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College hostel, the night before an exam. Everyone has a book in one hand, and either coffee or some sort of energy drink in the other. The later it gets, the greater the number of guys with the latter. It started with Red Bull, but now there are too many different brands to keep track of. One thing is certain, though, they all contain large amounts of caffeine and sugar, and new research links energy drinks to, among other things, seizures, diabetes and cardiac abnormalities.
Caffeine is the main ingredient across energy drink brands. According to the FDA, the recommended daily limit for caffeine intake is about 100-200mg, approximately equal to two moderate size cups of coffee. However, anything above 600mg is too much. It’s important to know that the main component of guarana, a common ingredient in energy drinks, is caffeine. Guarana contains twice the amount of caffeine as compared to coffee. So a drink might have more caffeine than the ingredient label discloses.
A report from the Department of Paediatrics and Paediatric Integrative Medicine Program, University of Miami, pointed out that energy drinks frequently contain large and unregulated amounts of caffeine. The same report pointed out that these drinks have been associated with a large number of adverse side effects, especially in children, adolescents and young adults. Of the 5448 caffeine overdoses in the US in 2007, 46% were of individuals under nineteen years old.
The problem may not yet be as severe in India, but with increasing standards of living, the popularity of these drinks is definitely on the rise. This is obvious if you look at the number of energy drinks available in the market today, compared to a decade ago.
The other ingredient of concern in energy drinks is sugar. An article in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, pointed out that while several ingredients like guarana, ginseng and taurine may be harmless in the quantities used, the amount of caffeine and sugar present is known to cause adverse side-effects. The photo of the ingredients list of a 350ml can of Red Bull on Amazon says that it has 112mg of caffeine and 11gm of sugars (that’s more than two teaspoons of sugar right there). Although, in Red Bull’s defence, the can clearly warns people not to drink more than one a day.
The report from the University of Miami mentioned earlier concludes that, “Energy drinks have no therapeutic benefit, and many ingredients are understudied and not regulated”. The known and unknown pharmacology of agents included in such drinks, combined with reports of toxicity, raises concern for potentially serious adverse effects in association with energy-drink use.”
I think that, given the growing popularity of energy drinks in India, the Food Safety and Standards Authority should commission a detailed study into the ingredients used in them, and their potential side effects. But till then, considering the information I have, I’m pretty sure I’ll be sticking to freshly brewed black coffee for my caffeine fix, no added sugar either!