You are advised to CONTROL YOUR INTAKE
The worry over the health implications of consuming too much of the energy drinks that have flooded the Nigerian market in recent years has been on the increase. Different schools of thought have proposed different verdicts on the likely effects of these drinks on human health. Are these stuffs wholesome? What are the health implications of taking them either now or in future? A close look at every available grocery, departmental store, pharmaceutical, chemist and consumer shop in Nigeria today shows that these products are everywhere and they command a large chunk of public appeal and patronage. The energy drinks market is attractive and thriving especially among youngsters, revellers, shift workers, yahoo devotees, professional athletes, etc. others who relish it are long distance drivers, chief executives, commercial sex workers, the hip-hop crowd and others who have suddenly discovered the new, fast cheap and trendy ways to enjoy their pastimes; to get a “lift” in their emotions and businesses.
Even most senior citizens intent on reliving their youthful days of old are also known to consume energy drinks. To please their partners and assert their capability in the game of love-making, sipping cans of the energizing drink has become a special attraction, a fashion!
Energy drinks are beverages which contain large dose of caffeine and other physical, emotional and locomotive stimulants such as ephedrine, B Vitamins and herbal ingredients, guarana (extract from the guarana plant), and various forms of ginseng, malt dextrin, inositol, carnitine, creatine glucuronolactone and gingko biloba. It is estimated that a can of energy drinks may contain as much as 80mg of caffeine, the equivalent of a cup of coffee. These drinks are widely consumed today by people irrespective of their age and health conditions. To students and undergraduate in universities across the country, access to these exotic drinks places one ahead of others, talking about being big boys on campus.
One school of thought believes that the drinks are not good for human consumptions especially for people with certain sicknesses such as diabetes or hypertension. It is also argued that the drinks, even though handy as energy boosters, may be harmful to people engaged in rigorous sporting activities as well as pregnant women and children. Furthermore, some others say that the drinks could be harmful when mixed with alcohol. Yet another school of thought has the opinion that the drink could be beneficial to the body when taken in moderation and when it is recommended.
But then, another group of experts call for caution. It insists on a stricter regulation, on the manufacture, importation, marketing and consumption of energy drinks. For instance, some recent studies have linked energy drinks as major cause of stroke, high blood pressure and miscarriages following the high content of caffeine and taurines (a type of amino acid) in some of the products.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. It is one of the most popular drugs in the world, consumed by up to 90% of people in one form or another, but mostly in form of beverages. It is a naturally occurring substance found in plant derivatives especially cocoa beans, tea leaves and kola nuts.
Caffeine’s strongest effects on the body manifest about an hour after taking any food that contains it. However, some others usually take 4 to 6 hours, studies have shown that caffeine causes increased neuron – firing in the brain which the pituitary gland perceives as an emergency and therefore causes the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. Caffeine also increases dopamine levels – the neurotransmitter that is affected by drugs like amphetamines and heroin. Obviously, it does this on a much reduced level from those drugs, but this may be the source of caffeine’s addictive quality.
While caffeine is mildly addictive, it has not been shown to have a direct link with any serious health risks. Still anyone who has been up all night after drinking too much coffee can confess that caffeine can alter a person’s mood and sleep pattern. Health experts agree that energy drinks are not conventional food, neither is they food supplements. It is therefore necessary to consider the health implications before consuming such products”.
WHAT DO NUTRITIONISTS SAYS?
Contrary to what is apparently a popular view, nutritionists advise that energy drinks should not be used while engaging in exercise as the combination of fluid loss from sweating and the diuretic quality of caffeine can leave the user severely dehydrated. Considering the propensity of individuals to respond to caffeine in varying degree, nutritionists say these drinks should be consumed with a lot of caution because of how powerful they are. Energy drinks stimulating properties can boost the heart rate, blood pressure (sometimes to the point of palpitations); but could reduce the chances of developing ovarian cancer, and like other stimulants, prevent sleep. But on the flipside it can increase the risk of unnecessary anxiety and constant passing of urine which might lead to dehydration and general weakness of the body.
Therefore, medical experts as well as producers of energy drinks themselves warn against excessive consumption of these drinks because, as they say, too much intake of energy drink is bad for the health.
However, some medical experts say that not all energy drinks are dangerous. They rather advise Nigerians to drink safely and in moderation.
Investigations reveal that some energy drinks that find their way into Nigerian Markets are not registered with the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and control, (NAFDAC), the government’s outfit statutorily empowered to regulate quality and standards of drugs, food and allied consumables. As such, ensuring standards and control of the consumption of the energy boosters may be a bit difficult.
Sources say some of these drinks are major causes of diseases due to the use colouring agents like tartrazine and preservatives such as potassium surbate (Ezone) in producing them. A number of studies have conclusively shown that food colouring agent and preservatives can cause changes in mood; they can also induce hyperactive behaviour and delinquency in children.
Growing societal acceptance
Energy drinks are canned or bottled beverages mostly sold in convenience stores, groceries, supermarkets, chemists, pharmacies, bar, top – flight hotels and nightclubs. They come in different brand names and have become the toast of most societal parties.
These drinks are now acquiring status symbols due to their high cost because it is only the rich that can afford them. In spite of the growing popularity of these energy drinks amongst Nigerians, very few are known to have actually taken time to look into the health implication s of consuming them excessively. It is now a question of joining the bandwagon; drinking along to belong!
The drinks may cause seizures in those who suffer from certain forms of epilepsy due to the crash following the energy “high” that occur after consumption. The “high” in this case compares to the hallucinative feelings associated with drugs. Some countries are known to have placed sanctions on some brands of energy drinks. For instance France banned the popular energy drink, Red Bull, after the death of eighteen year old athlete, Ross Coney, who died after he played a basketball game shortly after consuming four cans of the stuff.
The French Scientific Committee concluded that Red Bull has excessive amounts of caffeine. Denmark is also said to have banned that particular product. Britain also investigated that drink, but issued a warning against its use only by pregnant women. Energy drinks have several health concerns that drinkers should be aware of. Several deaths have been linked to heavy energy drink consumption. Many Nigerians are uninformed about the hazardous consequences involved in taking some of these uncertified energy drinks.
According to recent studies, an adult can consume up to 400mg per day without adverse health effects. Children and women of reproductive age should limit their consumption of caffeine to 300mg per day. Unhealthy doses of caffeine can lead to nervousness, irritability, anxiety, and tremulousness, muscle twitching (hyperplexia), insomnia, headaches, and respiratory alkalosis.
One popular usage of energy drinks is the combination with alcohol. When this is taken, the body suffers dehydration. Dehydration is one of the main contributors to hangover. Therefore, mixing both substances and consuming it increases the likelihood of hangover. Second, consumption of energy drinks obscures the body’s perception of fatigue which is the body’s way of indicating that it had too much. Consequently, the mixing of substances tends to increase the amount of alcohol consumed.
Many energy drinks lack health warning on their cans, over – consumption can be hazardous. Therefore, one must be cautious while drinking large amounts of energy drinks.
There are soft drinks advertised as being specifically designed to provide more energy than a typical drink. However, the amount of quantitative “energy” (as measured in calories) found in these drinks is often lower than that found in regular soft drinks.
ENERGY DRINKS: FROM THE BEGINNING
Recorded history shows that energy drinks may have come from Scotland in the form of Irn-Bru, first produced in the form of “Iron Brew” in 1901. Also in Japan, the energy drinks dates as far back as the early 1960s, with the release of the Lipovitan. Most of such products in Japan bear little resemblance to soft drinks, and are sold instead in small brown glass medicine bottles or cans styled to resemble such containers. These “genki drinks” which are also produced in South Korea, are marketed primarily to the salary man set.
In the UK, Locozade Energy was originally introduced in 1929 as a hospital drink for aiding the recovery of patients. In the early 1980s, it was promoted as an energy drink for replenishing lost energy” in 1995, Pepsi Co launched Josta, the first energy drink introduced by a major US beverage company.
In Europe, Energy drinks were pioneered by Dietrich mateschitz, an Austrian entrepreneur who developed Red Bull based on the Thai drink, Krating Daeng, itself based in Lipovitan. Red Bull was with a market share of approximately 47%.
By 2001, the US energy drinks market had grown to nearly 8 million per year in retail sales. Over the last 5years, it grew at an average of over 50% per year, totalling over $3billion in 2005. Diet energy drinks are growing at about nearly twice that rate within the category, as are 16-ounce sized energy drinks. It was estimated to hit nearly 4 billion in 2006, and both Goldman Sachs and Mintel Predict that the energy market will hit $10 billion by 2012. Major companies such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Molson and Labatt have tried to match small companies’ innovative and different approaches with marginal successes.
Energy drinks are also popular as mixers. These drinks are typically attractive to young people. Approximately 65% per cent of its drinkers are younger than 35 years old, with males making up approximately 65% of the market.
There is no scientific basis for concluding that the elements in energy drinks contribute to either short or long term mental alertness or physical performance. But the view that it guarantees a “high” feeling has, however, remained prevalent among most Nigerian consumers, thus prompting the high consumption level.
Since energy drinks are sold as stimulants, they usually parade exotic and attractive names that convey strength, power, speed and sexuality. The marketing strategy is to effectively capitalize on the glitz and glamour of outdoor advertising to achieve desired objectives.
In a not too recent report, one of Nigeria’s national dailies stated a fact sheet from NAFDAC’s Directorate of Registration and Regulatory Affairs indicated that 31 energy drinks were registered as non-alcoholic beverages between 1999 and 2007. Meanwhile, most of the drinks are known to carry inscriptions such as increasing libido, mental and physical alertness recharges your batteries, etc. however, claims by the paper are yet to get endorsement by NAFDAC.
Observers in the food and beverages sector have advocated increased regulations in the functional – food industry. Some of the energy drinks are feared to contain abnormal quantities of caffeine and taurine. The recommended level of caffeine and taurine for energy drinks are 0.23 per cent and 0.029 per cent respectively, but some contain 200mg of caffeine and taurine, that is about 0.2 per cent. NAFDAC has pleaded with Nigerians to furnish the Agency with information that will help check those energy drinks that are not registered.
EXPERTS OPINIONS ON ENERGY DRINKS
Authorities in different aspects of medicine, nutrition and pharmacy appear unanimous in advising that people should exercise great caution while consuming energy drinks. While cautioning that energy drinks should not be taken by women and children, a Lagos-based pharmacist, regrets that people take the stuff without caring to read information on the contents. She told Truhealth that most of the consumers are ignorant of the chemical and nutritional makeup of the drinks. According to her, energy drinks should be a no-go area for women and children considering the presence of caffeine that may portend serious danger to human health. It may be true that the drinks boost energy but for people on drugs, she explained, some psychological problems and stomach disorder may result because of the acidic content. ‘People should know what they are drinking. Energy drinks are not necessarily bad for you, but they shouldn’t be seen as natural alternatives either’. Picking holes in the claims that the drinks improve performance and concentration, she says: “If you think of them as highly caffeinated drinks, you will have a more accurate picture of what they are and how they affect you”. Speaking in the same vein, Anthony Akuegbo, a nutritionist with Neo Life Diamite International said human body like food supplements. He advised that consumers of such drinks should be mindful of the negative effects on their body, contending that the human body being an organic system does not necessarily require chemical and acidic substance as contained in drinks to thrive. But in a mood that rather conveys nonchalance, a wholesale dealer on energy drinks in Balogun Market, Lagos International Trade Fair Complex say whether energy drinks contain good or harmful substances, it does not concern the traders themselves but the government which, he reasons, ought to regulating every product available in the market. Whatever is available in the market, according to him, is automatically assumed to have been approved by the government and should not attract any form of suspicion among the traders. After all, the objective of being business is to make profit, he says.
One opinion that cannot be glossed over is that of homeopaths who have observed that indiscriminate consumption of energy drinks is injurious to people who suffer from high blood pleasure or heart related illnesses. They are advised to avoid energy drinks completely. Homeopaths argue that on the basis of the health concerns surrounding energy drinks brand has been banned or restricted in several European Countries including France and Denmark.
In the same vein, dieticians say that the world is today characterized by the demand for instant gratification from “fast” food and drinks that feature in today’s eateries. As such, the emergence of energy drinks, which feature as instant energizers, has become a special attraction for millions of people the world over who are falling for the vitality appeal to meet the demands of today’s daily “rush” lifestyle. Sportsmen and women are warned by experts not take energy drinks because they will test positive to steroids. Experts say better and healthier alternatives are available. People are also told to take energy drinks for the sake of energy drinks. One needs to be made aware. Such information as to the health implications of the drink is crucial and would go a long way in saving the lives of millions of people.
As part of the safety measure the government and regulatory agencies are advised to insist that producers of these drinks state clearly on the labels that they should not be consumed by pregnant women as they also affect the growth and development of the foetus in the womb.
The government is also called upon to ensure that children do not sell the drinks at open market to avoid indiscriminate use of the products. Mothers are also advised to desist from giving these energy drinks to their children.
In fact, they are warned to ensure that they read the nutritional content of any food product before allowing their children consume such product.
For a Medical Laboratory Scientists at the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Mr Ramiro Jide, “it should not be safe to consume them with alcohol as people have already doing.“The problem with many people is that they just want something to give them energy to go about their daily activities. But my advice to people is that, people should not over-drink it to avoid health problems”
On his own, the Medical Director, New Hope Hospital, Lagos, Bamidele Lawrence, said the companies producing these energy drinks should be held responsible for any adverse effects of these products on consumers.
Hear him: “there should be warming labels to allow drinkers know the dangers of consuming these drinks. What these companies do not tell you is that the drink that is so eagerly consumed has ingredients that can cause major health problems such as dehydration and worse cases.”
“They are no warning label to alert drinkers on this danger; there are no warnings of the damages that possibly could happen when mixed with medications or alcohol.” Lawrence, therefore, called on NAFDAC to step into the issue and ensure that companies producing these drinks are educated on the health implications on children and pregnant women.
The characteristic features of energy drinks are their sugar and caffeine content, “different brands have varying other content such as vitamins but the above stated are a feature of all energy drinks sugar are known sources of energy and they also have an appealing taste. Sugar is rapidly digested and absorbed into the body, thus providing ready energy.
Producers of energy drinks claim that not all the products are harmful. According to them, there are some that contain recommended daily ingredients like ginseng. They, however warn Nigerians to take energy drinks in moderation after reading the labels.
No doubt, some of the energy drinks are not safe based on the ingredients they contain. There is a certain limit that the human body can take. It is recommended that a blood test should be taken in six months after taking the stuff. If one consumes energy drinks which have high taurine and caffeine content one’s internal system will start breaking down. Medical Practitioners advise Nigerians to fully understand what they are drinking. They would rather prefer that they do not see energy drinks as natural alternatives. Studies have shown that some of the claims that the producers make especially regarding improved performance and concentration are, to say the least, misleading. The public is encouraged to think of them as highly caffeinated drinks and then could get a more accurate picture of what they are and how they affect the individual. When energy drinks are combined with alcohol, it carries a number of dangers. Experts say that since energy drinks are stimulants and alcohol a depressant, the effects when combined could be dangerous. The effects when combined could be dangerous.
The stimulant effects can mask how intoxicated one is and prevent one from realizing how much alcohol the individuals has consumed fatigue is one way the body normally tells someone it has had enough drinking.
Furthermore, the stimulant effect can give one the impression that he is not impaired. No matter how alert one feels, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the same as it would be without the energy drinks.
Also once the stimulant effect wears off; the depressant effect of the alcohol will remain and could cause vomiting or respiratory depression while asleep.
Both energy drinks and alcohol are very dehydrating as the caffeine in energy drinks is diuretic. Dehydration can hinder the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol and will increase the toxicity and, therefore, hangover the next day.
Nonetheless, caffeine is said to be beneficial when consumed in moderate quantities. Medical practitioners are of the opinion that it is a stimulant that improves physical and mental performance. Caffeine stimulates the heartbeat, leading to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, thus increasing the workload of the heart. The mechanism for this lies in its potential to constrict the blood vessel which may increase blood pressure and alter the blood flow to the heart. Healthy people who regularly indulge in ingestion of small amount of caffeine may not necessarily have any immediate health risk but people with a history of heart disease or hypertensions are advised to avoid these energy drinks.
It is generally agreed that there are potential side – effects of indiscriminate consumption of energy drinks especially among those at risk – that is those with a history of heart disease. Also consistent ingestion of high – energy drinks by people with risk factors for diabetes mellitus places them at a higher risk of developing the disease, the consensus therefore is that people suffering from diabetes should avoid energy drinks.
Short-term studies have shown that caffeine ingestion reduces the sensitivity of insulin, the hormone that helps dispose of glucose in the body, thus conferring a small risk of the development of type-2 diabetes – the commonly seen form of diabetes.
Though there are no data on the effects of energy drinks in Nigeria, there have been unconfirmed reports of deaths occurring in people using these drinks.
These deaths were noted in young people who took these drinks in conjunction with alcohol and also in the older people who had underlining heart conditions.
The problems posed by the usage of energy drinks are significant. People are advised to weigh the potential pros and cons before embarking on the ingestion. Despite claims to the contrary and what can be noticed on the cans, many of the energy drinks in Nigerian markets are not registered with NAFDAC .
This article was first published by Truhealth in 2008.