Energy Drink Risks May Jolt New Prohibition

Christos Liardakis


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Finals coming up? Reaching the deadline for that project that’s been held off until the last minute? These thoughts are always running through students’ heads and for everyone the answer to the problem is the same thing, “stock up on energy drinks and get ready for a long night… or nights.” This may all change because on Thursday Jan. 17 Alderman Ed Burke of the 14th ward proposed a ban on the distribution, consumption or furnishing of energy drinks. If caught, the fine can range from $100 to $500.

Alderman Ed Burke came into office in 1969 and still is. He was most famous for his ordinance to ban smoking in public areas in Chicago, making it mandatory to spay pets, regulating fatty restaurant foods and holding a hearing with Jerry Springer to determine whether the violence on his show was real or fake and if it was acceptable. Burke is also known for being the first alderman to be put under scrutiny for ghost-pay rolling, the practice of putting people on city payroll under a position that doesn’t exist, or has no duties.

The current issue at hand is energy drinks. With recent incidents of people overdosing and going into caffeine intoxication, the FDA has received four reports of energy drink related deaths. Besides the four deaths, multiple people and children have been reporting to the emergency rooms for caffeine intoxication caused by energy drinks. The sudden influx of energy drink related hospitalizations has prompted Alderman Burke to gain support for an energy drink ban.

The FDA does not consider caffeine to be a nutrient, according to the FDA “it is a natural chemical found in such items as tea leaves, coffee beans and cacao.” As a result, energy drink corporations are not required to list the amount of caffeine they have in their products, so smudging the numbers is a non-issue. The key to energy drinks, besides the high amounts of caffeine is that they also include multiple other known energy supplements. Guarana, panax ginseng, and L- Tyrosine are some of the most common energy supplements which are known for providing energy or being used to create energy within the body. The problem is that all of these put together slowly compound to a huge energy boost.

The greatest problem caused by energy drinks is caffeine intoxication. This is caused by caffeine directly over-stimulating the central nervous system (CNS) made up of the spinal cord and brain, where caffeine typically does its job of getting people wired. This can lead to ventricular fibrillation; this means the heart muscles quiver as opposed to properly contracting. This arrhythmia can lead to the heart stopping completely and death due to lack of circulation, also known as sudden cardiac death (SCD).

Continuous overdosing without going to the extreme of death though, can also slowly lead to skeletal muscle break down (Rhabdomyolysis). This is exactly what it sounds like, the weakening of muscles due to muscle tissue break down.

If the muscles get swollen there can be other problems such as the blocking of arteries and veins leading to shock from lack of circulation and even kidney malfunctioning. As K. Steven Whiting, Ph.D., of Phoenix Nutritionals in San Diego explains, “One, it targets the central nervous system directly. Two, it can lead to dehydration and loss of water-soluble nutrients that have a calming effect on the central nervous system. This combined effect can cause agitation and sleep problems and potentially lead to the development of long-term anxiety issues.”

The most important thing to avoid with energy drinks is alcohol. Most people know about mixing Red Bull with vodka. While most individuals think it prevents intoxication, it actually does the opposite. The caffeine increases the absorption of alcohol into the body, but on the other hand it also energizes the drinker, making them feel like they are just fine. This can lead to alcohol intoxication much quicker since the alcohol is still in the person’s system, they just don’t realize it due to the caffeine keeping the CNS active.

Caffeine is just as imbedded in the American culture as alcohol, candy and fast food. None of the aforementioned foods are initially bad for anyone, but if people eat a lot of sugar or candy, they are putting themselves at risk of diabetes.

A recent study on energy drinks by Dr. Sara Seifert found that “Results of human and animal studies have suggested that long-term taurine exposure may cause hypoglycemia but a decreased risk of coronary heart disease. In animal experiments, taurine also has shown anticonvulsive and epileptogenic properties. High doses of caffeine may exacerbate cardiac conditions for which stimulants are contraindicated. Of particular concern are ion channelopathies and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most prevalent genetic cardiomyopathy in children and young adults, because of the risk of hypertension, syncope, arrhythmias, and sudden death.” What this means is that energy drinks may be beneficial for people; but they can also have multiple adverse effects, especially if the consumers have pre-existing conditions or are very young such as in early adolescence.

If people eat too many fatty foods they put themselves at risk of cholesterol and heart problems. Likewise with caffeine, a cup of coffee in the morning is no big deal. One energy drink on a bad day will not kill anyone. Everything is all about moderation; the same idea applies to energy drinks, especially because of their high caffeine and energy supplement contents. Alderman Burke’s proposal assumes that people cannot assert self-control and will not use energy drinks in moderation. Regulation or prohibition of energy drinks is another step towards the complete removal of personal responsibility via governmental regulation.