Did I almost die? A look at energy drinks from a survivor's perspective
The Infamous Four Loko
Insomnia in a can...
A few years ago, I was working third shift for my drug store job and felt the need for a boost. Working at 3 am has benefits but its main drawback is that while you are awake you look outside at the pitch darkness and notice everyone has gone to bed; your body likes to play a mind game that tells you to go to sleep. Well, if I had to make my paycheck at 3 am, my body would just have to wait until I got home and lay my head down at 12 noon to go to sleep. That's right; I fed my body a slow and steady flow of caffeine, sugar and that little known legal version of speed: all natural vitamin B12. As I kept working one fine night-slash-morning, I began to experience heavier and shorter breaths, and a pain in my chest that made me feel like my heart was beating fast. I was only 24 at the time and though it does happen to others my age, a heart attack seemed farfetched. I asked my supervisor who had recently at that point had a cardiac episode resulting in a stent put into one of his arteries. When I asked if this was a heart attacked he just chuckled, asking me: “How much coffee did you have?” The list I gave him explained it all: two large McDonald's Iced Coffees, two bottles of Chaser 5 hour energy shots, A Coca-Cola when I woke up, and a Mountain Dew on the drive to work. No food yet as of that moment.
Now before anyone reads this tells me that was the worst liquid diet ever, I should point out clearly that I am not alone. Full time college students have and will continue to surpass this caffeine and sugar intake for many years (some of them even adding harder, more illegal substances just for kicks). People in offices drink down cups of coffee in the morning and wash that down with a steady flow of sodas and maybe even energy drinks. All to fight what the 5 Hour energy commercials call “that 2:30 feeling”. It is a wonder that we don't get peeled off the ceiling at the end of our nine to five's. So what are the real dangers and if those exist, what should be done and should it be done?
America's love affair with caffeine, sugar, and energy enhancing vitamin drinks are taking the soft drink market by storm. Its proof can be verified by this writer’s retail experience: In just a year, the energy drink section of my store went from just a few shelves to an entire door of our drink cooler. Since that is not really documented I will let the history further prove my point: The earliest energy drink that was made for the sake of more energy was Gatorade (Matchar, E. 2009), debuting in 1965 by University of Florida Researcher J Robert Cade. This watery, almost flavorless source of hydration was developed to keep the Florida Gators football team from becoming dehydrated and collapsing on the field; these days the drink is enjoyed by anyone looking to wet their whistles from software engineers to construction workers. But the saving grace of the Florida Gators wasn’t really the beginning; many drinks would follow after, and most would argue that Coca-Cola was the first pick me up drink emerging in 1886, containing more than four times the caffeine of what can be bought today and one crucial, not so easy to digest ingredient: cocaine which was a legal substance until 1914 (Leepson, M. 1982). While Gatorade was made to keep the body from just losing hydration, while Coca Cola seems to give us the hydration and then some extra doses of caffeine.
It is a gulp of genius from a marketing standpoint, due to the addictive properties of caffeine (Keast, 2011) and its easy availability. You drink it, you get your pick me up, and since that can is only 12 ounces you’ll definitely be back for more out of that 12 pack case in the fridge. If you run out at home you’ll be making a shopping trip to get more. This cycle has kept the beverage markets making money for over a century, but we know this already. Are these companies really trying to sell us the bridge that you can sustain yourself on high fructose corn syrup with a splash of water? Coca cola recently began to give a new ad campaign on the side of a twelve pack box of the beverage to announce that their regular drinks can be hydrating, thus securing a percentage of people to continue to buy the product with no thought to swapping the caramel colored liquid for just plain water. Also, in the interest of keeping people aware of the caffeine content of Coke, the company also began posting its content of the substance on side of the can (Colas Come Clean on Caffeine, 2007). If you do decide to take the Coke and water challenge, don’t worry about the soda business taking a hit since most beverage companies now bottle water; the big picture is completely win, win.
The real issue is should we be asking the companies that produce energy drinks to include a warning about it products and its health effects to the general public? When one buys a beer or wine, you’ll get an eyeful of warning labels that will inform and take up space to let you know that drinking alcohol while driving or pregnant puts you and others at risk. Should we be reminded that Four Loko; a hybrid of energy and booze that not only can cause a car wreck and stillbirth, also can make us irritable, hyper and rob us of sleep? A single can of Four Loko contains “as much alcohol of five beers” (Aldhous, P, 2010, para. 1) and the drink makers did not shy away from the responsibility of letting consumers know that, however there wasn’t much thought to how much caffeine the drink contained. The “blackout in a can” drink carried so much risk that it was banned in 2010 (Aldhous, P. 2010). If we weren’t insulted enough my vague facts, many companies that make energy drinks tell us that most of their products have as much caffeine as a single cup of coffee (Carpenter, M 2010). Are these companies aware that a cup of coffee for most people isn’t that cup bought from Bed, Bath and Beyond; it’s the Grande from Starbucks?
The over consumption of caffeine is an unhealthy choice and every reliable health professional will tell you. Through what I’ve presented it is clear that the beverage and supplement industries are not about to give up their most profitable business: the business of keeping you awake with the sun and the moon. My argument is merely calling for the public to become more aware of the risks of over consuming energy enhancers. The commercials for 5 hour energy claim that their product is safe to consume daily. My still beating heart might not agree. Would it kill us to at least see one public service ad in a magazine or television telling us to take it easy on the java? I doubt highly that the beverage market would see a slump in sales. People have to be told things these days, especially when it comes to our health because if there is any country that needs that kind of guidance, this one does. Americans are always so worried about their health and yet know so little. It would behoove people to be aware of what caffeine does to your body aside from just keeping it awake. Perhaps some guide based on body weight that can tell us what a “safe level” of consumption; we have a level of blood/alcohol, so why not a blood/caffeine level.
On the other end, we could stand to use common sense and know our limits to caffeine. If all you can do at the end of a night is stare at your ceiling and count the cracks your Starbucks from earlier is still kicking your butt. When we first try alcoholic drinks, we become experimental in our quest to know “What’s my limit”. In fact, that’s become an ad campaign in Chicago as of this writing. Shouldn’t the same campaign be used towards our intake of Red Bull? We could save ourselves a lot of heartache if we knew where to stop or how many cans of Coke make us irritable. It’s a win-win, make the public aware and make up your own mind on what is safe without a faceless bureaucracy making it for us.
As for me, I will recognize from here on that my “2:30 feeling” isn’t a medical condition to be cured with a can of Monster; it’s a feeling I have because the work day is almost done and I am simply ready to get it finished. Perhaps I look at all this as an epiphany to quit pursuing my English/Management degree and look into an exciting career in cardiology. Because by the time I start working, my generation’s hearts may not be ticking so well after a lifetime of liquid candy.
Aldhous, P. (2010, December 17). Wide awake and legless' booze banned in US. New Scientist. (727), 'News' section. Retrieved from http://http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic/?
Carpenter, M. (2010, November 16). Coffee Brandy Escapes Energy Drinks' Troubles. New York Times. p. 20.
Colas Come Clean on Caffeine. (2007). Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, 25(3), 3. Retrieved from: http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=3&hid=8&sid=6dcb37f7-6bfd-41f2-a784f1f4305e1938%40sessionmgr14&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=24958689
Keast, R., Sayompark, D., Sacks, G., Swinburn, B., & Riddell, L. (2011). The influence of caffeine on energy content of sugar-sweetened beverages: 'the caffeine-calorie effect'. European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, 65(12), 1338-1344. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2011.123
Leepson, M. (1982). Cocaine: drug of the eighties. Editorial research reports 1982 (Vol. II). Washington, DC: CQ Press. Retrieved from http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre1982082700
Matchar, E. (2009). A BRIEF HISTORY OF: Energy Drinks. Outside, 34(1), 20. Retrieved From:
That 2:30 feeling, explained by an expert...
In a recent commercial released by the 5 Hour Energy Drink makers state that 73 percent of doctors would recommend the product to their patients. While that is a majority win, it is important to know that 73 percent in school is a C- grade. I don't think a C is a good score for anything you consume.
Do you want grade C meat?