Students should drink energy drinks at own risk

Claire Kruesel

In a University of Ohio study, 68 to 74 percent of undergraduate college students reported the use of dietary supplements.

Even if you don’t take any supplements that come in pill form, you may still be a supplement user. Energy drinks can contain many ingredients that are also considered supplements and are available on the shelves of health food and nutrition stores.

For example, the amino acid taurine, guarana, panax ginseng and B vitamins are all found in Monster energy drink.

According to a 2007 study by Malinauskas, 51 percent of college students consume at least two energy drinks per month while school is in session. Insufficient sleep was the main reason identified for energy drink usage (67 percent), followed by desire to elevate energy (65 percent) and as a companion to alcohol (54 percent).

This is consistent with the University of Ohio study, which reported that desire for increased energy was the most common reason for supplement usage.

Caffeine, a major ingredient in most energy drinks, is widely used to increase perceived energy.

“Caffeine is classified as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system by increasing heart rate and causing an individual to be feel more alert,” said Nancy Clark, nutrition and health specialist at Iowa State. “Too much caffeine can cause anxiety, dizziness, headaches and can interfere with normal sleep.”

Jen Mallicoat, an employee at the West Side Market in the Union Drive Community Center, said that she considers energy drinks to be unhealthy for students.

She estimated that three of every eight customers purchase an energy drink, “probably to stay awake through their homework.”

“I’m not really happy about selling that much of it,” Mallicoat said. “It’s bad for their hearts.”

According to a 2005 study, Americans consume an average of 179 milligrams of caffeine every day. The United States Department of Agriculture defines an average eight-ounce cup of coffee as containing 95 milligrams of caffeine.

This is what a shot of 5-Hour Energy Drink claims to contain per bottle. However, 5-Hour Energy was independently tested by Consumer Labs and found to deliver 207 milligrams of caffeine.

West Side Market carries two varieties of 5-Hour Energy, and the Kum & Go on Welch Avenue carries about 16, including high- and low-caffeine versions.

A 24-ounce can of Monster energy drink contains about 240 milligrams of caffeine. RJ Green, Kum & Go employee, recommended Monster’s Import energy drink, which has a special tab that slides so the can may be closed and saved for later.

Brandon Joshua, sophomore in interdisciplinary studies, indicated that he doesn’t usually consume an entire energy drink at one time.

“I just kind of like to have it there and sip on it,” Joshua said.

There is a hard-to-define line between supplements, energy drinks and naturally caffeinated beverages such as tea and coffee. This is reflected in the fact that the Food and Drug Administration regulates supplements.

While tea and coffee contain the drug caffeine, they are considered food items since they are traditionally consumed as beverages and their caffeine content occurs naturally.

Energy drinks, while also consumed as beverages, differ from tea and coffee in that they were concocted in a lab. All the caffeine in a can of Monster energy drink has been added artificially, along with sugars, flavorings, colorings and other ingredients such as preservatives, carbonation or B vitamins.

Some students see energy drinks more as beverages than as energy supplements. Seth Harvey, junior in sociology, purchased a 22-ounce bottle of fruit punch Nos energy drink at West Side Market on Friday.

He said he buys it for the flavor and if a noncaffeinated beverage with the same taste existed, he would purchase it.

When it comes to energy drinks, perhaps the classification of “supplement” or “beverage” comes down to the intention of the user.

The term “functional beverage” has been coined to describe beverages with a specific function, such as energy drinks. Joshua said he uses energy drinks for studying and writing papers.

He also said he has read the labels on energy drinks.

“I’ve looked at them a couple times,” he said. “[They have] guarine and taurine. I know what I’m getting myself into.”

For students looking for an energy kick who are sensitive to caffeine or may wish to avoid energy drinks, there are alternatives.

Clark encouraged “healthier beverage choices, such as low-fat milk and 100 percent fruit juice. Even plain water is a better choice [than energy drinks] for most individuals.”

Regardless of the beverages or supplements you may choose to enhance your experience as a college student, be sure to read labels, follow guidelines and pay close attention to how your body feels.