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Energy Drinks:  True Energy or a Misconception?

By: Elaine Stone

Unlike Gatorade and other sports drinks that replenish minerals and water lost due to exercise, “energy drinks” with caffeine, guarana and/or ephedrine actually work to dehydrate you.

The combination of dehydration and exercise can be a dangerous combination.

“High school and college athletes are increasingly consuming large quantities of caffeine-loaded drinks to either boost athletic performance or lose weight,” said a dozen health experts at the SUNY Youth Sports Institute's first national symposium on energy drinks.

“Athletes consuming large amounts of energy drinks could suffer from dehydration, tremors, heat stroke and heart attacks,” the experts warned. Instead, experts suggest that teen and adolescent athletes should drink water while training and playing, especially during hot and humid summer months.

Eric Small, of the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, recalled treating a 17-year-old female runner suffering from chest pains and fatigue. “She collapsed at the finish line of one race and was rushed to an emergency room. Turns out she liked to skip breakfast in favor of drinking two or three cans of Red Bull each morning,” Small said. “More youngsters are substituting protein bars and shakes for real food.  They think being lighter and eating less and drinking less will improve performance," Small added.

Kate Zanot, a coach at Harrison High School in Westchester County, N.Y., said many students don't know the difference between energy drinks, such as Red Bull and sports drinks, such as Gatorade.  They often consume the drinks interchangeably.




Activity and productivity are indelible traits of modern society. Keeping up, getting ahead, moving forward, and one-upmanship are ingrained in contemporary thinking. America is a progressive society. Life “in the states” is physically demanding. While some cultures favor afternoon siestas to revive, America’s choice tends to be a “caffeine pick-me-up!”  Coffee, tea, and sodas have long provided Americans with that extra boost. Morning, afternoon, and night, caffeine is depended upon to keep the U.S. energized.


Recently, our culture has added a new caffeine drink to the list; Energy drinks. Adults,

college students, teens, and children alike are using “energy drinks” to boost vigor and performance. The problem is, there are no restrictions on these drinks and their contents can produce very unhealthy consequences. They are marketed in an astonishingly attractive manner and many consumers have not truly considered what is being ingested. With names like “Rock-Star”, “Amp”, “Red Bull”, “Monster”, “Full Throttle”, “Pit Bull”, “Stoked,” and many others, the younger generation has largely embraced the caffeine buzz delivered in epic proportions. Unfortunately, these drinks do live up to advertizing. Ads promising to "give you wings," "make you fire on all cylinders" and "thunder through your workouts" with "radical energy in liquid form" come to fruition as consumers receive an instant “jolt!” Comics refer to theses drinks as “liquid crack” and teens say the drinks “send them off the walls.” The boost from a cup of mojo at the local Starbucks is one tenth (up to one fourteenth) the jolt of these drinks targeted at adolescents/teens.


“The market for these high energy beverages looks to be exceeding 10 Billion dollars by the year 2010 in the USA alone.” (, accessed July 2010). These drinks are major business. Each year, the number consumed increases by multiples. About half of teens and college age students admit to consuming in this wide spread practice. For many, consumption is a daily practice.


A new advertisement dated June 27, 2010, listed 15 Video Game Themed Energy Drinks and claimed; “Why be a geek with diminishing energy? Try these energy drinks. Some contain caffeine, some have an insane price tag, some are limited edition ones, but ultimately they simply make you jump up with energy and strike a familiar chord to the gamer in you. Experience the ultimate gaming taste!” ( blog/2010/06/27/video-game-energy-drinks/#ixzz0spVbvFoG).


caffeine_side_effectsThese drinks include “Pac-Man”, “Sonic the Hedgehog”, “Halo 3”, “Ghostbusters”, “Streetfighter”, “Super Mario Bros.,” etc. Companies are using every popular theme connections to entice the younger crowd into consuming these unhealthy concoctions. These drinks have now been on the market over ten years. Increasing levels of caffeine are not regulated by the FDA. The Food and Drug Administration regulates the caffeine content in soft drinks, but not in energy drinks. Pressed to explain the appeal of energy drinks, a 24-year-old spokesman for the buzzed generation said: "It's Starbucks for kids. With the tons of caffeine they put into these things, it gives you a little legal form of speed." (,2933,226223,00.html)


The concerns of excessive caffeine intake include health risks, addictive qualities, and tolerance build up. Over time, more caffeine is required to reach the desired effect creating an environment for caffeine intoxication marked by nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, gastrointestinal upset, tremors, rapid heartbeats (tachycardia), psychomotor agitation (restlessness and pacing) and in rare cases, death, as reported in a 2008 Johns Hopkins article calling for Warning labels on Energy Drinks. (

"Is coffee harmless for young people, as a Red Bull website claims?" Dr. Wilkie Wilson, a professor of pharmacology at Duke University Medical Center says, "At a minimum, we know it causes anxiety and disrupts sleep. It's a powerful stimulant. Is it appropriate for kids to be anxious and sleepless?” Wilson cautions that there is "very little research" about the health effects of caffeine, ephedrine and similar stimulants on young people. "I have a lot of concerns because the brain is still growing," he says. "The human brain is wiring itself up to around age 21. Anything like this can affect a growing brain." (

Nutritionists’ concerns not only center on the high caffeine content but also the sugar. The rise and fall of caffeine and sugar in the body causes an unhealthy jolt-and-crash cycle.  The unpleasant “low” feelings, “Caffeine Hangover”, experienced when the high is gone gives incentive to cravings. The sweet appealing taste of specialty coffees and energy drinks keeps kids coming back for more, adding more sugar calories to an already overweight generation.

Labeling and additives cause even more issues and concerns. Non-regulation leaves the consumer lacking a true understanding of the product. One example; Carol Ann Rinzler, author of "Nutrition for Dummies," examined the labels of the top three energy drinks. "The labels simply don't deliver all the facts," she said. "For example, while all list caffeine as an ingredient, they also list guarana, a caffeine source, as a separate ingredient.” (,2933,226223,00.html,)

Doctors, School Nurses, Emergency Room Personnel, 911 responders, Poison Control Operators and more, are being trained to ask about energy drink consumption and to be alerted to Caffeine Intoxication. Health issues related to Energy Drinks are showing up all across the nation. This is only the beginning; people are now mixing alcohol with energy drinks causing even greater and graver concerns among professionals.


Elaine Stone, mother of three, lives in Spotsylvania.  Write: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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Pouches Visits the Past


If Pouches' experience at History Camp is any indication, your son or daughter will enjoy joining Washington Heritage Museums and the George Washington Foundation for History Camp in Fredericksburg. The week-long day camp will be held June 25-29, from 9:00 a.m. to noon each day.

Young historians discover American history with hands-on experiences as they walk in the footsteps where the history of Fredericksburg, and a budding America, was created. The camp complements the history taught in classrooms with activities such as soap making, code breaking, colonial crafts, penmanship and much more.