Energy drinks and finals

May 052004
Authors: Erin Skarda

With finals just around the corner, many students are feeling

the pressure.

Late-night study sessions and less sleep can drive students to

reach for energy drinks to gain a quick boost. But health officials

are concerned this is not the best way to stay alert.

These drinks, which burst onto the U.S. market with the

introduction of Red Bull in 1997, have gained much popularity among

teenagers and college students. They contain large doses of

caffeine and other stimulants such as guarana seed extract,

ginseng, taurine, which is naturally found in some foods, and other

vitamins and minerals.

These drinks can contain up to 80 milligrams of caffeine, which

is equivalent to one cup of coffee. This is an increase from the

amount found in other carbonated beverages such as Mountain Dew,

which contains 37 milligrams, and Coca-Cola that has 23 milligrams,

according to a Brown University health education report.

Conor Neary, a senior mechanical engineering major, said he

consumes about one Red Bull a day, usually within an hour of waking


“They keep me alert when I only sleep around six hours a night,

especially around this time of the semester,” Neary said.

Dawn Clifford, a registered dietician for nutrition services at

Hartshorn Health Service, said while many students drink these

beverages to help them study or party, there are better ways to

boost energy.

“Definitely exercise or physical activity like talking a walk

are better,” Clifford said. “Increasing the blood flow to the brain

helps to stay focused and get energy. Getting enough sleep, staying

well-fueled with food and drinking plenty of water also help.”

Clifford was hesitant to classify these drinks as bad or good

because they are not all the same.

While individuals react to the caffeine amounts in these drinks

differently, she said they should be consumed less often.

“These energy drinks have lots of calories and sugar,” she said.

“I would categorize them as being consumed less often just because

of the empty calories. Sometimes they contain vitamins and minerals

but it would be better to drink water and take a


Carole Diamond, a family nurse practitioner at the health

center, said these drinks could cause health problems for some


“The energy drinks are high in caffeine and very stimulating,”

Diamond said. “In excess this can be bad for high blood pressure.

In high amounts this can cause problems for those people.”

Clifford said these drinks could also be bad for pregnant women

or people with heart irregularities, since the combination of

ginseng and caffeine can cause the heart to race. Another risk of

consuming these beverages is dehydration.

“Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it makes you urinate a

lot,” Clifford said. “You can become dehydrated from caffeine if

you don’t consume enough water.”

Since the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate these

drinks, Diamond said it is difficult to know the ingredients and

amounts contained in the beverages, which can be dangerous.

“By themselves these ingredients could be dangerous, not just

the mixture,” Diamond said. “They can just throw things in. How

much? Where are they getting the ingredients? Even if it’s an

American product it may be cheaper to find ingredients in other


Young people have also been mixing these drinks with alcohol to

help them party longer. While Clifford said she did not think it

was necessarily dangerous.

“Whenever a new product is released it takes a long time until

scientific evidence can prove anything,” she said. “As far as being

mixed with alcohol, it’s really unknown at this time. I caution

people not to do anything we don’t know about the safety. You’re

drinking at your own risk.”

Neary said he has mixed alcohol with energy drinks but does not

notice any effect.

“You get pretty drunk. I don’t really notice the energy effects

as much. The depressants in alcohol seem to overshadow the

stimulants,” he said.

Clifford recommends students get enough sleep and use good time

management skills during finals week to ensure they do not get

overrun with stress. She advised students against being dependent

on these drinks as a main energy source.

“It’s really not that dangerous for young bodies like ours,” she

said. “It’s not that bad for short periods of time but on a regular

basis it can be hard on the body to rely on chemical


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