotionally and are more at risk to develop complications such as seizures, withdrawal symptoms that can lead to depression if they stop consuming the drink suddenly, increased heart rate and in some cases can cause irregular heart rhythm which can precipitate heart attacks in susceptible individuals."

The American Beverage Association (ABA) in a press release dated November 11, 2011 stated if you are enjoying coffee at the corner coffeehouse, you are getting about twice as much caffeine as you would from an energy drink. It's important to keep the caffeine content of energy drinks in perspective. Most mainstream energy drinks contain about half the caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee. Energy drinks typically contain 60-100 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce serving, whereas a similar size coffeehouse coffee generally contains 104-192 mg. The press release went on to state that energy drinks are non-alcoholic beverages that are specifically marketed with an energising effect and a unique combination of characterising ingredients. While their ingredients and labelling comply fully with all regulatory requirements, they are not intended for young consumers.

"Caffeine is known to cause addiction in adults and can exacerbate nervous conditions such as anxiety disorders and panic attacks. In Trinidad, vodka mixed with (a particular energy drink) is a popular drink consumed by many. I have heard some people claim the experience is similar to having coffee liqueur or drinking coffee after consuming wine. Alas it is not that simple," Deyalsingh said.

"There are two dangers from mixing these drinks. The first being it causes mixed signals in the nervous system. The alcohol depresses the nervous system while at the same time the energy drink stimulates the nervous system. This is an unnatural phenomenon and can lead to disorientation in some individuals. The second concern, some people use energy drinks so they would not feel intoxicated even though they are. This feeling of clarity can cause the individual to continue drinking alcohol going above his/her normal limit. The person is drunk but because of the combination of the energy drink and alcohol in their system may feel sober to drive which can lead to their or someone else untimely demise," he said.

The US Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr Margaret Hamburg recently issued a warning over alcoholic energy drinks in an article printed in the New York Times November 17, 2010 which said, the drinks appeared to pose a serious public health threat because the caffeine masked the effects of the alcohol, leading to 'a state of wide-awake drunk.' After a yearlong review found no conclusive evidence that the drinks were safe, she said, the FDA decided the caffeine in them was an illegal additive.

According to Dr Deyalsingh some athletes believe energy drinks will somehow help their performance. While the caffeine content in energy drinks may peak performance a bit, most energy drinks will dehydrate you. These drinks also increase the heart rate and if you are playing any sport that has you very active you could be putting yourself at risk for cardiac complications, he said.

"Energy drinks claim to boost energy and many people because of their hectic lifestyle consume them to help them get through the day. The contents in many of these drinks usually comprises caffeine, sugar, taurine, glucoronolactone, ginseng, guarana and green tea. Green tea, a natural stimulant by itself is not bad for the body when consumed in moderation however the additive properties in these drinks are the ones that cause the problems and need more testing to find out if there are any long-term effects on the body," he said.

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