Health Center staff: “Avoid energy drinks”

Published by adviser, Author: James Meyer - Assistant Campus Life Editor, Date: February 2, 2012

Whether it’s staying out and partying on a school night or cramming for that final exam, the all-nighter is a longstanding tradition of college culture.

While coffee and snacks may have been the traditional staples of theall-nighter in previous generations, the mid-90s saw a rise in the marketing of energy drinks. Red Bull can be seen marketed alongside soda or used as a mixer in bars. Some entrepreneurs bypassed the need for mixing with the sale of alcoholic energy drinks such as Four Loko.

Some health care professionals warn that these energy drinks can have some serious side effects.

Gregory Ferguson, a registered nurse at the Student Health Center, said that energy drinks are not likely to cause fatal problems, but can cause heart palpitations.

“The energy drinks, they’re not good for you,” Ferguson said. “The 5-Hour Energy shots, the Red Bull, you need to stay away from. Some of the stuff they mix in with it is not really regulated.”

Michelle Apple, a dietician at AVI Food Systems, confirmed that a problem with energy drinks is how quickly they are pushed into the market without proper FDA regulation.

One of the drinks that came under fire by Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board was the alcoholic energy drink FourLoko. The drink’s high caffeine and high alcohol content has earned it such nicknames as “blackout in a can” and “cocaine in a can.”

Dr. Chris Cubero, a substance abuse counselor at the Counseling Center, said, “Pennsylvania has banned the actual stimulant active ingredients out of Four Loko. Four Loko is still sold in the stores but it no longer has the energy drink part of it in there, because they were running into students just drinking too many of them.”

Cubero added, “Alcohol’s a depressant, and when you mix it with a stimulant, a person will not feel as drunk. So they will continue to drink and they’ll have higher levels of alcohol in their system, because a stimulant is somewhat counteracting.”

Cubero said that all stimulants have the potential to be dangerous, amphetamines being the most dangerous, but some energy drinks on the market are less harmful than others.

“It’s my understanding that the 5-Hour Energy drinks are simply like a loaded vitamin cocktail and not so much caffeine related or stimulants,” he said. “The active ingredients are vitamins.”

While 5-Hour Energy does contain caffeine, it advertises as containing no more caffeine than the average cup of coffee.

Another common advertisement of energy drinks is the ingredient guarana, which is commonly seen as a more natural alternative to caffeine.

“Guarana is a natural form of caffeine,” Cubero said. “It’s essentially caffeine with another name, and some brands will use that almost as a cover, but essentially it’s caffeine.”

As for safe alternatives to maintaining energy for all night cramming, Dr. Cubero said that the best alternative is to avoid cramming at all.

“In working with students, it’s about time management, so that you may not have to rely on cramming so much,” he said. “It’s helping students sleep so that their energy is more uniform because they have good sleep. It’s really more about a kind of lifestyle change that can help people balance what they need to do as a student and perform without too much stress.”

Four Loko seems to be a commonly-named culprit among those concerned for the health of students. Renee Bateman, the coordinator for health promotion at the Student Health Center, said that caffeine is fine in moderation but can cause heart problems when mixed with alcohol.

“Four Loko made it really popular,” Bateman said. “They were cheap and there was a lot of alcohol, but there was caffeine in it. It may cause a lot of heart problems as well as making the effects of alcohol more extreme.”

Bateman said that another problem is that students often do not know what their drink contains.

“When I talk to students, I realize that they don’t know how many shots are in a Long Island iced tea,” she said. “They need to know how much they’re drinking. Same thing with Four Loko. We didn’t even know how much caffeine was in it.”

Bateman also said that there is really no substitute for a good night’s sleep.

“We try to get education out about sleep patterns,” she said. “It’s better to take a ten-minute nap, let yourself sleep, rejuvenate yourself. It’s best to prioritize. If you’re really that exhausted because you’re trying to study, it’s not like you’re going to absorb anything. It’s better to just go to sleep, get the rest, and get up and try to get everything done that you need to get done.”


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