By Rachel Berman, RD Director of Nutrition at CalorieCount.com
Just as the new school year is getting underway and students everywhere are looking for a pick-me-up to stay focused in class, the NY State Attorney General announced his investigation of energy drinks and the safety of their caffeine levels. You might remember a couple of years ago when the USDA forced removal of products from the marketplace, such as Four Loko, which added caffeine to alcohol. They deemed it unsafe since caffeine masks the depressant qualities of alcohol and people who mix the two are more likely to binge drink, according to studies.
However, it seems like there’s a new product appearing every week touting its ability to keep you awake and energized. Energy drinks are a billion-dollar industry, the fastest growing segment of the beverage market, and they generally contain caffeine, other plant based supplements, simple sugars and additives to achieve their goal. According to the CDC, about one-third of teenage Americans consume energy drinks. But the problem is that the drinks are considered dietary supplements and therefore aren’t tightly regulated by the FDA like other foods and beverages. So can energy drinks be bad for your health?
Cap the caffeine
The caffeine content listed on energy drinks doesn’t usually exceed the recommended 400 mg per day for adult. However, if you’re downing more than one or mixing with coffee, soda, and other caffeinated beverages, you might be getting more than you need. The FDA recognizes caffeine as a drug and regulates the amount found in carbonated soft drinks, but not in energy drinks. Too much caffeine can cause increased heart beat, interrupted sleep, irritability, and nervousness. In addition, some studies have found that high caffeine content in energy drinks results in irregular heart beat and increased blood pressure.
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UPDATE 3/30/2011: I would like to apologize for the confusion. This article was incorrect because I misread the source. Colt 45 does not contain caffeine. However, many people are still concerned because of the fruity flavors and celebrity endorsements that the product has; they think that these factors will make it more marketable to underage drinkers.
When Four Loko hit the shelves last year, health advocates and parents were concerned about the dangerous side effects the alcoholic beverage posed for young adults. Four Loko and other caffeinated alcoholic beverages contained a possibly lethal combination of alcohol and caffeine, which could cause drinkers to have heart attacks or other negative health consequences; some deaths have even been contributed to alcohol abuse from these drinks. In late 2010, many of these drinks were banned from the shelves unless they altered their recipes.
Now, a new caffeinated alcoholic drink is hitting the market, and many are concerned that it will target underage drinkers. The drink is called Blast by Colt 45 and Snoop Dogg, a famous rapper, is promoting the drink, according to NYDailyNews.com. Blast is a fruity-flavored drink with flavors such as Pomegranate-Blueberry and Raspberry-Watermelon. Blast is sold in 23.5 ounce cans and contains 12 percent alcohol; this is comparable to the infamous Four Lokos.
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Despite their popularity among college campuses, caffeinated alcoholic beverages that contain a potentially lethal combination of caffeine and alcohol have been removed from the shelves in the U.S. following reports of students becoming dangerously drunk.
One beverage in particular is called Four Loko, a fruit-flavored energy drink that contains 12% alcohol, making it twice as strong as a regular beer, and one 23.5 oz (694ml) can contain as much caffeine as a tall Starbucks coffee.
Four Loko is one of a variety of similar drinks for sale in the U.S. and last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called on the top four producers in this category to remove the beverages from shelves this month.
Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, has said that evidence suggested that the mix of caffeine and alcohol posed a “public health concern.”
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