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Energy Drinks: My Very Own Stimulus Package

The only stimulus package I’m ever going to get is in my morning cup of coffee, or on the rare occasion, an afternoon energy drink.

My first choice is Sugar-Free Red Bull. And, since about four billion cans were reportedly sold worldwide in 2006, it’s the choice of most other energy beverage drinkers as well. Generally speaking, best way to keep your energy levels at peak levels is a sensible diet and a regular fitness regimen. But we all have days where life gets the better of us.

The main stimulating ingredients in Red Bull are caffeine and taurine. In its natural form, taurine is derived from animal tissue. At first it was isolated from bull bile, which makes it clear why the name “Red Bull” was chosen. But don’t worry, the taurine used in Red Bull is produced synthetically.

Taurine is an amino acid. Some studies suggest that it may improve athletic and mental performance, especially in conjunction with caffeine. However, these findings are not universally accepted.

So are energy drinks dangerous? Each needs to be examined on their own merits, but as for Red Bull, there is no evidence that moderate consumption is dangerous for your health. I’d have to assume there could be exceptions, like people with heart conditions. But if you’re a healthy person, and don’t plan on binge drinking, you’re probably fine.

The same goes if you mix it with alcohol. Moderation is key in almost everything in life. And that is especially true in alcoholic drinks.

There was a study published in 2007 that claimed that students who mixed energy drinks and alcohol were more likely to be injured than those who just drank regular alcoholic drinks. But it’s not about overdosing as much as it is about the misconception that the subjects are alert (because of the stimulants), when they are just as drunk as anyone else with the same amount of drinks.

“Students whose motor skills, visual reaction times, and judgment are impaired by alcohol may not perceive that they are intoxicated as readily when they’re also ingesting a stimulant,” said Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien, lead researcher and associate professor of emergency medicine and public health sciences at Wake Forest University. “Only the symptoms of drunkenness are reduced – but not the drunkenness. They can’t tell if they’re drunk; they can’t tell if someone else is drunk. So they get hurt, or they hurt someone else.”

Again, the moral of the story is moderation.

February 10th, 2009

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