Energy drinks may lead to long-term health problems

Energy drinks can cause nervousness, anxiety and increase blood pressure said nutrition instructor Jill Englett.

by Life Editor Ann Harkey

Energy drinks have become the fastest-growing beverage product in the United States with an estimated $744 million spent annually on the drinks, according to research by Mandy Rath, BSN, for the University of Mary.

But with this popularity of sales among college students, the effects of using the caffeine-loaded drinks can be dangerous both in the short and long term.

“(Energy drinks) are basically high doses of caffeine or herbal substances that mimic their effects,” said Jill Goode Englett, UNA instructor of food and nutrition. “Even without excessive overuse, they can cause heart palpitations, agitation and restlessness.”

Many energy drinks include an amino acid called tyramine, which can increase blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to kidney disease or heart problems, she said.

“In a lot of college cases, you normally don’t see high blood pressure, but with the obesity problem, this can cause arrhythmia and hospitalization,” she said.

Englett said students often see problems with energy drinks when they mix the drinks with alcohol.

“The energy drinks coat the sedative effects of the alcohol,” she said. “This leads to students thinking they are good to drive.”

High dosages of caffeine can even lead to psychotic episodes in people who are suffering from manic disorders, Englett said.  

According to the research, the lethal dose of caffeine has been described as 5 to 10 grams in healthy adults. The lethal dose may be lower for those who suffer heart problems or seizure disorders.

The symptoms of a caffeine overdose include nervousness, insomnia, GI upset, tremors, rapid heartbeat and psychomotor agitations, Englett said.

While using energy drinks can lead to health problems if overused, there are some benefits associated with moderate consumption, which is estimated at less than 300 mg, according to the research.

Energy drinks can enhance performance, boost mental alertness, improve endurance, enhance metabolism and improve reaction time, according to the research.

Some students, however, prefer coffee to get their energy.

 Mattie Lewis, UNA student, said she drinks coffee “throughout the day.”

Others students avoid energy drinks.

“Energy drinks don’t have an affect on me,” said Leah Franks, UNA student. “I don’t really like the taste of them.”