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DOES RED BULL REALLY GIVE YOU WIIINGS?: STUDYING THE BENEFITS/RISKS OF ENERGY DRINKS

By: Zachariah J. Ramsey

10/10/2008

red bull wings.jpg

(Red bull can with wings, n.d.)

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

Introduction

 

Supposed Benefits of Energy Drinks

Supposed Risks of Energy Drinks

 

Literature Review of Alleged Benefits of Energy Drinks

Literature Review of Alleged Harms of Energy Drinks

 

Conclusion

 

 

INTRODUCTION

Over the past few years, energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster, RockStar, and Cocaine have become so popular the question has changed from “Have you tried one?” to “Which one is your favorite?” Whether you are a teenage video gamer or a college student ready to party, energy drinks have become a trendy beverage to boost your energy and performance. The companies that produce these drinks fully recognize their target audience and cater to their specific wants and desires. One of the most popular brands of energy drinks remains Red Bull which claims to “improve performance, increase concentration and reaction speed, increase endurance, and stimulate metabolism” (Red Bull Benefits, n.d.). These alleged benefits of Red Bull and other energy drinks widely appeal to users who wish to increase their mental and physical performance for activities such as playing video games, participating in physical activities, staying energized while partying, or remaining alert while driving long distances. In general, energy drinks are marketed to those in need of more energy and that includes just about everyone! However, these popular energy drinks may be linked to adverse side effects that could negate the desirable effects listed above. Therefore, do Red Bull and other energy drinks really provide all of the benefits as promised by their manufacturers? And are the beverages correlated to any dangerous consequences that the public should be aware of?

 

 

SUPPOSED BENEFITS OF ENERGY DRINKS

 


Most energy drinks including Red Bull, Monster, RockStar, and Cocaine contain varying levels of carbonated water, sucrose, glucose, citric acid, natural and/or artificial flavors, taurine, Vitamin B, and caffeine among other components (Red Bull Ingredients, n.d.; Monster Energy Original, n.d.; Rockstar Energy Drink Ingredients, n.d.). Each manufacturer claims they have engineered a specific scientific formula to boost your energy and provide you with other great benefits like improved performance and increased stamina. However, these same websites that promote the benefits of their product fail to provide any data or evidence of how these beverages supply these benefits. Red Bull is the only one of these four drinks mentioned earlier that at least explains some of the functions of its ingredients such as taurine, glucuronolactone, and caffeine. The Red

 

 

 

 

energy-drinks.jpg

 

(Various energy drink cans, n.d.)


 

 

a bunch of energy drinks.bmp

 

(Energy drink collage, n.d.)

Bull website boasts that taurine, “a conditionally essential amino acid acts as an antioxidant and...[taurine along with glucuronolacton] promote detoxification by binding together with harmful substances and accelerating their excretion from the body” (Red Bull Ingredients, n.d.).

 

While it’s obvious that sites for Red Bull and other drinks list these benefits to encourage sales of their product, the companies should provide support for these claims. If a scientific formula concocted for these benefits exists, then experimental data should be available to the public where Red Bull or Monster scientists measured tangible effects that they claim on their websites. Monster.com states that “after months in the lab, we perfected” a new type of energy drink (Moster Khaos, n.d. ). Yet despite this laboratory work, no data exists on these popular websites to prove these energy drinks accomplish the benefits that they claim to do.


 

However, one benefit of energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster, RockStar, and Cocaine is hard to deny. Whenever someone drinks one of these beverages, that individual feels a rush of energy. The companies are aware that this is their main selling point and the advertising revolves around it. Red Bull’s many TV commercials wittily depict how “Red Bull gives you wiiings” while RockStar’s ads inform the viewer that the drink will “fuel your system.” Additionally, Cocaine energy drink named itself after a party drug known as a stimulant to attract young consumers falsely enamored by the drug culture and Hollywood party scene. All energy drinks aim to appeal to those in need of energy whether it is to stay alert at work or to stay awake all night partying.

 

cocaine-energy-drink.jpg

(Cocaine energy drink picture, n.d.)

So how do these energy drinks provide so much energy? Mainly by loading the drinks with huge amounts of caffeine, a stimulant that “increases the activity of the cardiovascular system and digestive system and provides a sense of alertness in the brain” (Shields, 2007). One website boldly claims “physical and mental advantages of caffeine outweigh the disadvantages” (Shields, 2007) but provides no factual evidence to support neither the benefits not the adverse effects. This is just one example of a website available to children and adults alike that promote the consumption of high levels of caffeine found in energy drinks. Other websites easily googled by people interested in the effects of caffeine reveal questionable claims and no citations about how caffeine “reduces drowsiness and fatigue in most individuals” (Badgett, 2008). The same website argues that “skeletal muscles increase the body's ability to perform physically exhausting work for longer periods of time” (Badgett, 2008).

 

These benefits added energy and improved performance are alluring to consumers looking for a beverage that can provide them with the energy to complete or prolong their day. However, many of the claims lack evidence, especially the manufacturers’ websites that do not provide evidence of their benefits. These websites exist to promote the beverage and the company’s sales but fail to convince the consumer that the beverage provides reliable benefits due to a special concoction of energy-producing ingredients.

 

 

SUPPOSED RISKS OF ENERGY DRINKS

 

Despite the support for the benefits of energy drinks on the world-wide web, equal concern exists regarding the supposed harms of caffeine in Red Bull, Monster, RockStar, and Cocaine. Each of these drinks contains high amounts of caffeine to give your body the energy boost you desire. A valuable comparison can be made by contrasting the amount of caffeine per fluid ounce of a soft drink (which is already high in caffeine) to a can of the four energy drinks we have been questioning. Below is a table with the amount of caffeine in each drink:

 

Drink

Caffeine (mg)

Volume (oz)

mg of Caffeine

per fluid oz

Coca-Cola Classic

35

12

2.88

Pepsi-Cola

38

12

3.17

Red Bull

80

8.3

9.64

Monster

160

16

10.00

Rockstar

160

16

10.00

Cocaine

280

8.4

33.33

(Caffeine Content of Drinks)

 

As you can see, a can of Coca-Cola Classic contains 35 milligrams of caffeine in 12 fluid ounces for a ratio of 2.88 mg/oz with similar numbers in Pepsi-Cola. The lowest ratio of the four energy drinks belonged to Red Bull at 9.64 mg/oz but was still more than three times the amount of caffeine per ounce in Coke; the largest was found in Cocaine at a horrifying ratio of 33.33 mg/oz which is eleven times greater than a caffeinated Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. This productive analysis of a comparison of soft drinks to energy drinks easily shows how the energy drinks filled with caffeine provide a boost of energy and why some are largely concerned with the related dangers of drinking them.

 

Due to the high caffeine content, some websites warn “to avoid these energy drinks at all costs” (Study shows, 2008). Similar websites caution users that the “magnitude of the effect [of energy drinks] is completely caffeine-dose dependent” (Boyles, 2006, p. 2) meaning that the high levels of caffeine that could endanger the consumer are also the sole reason why energy depleted individuals drink the beverages in the first place. These dangers have introduced new legislation in countries such as Norway, Denmark, and France banning Red Bull due to the uncertainty of the drink’s ingredients (Raging bull, 2006). This safety campaign was introduced after “Ross Cooney, a healthy, 18-year-old basketball player from Limerick, Ireland, collapsed on the court and died after drinking four cans of Red Bull before a basketball game [in 2000]” (Raging bull, 2006). While the connection between Red Bull and Cooney’s death remains inconclusive, it is clear that the general public including several European countries should worry about the hazardous effects of energy drinks such as Red Bull. Perhaps our own country needs to be concerned about the hazardous effects of energy drinks after “caffeine resulted in 4,600 calls to poison control centers nationwide” (Ellermann, 2008). In addition, “high caffeine energy drinks may be a gateway to drug abuse” (Thompson, 2008) after many college students use drinks like Red Bull and others as mixers with alcohol. This combination can raise the risk of alcohol-related injuries and possibly “increase the risk of abusing prescription stimulants such as amphetamines and methylphenidate” as well as “nonmedical prescription stimulant use” (Thompson, 2008). These international actions, alarming statistics, and possible drug implications associated with energy drinks on the World Wide Web warn consumers about the danger of drinking energy drinks. These websites do not directly gain from warning others about energy drinks but exist to deter consumers from drinking the beverages with dangerous amounts of caffeine in them.

 

Energy Drink pile.jpg

(Energy drink pile, n.d.)

 

 

LITERATURE REVEW OF ALLEGED BENEFITS OF ENERGY DRINKS

 

The alleged benefits of energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster, RockStar, and Cocaine include more energy; improved performance; increased concentration, reaction speed, and endurance; and stimulated metabolism. The ingredients found in most energy drinks of taurine, glucuronolacton, and caffeine supposedly provide the benefits listed above. Let’s examine each one to see what role it plays:

 

The Red Bull website claimed taurine acts as an antioxidant to inhibit harmful oxidative processes in the body. This assertion is supported by a 2001 study at the University of Michigan Medical Center as a team of researchers reported that “taurine depletion contributes to oxidative injury...and dietary taurine supplementation counteracts oxidative stress” (Obrosova et al., 2001, p. 216). In addition, a 2006 study defined taurine as a “calcium modulator, neurotransmitter, and osmolyte and has antihypertensive and antisympathetic actions” (Li et al., 2006, p. 670). Furthermore, a 2001 study used a double-blind cross-over design to determine the effects of Red Bull and concluded that the increase in energy “is an effect of the combination of taurine and caffeine and a combined effect at the level of the heart and the brain” (Baum and Weib, 2001, p. 80). Therefore, Red Bull seems to sell itself short only listing taurine as an antioxidant considering the other roles these researchers have assigned to it, but it would be helpful to link to these recent studies to provide evidence for their claims.

                     Taurine.gif                                Glucu.gif

                     Structure of Taurine                                   Structure of Glucuronolactone    

                         (Taurine, n.d.)                                             (Glucuronolactone, n.d.)

 

However, the evidence surrounding glucuronolactone isn’t nearly as strong. Mainly, three is a lack of data concerning the effects of the ingredient of energy drinks. One study reported that the “effect of glucuronolactone on biochemical and physiological processes has yet to be achieved. A detoxification of performance decreasing substrates of metabolism might be possible” (Geib et al., 1994, p. 46). Clearly, more research will be needed to determine whether glucuronolactone actually provides the benefits of a detoxification agent.

 

Finally, caffeine, the main stimulant in energy drinks, provides the boost of energy the consumers desperately seek in these beverages. As an antagonist, caffeine produces effects in the body by blocking the action of neurotransmitters or other drugs that act in the brain. Caffeine is “an antagonist that blocks the effects of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that normally inhibits the release of other transmitters that excite postsynaptic cells” (Straub, 2006). Adenosine binds to specific receptors on neurons and “causes drowsiness by slowing down nerve cell activity” (Bryant, 2000). Caffeine’s structure (shown below on left) resembles the structure of adenosine (below on right) and can therefore, bind to the specific receptors designed for adenosine. The binding of caffeine to the receptors effectively blocks adenosine from the nerve cells so instead of feeling drowsy, the person feels the reverse effect of stimulation of the central nervous system (Caffeine, n.d.). The neurons continue to fire in the brain causing the endocrine system to release adrenaline, which effects include “dilation of the pupils, increased heart rate and blood flow to muscles, and the muscles to tighten up” (Bryant, 2000), essentially the energy boost the consumer desires.

caffeine structure 2.gif                          Adenosine 2.jpg

                        Structure of Caffeine                                      Structure of Adenosine          

                             (Caffeine, n.d.)                                                (Adenosine, n.d.)

 

Therefore, “consumption of caffeinated beverages seems to prevent a decline in alertness and cognitive capacity” (McGee, 2007, p. 2). Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors to keep your body alert and awake while increasing muscle metabolism to allow energy materials to reach their destinations faster. Overall, one cannot deny the powerful effect of energy drinks due to high levels of caffeine in the drinks; however, we need to study the possible harms to fully understand the effects of energy drinks.

 

 

LITERATURE REVEW OF ALLEGED HARMS OF ENERGY DRINKS

 

Consumers worldwide who drink millions of energy drinks each year are largely unaware of the method the beverages use to supply extra energy. According to a recent article in Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week, “most consumers don’t realize that the ‘boost’ they're getting is from the high levels of caffeine and sugar these drinks contain” (Heart disease, 2008). This inherently proposes a danger to those consumers who may have heart problems or other health risks that can be aggravated by elevated levels of caffeine. NewsRx Health & Science reported that high levels of caffeine can induce “caffeine intoxication, a recognized clinical syndrome included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases” (Caffeine experts, 2008). An overload of caffeine from multiple energy drinks can be “marked by nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, gastrointestinal upset, tremors, rapid heartbeats (tachycardia), psychomotor agitation (restlessness and pacing) and in rare cases, death” (Caffeine experts, 2008). These serious side effects listed by the World Health Organization speak to the dangers of consuming energy drinks.

 

Yet despite these potential adverse health consequences, energy drink manufacturers do not have to list the amount of caffeine on their product. The Food and Drug Administration does not currently regulate the caffeine amount in energy drinks, which means companies can market energy drinks to the public without listing the amount of caffeine on the label or providing evidence of their effectiveness or safety (pg. 566, Dobrin, 2006, p. 566). The Red Bull label below does not include the amount of caffeine or a warning about the health risks of caffeine:

Red Bull label.gif

(Red bull label, n.d.)

Additionally, recent research has shown health risks to be related to consuming large amounts of caffeine like in an energy drink. In a study by the American Heart Association, “healthy participants who drank two energy drinks daily experienced blood pressure and heart rate increases” (Heart disease, 2008), and prolonged increases in blood pressure and heart rate can lead to more severe health problems such as coronary heart disease, heart failure, or stroke (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2007). Furthermore, “current evidence supports the conclusion that the blood pressure-elevating effects of dietary caffeine may be contributing appreciably to population levels of cardiovascular mortality and morbidity” (James, 2004, p. 63). This evidence from physicians and researchers show that the high levels of caffeine found in energy drinks can endanger the consumers who drink them. In addition, the producers of the energy drinks are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to limit the amount of caffeine in each serving of the beverages like how the government limits the amount of caffeine in soft drinks. These high levels of caffeine in energy drinks can endanger consumers especially children, who are often the target of the energy drink manufacturer’s advertisement campaigns. All consumers of energy drinks can be at risk of gastrointestinal pain, anxiety and agitation, rapid heartbeat, and insomnia, especially among people who aren't used to it” (Harding, 2008). Each individual can handle different amounts of caffeine similar to alcohol use; another parallel to alcohol are the symptoms of withdrawal when the user does not receive the daily dose of caffeine it has become accustomed to. “Although severity of caffeine withdrawal can vary, it can produce clinically significant functional behavioral impairment” (Evans & Griffiths, 1999, p. 285). Therefore, high levels of caffeine in energy drinks can lead to an addiction like status in the user’s body, forcing it into states of withdrawal where only the threshold amount of caffeine will supplant the symptoms and allow the individual to return to functioning regularly.

 

Other studies suggest possible fears of parents could come true regarding young consumers of energy drinks. A study from Johns Hopkins predicted that energy drinks are marketed to college students as performance enhancers and stimulants that “may put young people at risk for abusing even stronger stimulants such as the prescription drugs amphetamine and methylphenidate” (Caffeine experts, 2008). This research “significantly predicted subsequent non-medical prescription stimulant use, raising the concern that energy drinks might serve as "gateway" products to more serious drugs of abuse” (Caffeine experts, 2008). While this connection may not seem as clear as the researchers suggest, the warning is still clear that energy drinks could cause much more harm than the benefit of a temporary energy boost. If a student depends on energy drinks to stay awake to study or party, it could become tempting for individuals to use more severe drugs to receive more intense effects of these stimulants.

 

The literature is clear that the adverse effects of caffeine can far outweigh the benefit of an energy boost from an energy drink. Heart disease, hypertension, gastrointestinal pain, insomnia, and functional behavior impairment can all be correlated to increased levels of caffeine such as the amount present in energy drinks. These energy drinks should only be consumed in moderation to avoid these ill effects.

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

After reviewing both the possible benefits and harms of consuming energy drinks, the conclusion appears that these beverages are safe and productive if used in moderation. The occasional Red Bull, Monster, or RockStar will not significantly harm your body, and it will provide a burst of energy to get you through the day. However, it is recommended to not consume Cocaine energy drink due to the extremely high content of caffeine in a single serving of the drink. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration needs to gain regulation powers over the energy drink industry and require all products to be clearly labeled with a warning of the dangers of consuming large amounts of caffeine, a recommendation of a maximum number of cans to be consumed in a single day, and a nutrition label that shows how many milligrams of caffeine are in the drink. These three suggestions would raise the public’s awareness about the contents of energy drinks, specifically how much caffeine is in them, and would serve to help consumers consume energy drinks in a responsible way. Finally, drinking energy drinks in moderation is a sure way to temporarily boost your energy, but a better way to increase your daily energy is to change your lifestyle. To have more energy, a person should live healthily including but not limited to getting adequate rest each night, eating well, drinking water to stay hydrated, and exercising multiple times each week. Red Bull and other energy drinks may temporarily give you wiiings, but a healthy lifestyle will keep you in the sky for longer.

 

red bulls flying.jpg

(Red bull flying, n.d.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Badgett, R. (n.d.). Caffeine: Physical and Psychological Effects  (INeedCoffee.com). Retrieved Oct. 8, 2008, from http://www.ineedcoffee.com/02/caffeine/.

 

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Various energy drink cans. (n.d.). Retrieved Oct. 6, 2008, from www.selfhelpdaily.com/energy-drinks.jpg.

 

 

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