With finals just days away, many students will embark on a quest to stay awake and alert by turning to energy drinks. However, the recent increased media attention concerning the potential dangers these drinks pose may influence this decision.
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigated possible risks posed by Red Bull, 5-Hour Energy and Monster, but hasn’t come to the conclusion they pose a danger. However, in a recent agency letter, the FDA has disclosed it is looking to turn to outside experts for analysis of what risks higher concentrations of caffeine pose, especially to certain groups such as young adults.
Lauren Thomas, health educator for Health and Recreation Services said, “media buzz does create increased awareness.”
She believes most students are aware of the issues regarding concentrated energy drinks.
But this awareness doesn’t necessarily mean it’s influential to students’ decision making.
Chris Dant, a junior majoring in entrepreneurial management said, “When it comes to energy stuff, I feel like my body needs it so much it outweighs caring about what’s actually in it.”
Thomas’ foremost concern regarding energy drinks is that the FDA regulates energy drinks differently than food. Energy drinks are considered dietary supplements by the FDA and therefore do not need to meet the same regulatory standards as soft drinks which is where the concern lies.
Since the amount of caffeine in energy drinks is not regulated as it is in soft drinks, consequently there is a difference in what is required to be disclosed on nutrition labels of energy drinks, such as the ingredients and quantities.
According to Wellness Services, the recommended dose of caffeine is 200-300 mg daily which translates to about three 8 oz. cups of coffee.
Based on research by ConsumerReports.org, an independent magazine which reports on consumer products based on in-house testing, just one regular bottle of 5-Hour Energy contains 215 mg of caffeine.
The website also states, “It is important to note that the size of the packaging and the serving size is not always the same, and not all serving sizes are identical. This means that a 16-ounce energy drink that has an 8-ounce serving size will actually have twice the amount of caffeine, sugars, calories and other components than is listed on the nutrition label.”
According to the FDA, “‘energy drinks’ containing caffeine and other ingredients are a relatively new class of products. Although these products have the potential to raise safety or regulatory issues, there is a long history of safe use of other caffeine-containing products in the United States.”
For Thomas another issue stems from the fact these drinks also act as stimulants due to their high concentrations of caffeine.
“The threshold is different for every person,” Thomas said, “some people have what they call a higher tolerance to caffeine, so if you’ve introduced it, it has less of a stimulating effect.”
She said, “caffeine raises your heart rate; it can raise your blood pressure; it can cause that jittery feeling; it can raise anxiety.”
Thomas has seen students come to Wellness Services exhibiting such symptoms, and stated how students sometimes just don’t realize how much caffeine they are actually getting and that they may be caffeine dependent.
Dant admitted he is “used to having the extra energy and just isn’t as active without it.”
But even with potential side-effects, Thomas said, “it makes sense that people use it when they want that artificial energy boost.”
This is especially evident with students as “the nature of a student’s existence” is to be “deadline oriented,” and there is no denying energy drinks can be an easy way to keep one awake, Thomas said.
The issue with judging the danger of energy drinks lies in the fact, “Those kinds of items haven’t been on the market long enough,” the side effects are not yet fully known, Thomas said. “The only real time to know it is when it happens and then they go back and pull it from the shelf.”
As there is a definite culture of energy drink consumption among college students, “Our goal is to help, not just say don’t drink coffee, don’t use the energy drinks, but here’s an alternative that’s not only going to help you but me beneficial to your health in general,” she said.
The FDA, however, reveled results of a survey that suggest energy drinks constitute a small portion of the caffeine consumed in the U.S.
The agency stated that according to an August 2010 analysis of caffeine consumption, “The mean amount of caffeine consumed by the U.S. population is consistent with past FDA estimates…at approximately 300 milligrams per person per day (mg/p/d), despite the entry of ‘energy drinks’ into the market place.”
Thomas also doesn’t see an issue with the University providing energy drinks for sale on campus because the “goal in Health Promotion and here in Wellness is not to take things away from the students, but make sure they are educated.”
If students don’t find these products on campus, there are plenty of other places they can purchase them, she explained.
Although the FDA has yet to name a study that directly calls into question the safety of energy drinks, Thomas believes it is important for students to educate themselves on the issues.
She recommends students visit the website healthservices.boisestate.edu/everydayqa to submit their questions regarding natural ways to energize, reduce caffeine intake, or any other wellness related question.