Powering up; the dangers of energy drinks
Our nation of little monsters has never been more buzzed, blitzed and super-charged. With brands like Monster, Red Bull, Rockstar and Relentless offering the best in invigoratingly titled beverages, the good people of Blighty have never before been so helplessly engaged in caffeine fever nor so blissfully ignorant to the dangers of energy drinks.
But is all this buzz just a tip over the edge for a nation so hell bent on the legendary brew? The influx of the coffee shop in modern day Britain, largely influenced by our NYC fictional brothers and sisters in arms on the popular Channel 4 repeat favourite Friends, caused yet another boost to the UKֳ caffeine market as suddenly the Vanilla Latte took over from the Builder’s Tea in the mid 90ֳ. And now, more than 25 years after the first incarnation of the popularʼa title=”Red Bull” href=”http://www.redbull.com/uk/en” target=”_blank”>Red Bull hit the market more energy drink brands are stocked on supermarket shelves than most people could count in a decade.
With vibrant colours alluding to the glow stick culture of rave and acid, brands likeʼa title=”Monster Energy” href=”https://www.monsterenergy.com/gb/en/” target=”_blank”>Monster andʼa title=”Rockstar Energy” href=”http://gb.rockstarenergy.com/” target=”_blank”>Rockstar play on the perceived dangerousness of the products in a tactical sweep of marketing brilliance. After all, you wouldn’t likely market Horlicks in this fashion. Embedding within the user the hope that by consuming such products, they themselves will become larger than life characters capable of anything, energy drink companies rarely transmit the real details of the effects of their beverages. The irony being that more often than not the end result is a sort of child-like giddiness more akin to a 4 year old child after a packet of Fizz Wizz (if you donִ know what that is, you must be really young).
There are many arguments for and against the use of caffeine in the modern day diet and naturally, those late night essays could not be completed without some form of caffeinated beverage. Yet, hereֳ a shocker – the average energy drink in the UK actually contains less caffeine than a coffee.
So, if this is the case, whatֳ all the commotion about? After all, coffee has been utilised for centuries.
In the same way that the alcopop demonised high alcohol content beverages in the 90ֳ and 2000ֳ, the energy drink has become synonymous with buzzed up teenagers and gamers on caffeine highs. Still, itֳ not exactly the same as binging on Hooch and waking up in Mexico is it?
The energy drink has seen a huge surge in popularity due to ease of use, taste and of course, the seemingly instant buzz. The trick that caused the alcopop so much success was the fact that due to its exceptionally high sugar content and lack of alcoholic taste, those without a prior taste for vodka could easily swig down and get tanked up for cheap. Itֳ a bit like your mum sticking broccoli in your curry Рmasking something perceived as bad tasting in something that is easy to swallow. And so, energy drinks apply the same social science to caffeine, rebranding the ancient buzz in a fluorescent LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME can.
The First Buzz
Originating in Japan in the 60ֳ, the high pressure world of energy drinks was designed to cater for an emerging business market of open-all-hours white collar workers and the pressures of the growing digital age.
The scene really changed however when Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz formulated a beverage based on the Thai energy drink Krating Daeng. Having discovered the product in 1982, the Austrian business man joined forces with the original beverageֳ creator Chaleo Yoovidhya and the two marketed the high caffeine drink to the European market in 1987.
Red Bull˨ad been born.
The success of theʼa title=”Red Bull” href=”http://www.redbull.com/uk/en” target=”_blank”>Red Bull brand is down to high impact marketing and the perception of being extreme. The slogan өt gives you wingsӠis the perfect allusion to this marketed perception of extreme energy increases. With snappy taglines and fingers in seemingly every possible market, the brand has escaped the clutches of the Eastern market to become a globally recognised trademark. Sadly, it would take some users flying too close to the sun before the dangers of energy drinks were really established.
From F1 motor racing to music festivals,ʼa title=”Red Bull” href=”http://www.redbull.com/uk/en” target=”_blank”>Red Bull has infected the realm of extreme culture and infiltrated the lives of the young gun slingers that gulp the concoction on a daily basis.
But itֳ not all wing suits and high adrenaline sport that the brand attacks. Lucrative contracts and world class marketing have allowed Red Bull to cross over unto less obvious athletes such as triathlete Jan Kubҿek and ultramarathon runner Christian Schiester amongst the Sebastian Vettels and Shaun Whites of this world.
According to the 2013 UK Soft Drinks Report the number of energy drinks sold in the UK has risen from 235 million litres to a staggering 475 million from 2006 Р2012 with energy drinks accounting for nearly triple the amount of isotonic sports drinks such as Powerade, Lucozade and Gatorade with men being responsible for three times the consumption than that of women.
Red Bullˡndʼa title=”Monster Energy” href=”https://www.monsterenergy.com/gb/en/” target=”_blank”>Monster battle for the top spot accounting for 43% and 39% of the market respectively withʼa title=”Rockstar Energy” href=”http://gb.rockstarenergy.com/” target=”_blank”>Rockstar taking 10% and various other brands battling for the remaining 8% of the market share.
As can be seen, these products are being guzzled in their droves, but what is it that makes them such a health scare?
As the primary ingredient in all energy drinks, caffeine takes the top spot of concern when it comes to the dangers of energy drinks. Though as previously stated, the caffeine content of most drinks per volume is substantially lower than traditional counterparts such as coffee and tea. Yet it is the combination of the ingredient with horrifically large amounts of sugar, over sized cans and easy drinkability that makes the the dangers of energy drinks so prevalent.
Though it seems that most real issues with caffeinated beverages and serious conditions such as cardiac arrest and palpitations can be blamed on consuming these products in large volume, it could be argued that the high sugar content of these beverages and the addictive properties which coincide with such a large volume of sugar make the drink highly palatable Рsometimes endlessly so. Could they be then seen as addictive?
Such are the dangers of energy drinks that fatalities pop up the world over. In 2007 a 28-year-old Australian suffered cardiac arrest after gulping eight cans Рthatֳ 640mg of caffeine, over three times an adultֳ RDA. But was it the caffeine that killed him or the sugar? Or both? This is just one of the many hundreds of similar reports that clutter the internet.
Alex Morris, a 19 year old native of Maryland U.S.A was another victim of theʼa title=”Monster Energy” href=”https://www.monsterenergy.com/gb/en/” target=”_blank”>Monster craze when he went into cardiac arrest after consuming two of the drinks a day for three years and dying in 2013.
But can the companies be held responsible for over consumption? This is the is McDonald’s responsible for obesity? debate all over again.
Sugar – Letֳ do some mathsɼ/strong>
A 500ml can of Monster contains a whopping 54grams of sugar Рthatֳ about 12 teaspoons – and 160mg of caffeine (though the average is said to be 180mg) per 500ml can and though that may not be nearly the amount of a Starbucks Grande Americano at 330mg per 500ml, how often would you put 12 teaspoons of sugar in that and down it in one? Hopefully, never.
And? What does that mean?
Caffeine and sugar are both in themselves stimulants though only sugar is an essential nutrient for human survival – unless youֲe Tweek from South Park. The two combined can however form a deadly cocktail when blended together in high doses. Take for example, the analogy of the chocolate bar. For years, scientists have tried to decipher what is wrong with chocolate. Is it the sugar content that is fattening or the fat? Well, simply, it is both. Sugar and fat are not necessarily fattening things, but when combined together in high doses they pose a problem. They are calorie dense, highly moreish and spike the blood sugar.
A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down…..
Caffeine affects the body by inhibiting a chemical known as adenosine, the molecule that causes us to feel tired, from entering the brain. Simply, when the chemical is blocked, the body no longer feels the same level of exhaustion than before. Instead of dopamine being produced by the brain to slow it down and create a pleasurable, relaxing effect, energy drinks cause a surge in adrenaline which speeds up the heart rate and causes one to be more alert. Messages from the brain travel quicker, thoughts speed up and muscle contractions appear to be greater. The body goes into hyper drive and the Imperial Destroyer’s are left in the (star) dust.
Sugar on the other hand, activates sweet taste receptors in the mouth which when processed in the cerebral cortex of the brain activate the reward system and cause dopamine to be released. The pleasure chemical has a similar effect as when drugs such as alcohol or even heroin are used as the over activate pleasure system causes an increase in cravings and increased tolerance for the ‘drug’. And so, the amount one needs to feel buzzed increases and one can of Red Bull turns into six.
Mix the exhaustion masking, highly addictive effects of caffeine with the equally highly addictive properties of sugar and what do you have? An appetite for destruction.
But, I go sugar free.
A common alternative to high sugar energy drinks is aspartame laced diet drinks such as Monster Absolute Zero and Red Bull Sugar Free and though these contain little to no calories and zero amounts of sugar, aspartame and other sugar substitutes work in exactly the same way chemically in the brain – just without the calories. Plus, aspartame et al have been linked to all sorts of horrible ailments such as cancer, diabetes, mood disorders and vision problems. Though it may be calorie free it is by no means danger free or even addiction free. At least with sugar, one knows that it is a natural ingredient (mostly). Highly addictive and problematic but natural at least. Aspartame on the other hand is a manmade chemical that has been manipulated and experimented on and medical science is still unsure of its long term effects. The devil you know is surely better than the one you donִ.
In manageable doses, black coffee without all the junk of syrups and frothy milk has been known to actually be good for you. It raises the metabolism allowing you to burn more fat, can assist in lowering diabetes and is loaded with antioxidants such as potassium and a number of B vitamins. Sure,ʼa title=”Monster Energy” href=”https://www.monsterenergy.com/gb/en/” target=”_blank”>Monster is laced with amino-acids and ginseng but they are simply additives carefully selected to make the drink seem more like a health drink and less like a killer. Go natural and go sustainable. Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade offer the best coffee for the consumer, the environment and the producer.
Green Tea has been used for centuries in ancient cultures in the Far East and has many properties that allow the use of the term superfood to be brandished. And we hate that term. The magical elixir has been known as a thermogenic (helps the body burn fat), lowers risks of cancer, lowers the risk of diabetes and if all that wasnִ enough, it makes your breath smell better! With a small amount of caffeine and high water content, Green Tea is often touted as a great refreshing energy drink that has zero calories, zero additives and zero rubbish. Just donִ drink it on an empty stomach – you will thank us later.
Fatigue fighting awesomeness reigns supreme in healthy grains such as oats, quinoa and bulgar but for those needing a sudden burst, chia seeds are a great fast acting energy source. With a healthy injection of protein, omega 3 fats and antioxidants, chia seeds have long been touted as the number one fuel for runners and at only 137 calories per 1 ounce serving, you֤ be far better chowing down on these than a high sugar energy drink any day of the week.
Crazy to think but alas, it is true – the human body is over 60% water. Most of the time when one feels sluggish and tired one is merely struggling from the effects of too little water. And what do we then do? Load up on sugar and caffeine when the simplest, cheapest and most calorie free alternative is the clear stuff we bath in. Getting enough H2O couldn’t be easier as PhysioRoom.com stocks a whole host of water carrying aids such as the Ultimate Performance Windemere range of hydration bags.
Nothing, repeat, nothing good comes in a can. Beer tastes better by the bottle, soup no doubt tastes a thousand times better homemade and as for those chickens, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that they’re no good for you. Our advice? Keep hydrated, keep fed and keep away from the cans. Your heart, your mind and your liver can thank us later. As can you (pun most definitely intended).