By ANDREW SOULSBY
Our society’s addiction to speed and energy is increasing with each passing day. The desire to access and spread information and network and socialize with
friends instantly requires not only our tools be able to perform at such speeds, but our bodies and minds too.
Energy drinks, such as Rockstar, Monster and Red Bull, are among the most popular brands of energy drinks, but are relative newcomers to a market which has seen an explosion in popularity over the past 10 years despite first being introduced to consumers in 1985.
Jolt Cola was the first energized drink introduced to the United States in both name and product with its slogan, “All the sugar and twice the caffeine.” According to their website, “JOLT helped fuel the early growth of the technology industry and quickly became the beverage of choice among Internet users, virtual reality enthusiasts, gamers and computer industry employees.”
As smartphones, or pocket-sized computers, become more prevalent within our society, with sales said to have surpassed that of personal computers in 2011, it’s no coincidence that last year’s energy drinks sales reached $6.9 billion, or a 15.7 per cent increase over 2010 according to a SymphonyIRI Group study which calculated sales throughout the U.S.
Since Jolt’s introduction, energy drinks have evolved into what are now known as “natural health products” in Canada, as the drinks themselves have evolved into more than just highly caffeinated drinks, but also include an energy-inducing mixture of herbs and vitamins such as ginseng and vitamin B12.
“I’ve never prescribed an energy drink to anybody,” said Dr. Laura Stix, a naturopathic doctor in Guelph with six years of experience in the field.
“My main issue with them is they’re stimulating the body, which is fine, but the actual components of what’s in an energy drink is more concerning.”
Stix said the herbs and vitamins found in energy drinks don’t concern her, such as ginseng which has been used for centuries, but rather the additives manufacturers use for colouring, preserving or flavouring.
“What’s a red flag for me are the additives, so for example, natural flavouring,” she said.
“There are no regulations that any of the companies producing natural flavouring in any product are required to disclose (the ingredients),” she said, citing a case in which two of her patients suffered from allergic reactions to a naturally flavoured product.
She did, however, acknowledge people use energy drinks for different reasons, but said the root of the issue remains the same.
“More often than not, it’s to get that stimulation, especially in our society now where everyone’s tired and exhausted and needs that extra kick,” she said.
Simon Mitchell, a 24-year-old security guard, falls into this category. He watches over construction sites throughout Waterloo for back-to-back 12-hour shifts.
“There gets to be a certain point in the middle of the night when your whole job is to stay awake,” said Mitchell.
“You can’t stay awake very long unless you take something to boost you up,” he said.
Stix said she isn’t concerned by the occasional boost energy drinks provide, but rather when they are used long-term.
“I wouldn’t be averse to having a person, like a student, say, ‘You know what? I need this for that last little push,’ because the reality is that’s what students are doing,” she said.
“It’s short-term, it’s a temporary fix to stimulate themselves, so I wouldn’t be concerned with somebody in that situation but if someone is drinking these things all the time because they need this energy, then that needs to be addressed because that is not a healthy solution.”
According to Mitchell, he would have at least one energy drink per night during his shifts throughout the week. He described the feeling of coming up, or the boost of the energy drink’s effects, as being warm, however, as the popular saying goes, what goes up must come down.
“The thing with energy drinks is,” Mitchell said, “you feel more tired than you did before you had it to begin with. Once you start coming down after it, you’re just exhausted.”
Stix said there is one ingredient in energy drinks responsible for the notorious crash associated with their use.
“When you’re getting this high and then low, what I’m thinking is what the sugar content is of these drinks,” she said while further explaining the relationship the ingredients have with one another.
B vitamins, she said, essentially run every function in your body while the caffeine stimulates receptors which make you want to move and increases your cognitive function. Then the body processes the sugar into insulin which then feeds the cells of your body with glucose.
When the body’s glucose stores are burned through, Stix said this is when the user experiences the crash.
Manufacturers aware of the problems associated with diets high in sugar have met consumer needs by producing energy drinks free of sugar, often replacing it with aspartame.
“If someone is drinking an aspartame energy drink, then that is a health issue,” said Stix.
“Aspartame was never intended to enter the food supply, ever, but now it’s in thousands of products and one of its byproducts in the body is formaldehyde which is a neurotoxin and can contribute to so many problems,” she said, adding, “Energy drinks with aspartame must be off the market …please don’t drink them.”
For Tyler McDermott, a first-year computer programming and analyst student at Conestoga College, heeding Stix’s advice won’t be a problem.
“I don’t drink energy drinks,” he said. “I don’t need to; I wake up and have a tea.”
He said despite their claims of being a natural health product, they aren’t healthy because of their “super high levels of caffeine which can’t be healthy and they don’t recommend drinking more than one per day … I can take more Tylenol than I can one of those (energy drinks).”