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‘Energy’ drinks: how safe are they?

There has recently been an increase in the consumption of ‘energy’ drinks containing caffeine. Years back, drinks refered to as energy drinks were glucose-based and generally consideed more healthy. Energy drinks are drinks designed to increase stamina and improve physical performance. Some energy drinks are even designed especially for elite athletes, but most are produced and marketed for the general community.

According to a food specialist, there are only three definitely effective ingredients found in sports drinks and the ingredients include a combination of methylxanthines (containing caffeine), B vitamins and herbal ingredients. Others are guarana (extracts from the guarana plant) or taurine among other forms of ginseng, maltodextrin, inositol, carnitine, creatine, glucuronolactone and ginkgobiloba.

These drinks mostly come in cans and are sold almost everywhere in the country. They are well packaged with appealing exteriors while their marketers have continued to advertise that they provide more and quick energy, but some experts point that Nigerians should be very careful about such products.

They are generally marketed as stimulants which are aimed at gingering the users to action. Apart from sportsmen and women who patronise them to enhance performance, students have also discovered in the drinks, ready stimulants to stay awake especially at night, inpreparation for examinations.

Experts say not enough is currently known about energy drinks and their effect on health and well-being. The producers of energy drinks make many claims about the health effects of their products.

They say that their products can increase physical endurance, improve reaction time, boost mental alertness and concentration, increase overall well-being, stimulate metabolism, improve stamina and help eliminate waste from the body.

The drinks are also marketed as healthy, fun and youthful, and many children, young people and adults are taken in by the excitement created around them, believing these claims to be true. However, the evidence shows that it may be wise to be cautious in our consumption of energy drinks.

Caffeine, taurine and glucuronolactone occur naturally in the body, but the fact that they are present in much higher doses in energy drinks may be cause for concern. Scientists say that caffeine can have an effect on the growing brain and that it may cause a decline in the body’s immune system.

For now, health authorities have determined that energy drinks are generally safe for consumption, with some caution. Studies show that while energy drinks may be scientifically safe, young people especially, need to be aware of their contents. Research also shows that children and young people who consume energy drinks may suffer sleep problems, bed-wetting and anxiety. Children who consume two or more cans of energy drinks a day may become irritable and anxious.

Some out of a number of those who take energy drinks have this to say:

For Fred Adu who sells office equipment, he says “I have been taking energy drinks for over eight months now, I actually started with a brand and then switched to another one because I was not satisfied with the energy needs, then I discovered that the one I changed to keeps me awake when there is need for it and the experience I had from it is that the drinks could be addictive”.

Seyi Samuel, a student says “my friends introduced the drink to me and since then I have really been addicted to it”.

Tina says she takes energy drinks whenever she wants to attend an all-night, and when I sleep and wake up I feel strong.

A medical practitioner in Lagos, who spoke on condition of anonymity, complained that the open license given to importers of the drinks was tantamount to killing the country instalmentally. According to him, a nation where the citizens are beset by one health problem or the other as a result of consumption of harmful drinks cannot be said to be raising a healthy generation. The drinks, in the long run would be doing an incalculable damage to the nation.

Children and pregnant women should not take energy drinks because they are loaded with caffeine. High amount of caffeine can cause nervous breakdown and shoot up the blood pressure.

Although these drinks are not alcoholic in nature, they have their own kind of adverse effects. They are called energy drinks and what that means is that they can energise the users with the help of substances in them.

Even athletes misuse energy drinks before competition to help them gain an added edge. This can become a dangerous habit if your drink of choice contains a lot of sodium, sugar and caffeine, as these ingredients will affect the body as it tries to replenish itself with electrolytes that are lost during an intense workout.

In fact, caffeine can have a diuretic and dehydrating effect on an athlete, when they desperately require water. Energy drinks are not very beneficial for athletes.

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