Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dr. Oz Speaks Up About Energy Drinks

I have never been a big fan of caffeine. I don't drink coffee. I very rarely drink tea. I stopped drinking soda years ago. For this reason I am extremely sensitive to the effects of caffeine. I know how dramatically caffeine can effect one's mood, energy level, and focus because any time I do have caffeine those effects are amplified through me. Even with my anecdotal evidence, I usually hold back on preaching against caffeine because I know my case is an extreme and not one that most can relate to. However, when the topic of energy drinks come up, I feel like someone needs to say something.

With that in mind, I was very happy when watching The Dr. Oz Show this week that the topic of the dangers of Energy Drinks was raised. In the last couple years I noticed a dramatic increase in the number of energy drink cans being toted around by my high school students. This began to concern me greatly.

Kristi's Story 
A woman named Kristi came to Dr. Oz to ask for help with her 16 can a-day habit.She readily admitted that she believed she was addicted. She had turned to energy drinks at a time when she felt her children needed her at her best (right after a divorce) and then found it difficult to function without them. Dr. Oz chimed in right away saying that he did, in fact, believe, that these drinks are like a drug (I couldn't agree more!).

What Does the FDA Say

Here's the problem: drinking an energy drink is not just like having a cup of coffee, in some cases one can can have at least three times the amount of caffeine as a regular cup of coffee! Here is a graphic shared on the show:

This chart compares what the FDA recommends (400mg/day or about four 8 ounce cups of coffee) as a person's maximum daily caffeine consumption to what Kristi was consuming on a regular day (up to 16 cans of energy drinks per day). She was consuming at least three times the amount recommended. Yes, she is an extreme case, but it's the "at least" I keep mentioning that worries me.

The Secret Unregulated Caffeine

Those ingredients listed on top of the energy drink bar: "guarana, kola nut, yerba mate, cocoa" are all found in energy drinks as well and they all ADD caffeine to the drink, however their caffeine contribution is not added into the amount of caffeine reported on the label! Therefore, when you drink an energy drink you are getting even more caffeine than you thought based on the label. How much more? (Here's the scary part...) Who knows?!

How Bad Can It Really Be?

So, you may be wondering, if you are not addicted, what's the big deal? In general, buyer beware. These products lead to addiction. The "crash" one feels after the extreme energy has many reaching for a second can and with these unknown levels of caffeine, too much caffeine can happen pretty rapidly. Too much caffeine leads to caffeine toxicity. Dr. Oz invited Dr. Samantha Heller (dietitian) on the show to explain what a recent study found in both adults and adolescents overdid it on the energy drinks. Here are some of the results they found:
  • liver damage
  • kidney failure
  • heart failure
  • seizures
  • heart attacks (including one 23 year old with a heart attack)
  • death
Next Steps for Kristi and Any Other Caffeine Addicted

Upon hearing this news, Kristi's fear was visible - she did not want to die because of some silly energy drink addiction. However, Dr. Heller advised her to not go cold turkey. She explained that coming off caffeine, will be just like coming off any other drugs and, if she did so too quickly, she would experience extreme withdrawal. Here was her advice for coming off an energy drink addiction:
  1. Reduce energy drink consumption one can at a time.
  2. Replace energy drinks with more natural and "safer" forms of caffeine to help slow down the process. Some ideas: coffee yogurt, tea, especially white tea (since it has some nice antioxidants!)
  3. Eventually work down to the FDA recommended amount of caffeine per day, or lower.
To add to this, I this it is important to have a supporter in your corner whenever you are trying to break an addiction - whether it is a close friend, a spouse, relative or internet buddy - tell someone about what you are trying to do and ask them to be your "rock", to be your reminder as to why you are doing this just in case you have a cruddy day and you need outside motivation!

To watch the Dr. Oz segments yourself, click the links below:

Energy Drink Addiction, Pt 1. 

Energy Drink Addiction, Pt 2. 

To read more about Caffeine Toxicity, check out eMedicine's Page on Caffeine and Caffeine Toxicity

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