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Don’t open another energy drink without reading these health risks first

Don’t open another energy drink without reading these health risks first

Ship’s Serviceman Seaman Deion Johnson stacks beverages in the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) mess decks. Carl Vinson is pierside in its homeport of San Diego, Calif. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Fenaroli/Released)

By Tracy Fuga

With a case against Monster Energy Drink in the headlines for the death of a teenager and an urging from U.S. military health officials to limit consumption, it’s important to look at the dangers of the beverage many service members guzzle by the gallon.

U.S. military health officials are warning that chugging too many energy drinks can have harmful side effects. Energy drinks, both large and small, often become the beverage of choice for deployed service members as a means to stay awake during extra-long duty shifts.

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research analyzed data collected from more than 1,200 troops during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010 and found that nearly 45 percent of deployed service members consumed at least one energy drink daily. Nearly 14 percent reported drinking three or more per day.

There are real dangers to overusing energy drinks, from dehydration to death. Studies have shown that the extreme acidity and high caffeine content of products such as 5-hour Energy and Red Bull can also cause rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, vomiting, cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, headaches, insomnia and even death.

1. Caffeine can be a killer.

Energy drinks are loaded with caffeine. Service members should avoid consuming more than 200 milligrams of caffeine every four hours, said Patricia Deuster, professor and director of the Consortium for Health and Military Performance at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, in a U.S. Army press release.

Troops should add up the caffeine in their energy drinks, plus any other caffeinated beverages they may consume, such as coffee and soft drinks, she added. Energy drinks can contain as much as 505 mg of caffeine per serving (about nine times more than a 12-ounce cola and almost four times as much as the average 6-ounce cup of coffee).

2. Consumption overload becomes sugar crash.

Caffeine isn’t the only culprit though. These products are loaded with sugar, some cans contain up to 27 grams of sugar, nearly 70 percent of the recommended daily maximum for men and more than the maximum recommended for women.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping your intake of added sugars to less than 10 percent of your total daily calories. All of that extra sugar can cause blood-sugar levels to increase, but even the sugar-free versions of energy drinks can lead to weight gain, as research suggests artificial sweeteners may raise blood sugar as well.

3. Unregulated supplements lead to unknown results.

And while energy drinks have nutritional labels, they are not regulated as dietary supplements and many do not list supplement information. However, some energy drink companies do tout the ingredient taurine, claiming that it enhances mental and physical performance, something very appealing to hard-working service members. Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center report that little actually is known about taurine’s neuroendocrine effects.

“Doctors don’t know what the effects of (energy drink) ingredients are in larger doses,” Deuster noted. “I don’t think anybody has an answer to the long-term effects question.”

4. The highs and lows of an energy drink cocktail.

Health experts are also concerned about the penchant for young people to mix energy drinks with alcohol. A popular drink, Red Bull and vodka, is commonly ordered by those who have passed the legal drinking age.

A study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, found that people who use energy drinks as a mixer for were about six times more likely to suffer heart palpitations compared with those who drank alcohol straight or with a normal soft drink like soda or juice.

“A lot of the young people mix energy drinks with alcoholic beverages; then you’ve got a wide-awake drunk,” Deuster says.

The CDC warns that when alcoholic beverages are mixed with energy drinks, the caffeine can mask the effects of the alcohol, which is a depressant. Often, the person drinking doesn’t realize that they are drunk. Not to mention that people who mix alcohol with energy drinks are three times more likely to binge drink than those who don’t mix alcohol with energy drinks, according to the CDC.

5. No sleep for the weary.

There is also a problem in the military with energy drinks and sleep, according to Deuster. While service members may initially use energy drinks to make up for a lack of sleep as they’re working long hours, they can easily overuse the drinks, leading to a harmful cycle.

No amount of energy drink can help you be alert and effective the way being well-rested will. If you’re drinking energy drinks to stay awake and then sleeping badly as a result, you’re on a spiral that will only get worse and worse. You’re better off cutting back, or stopping altogether, before that happens.

“Lack of sleep can impact memory and a service member’s ability to pay attention when it matters most,” Army officials maintain. “Research indicates service members who drank three or more energy drinks each day also had difficulty staying awake during briefings or on guard duty.”

The benefits of energy drinks are overshadowed by all of the potential dangers. In addition to everything listed above, overconsumption can also lead to increased anxiety, type 2 diabetes, addiction, risky behavior, nervousness, vomiting, allergic reactions, niacin overdose and stress hormone release.

What are some alternative ways you use to stay awake or energized without drinking large amounts of caffeine?

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