With finals just around the corner, many students are feeling
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
“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