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week89This past week was a tough week for me. I got up, worked out, then had to drive 160 miles round trip in just one day. Then, I had to do that every single day for five straight days in a row.

By day four of the week, I was dragging. I simply felt lifeless with no vigor and little brainpower. All I really wanted to do was to go home climb back into my warm comforting bed and sleep my exhaustion off. But I couldn’t. I had to push and power through the day and get all done that was expected of me. But how, when my energy level was at zero? The answer, as wrong as it was then and remains, is that I broke down and drank a Red Bull. The following day, on day five, I drank another. Actually two.

I gave up soda years ago. As shared in my “The Sinful Sips of Soda,” I originally drank one diet brand simply for it’s lemon lime taste and the fuzzily feel. But I soon gave it up, cold turkey, after a bad reaction one night plus learning how unhealthy the carbonated drink is with all its non-nutritious and harmful ingredients, including the high amounts caffeine most carry.

Energy drinks are no different. In fact, they are worse. But that hasn’t stopped consumers. There are over two million people per day who drink energy drinks. The most popular? Red Bull, in fact the most popular energy drink in the world with 5.2 billion cans sold in 2012 alone.

The whole marketing hoopla around energy drinks is that give the drinker a burst of magically feeling energy. No, you are not superman or superwoman, but you know have the get-up-and-go you were lacking prior to gulping down the drink.

How does that happen? The beverage contains stimulant drugs, mainly very large amounts of caffeine, but also has high levels of sugar or artificial sweeteners plus herbal extracts, B Vitamins, and amino acids. Many also contain an added mix of carbonated water, yerba mate, açaí, and taurine and perhaps ginseng, maltodextrin, inositol, carnitine, creatine, glucuronolactone, and ginkgo biloba depending on the brand.

To illustrate the difference in caffeine levels between soda and energy drinks, a classic Coca-Cola Classic contains 23 milligrams (mg.) of caffeine per eight ounce serving while the sugary Monster, Red Bull, and Rockstar energy drinks have 75 mg., 77 mg., and 80 mg. respectively. That is three times the amount of caffeine over soda! The 5-Hour Energy drink? A whopping 207 mg. per two ounce serving. Watch out!

There are several potential health risks associated with high amounts of caffeine. Not only is caffeine a stimulant that can be habit forming, it is diuretic which causes dehydration. Caffeine decreases the calcium in your body and stimulates your central nervous system – causing stress, a racing mind, insomnia, and the jitters. And now its regular and daily use being recognized as a disorder.

Just last fall (September 2013), Steven Meredith and Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Baltimore, MD), Laura Juliano of American University (Washington, DC), and John Hughes of the University of Vermont (Burlington) coauthored and published a study in the Journal of Caffeine Research on the consumption of high amounts of caffeine, “Caffeine Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda.” The findings support caffeine is indeed a drug of widespread dependency, one that can be addictive and habit forming physically and psychologically. More than 50% of those trying to no stop their regular consumption of energy drinks may even go as far trouble not picking up a can by suffering withdrawal symptoms.

“At this time, manufacturers are not required to label caffeine amounts, and some products such as energy drinks do not have regulated limits on caffeine,” Juliano said with her conclusions. “Through our research, we have observed that people who have been unable to quit or cut back on caffeine on their own would be interested in receiving formal treatment — similar to the outside assistance people can turn to if they want to quit smoking or tobacco use.”

Recognizing the health hazards of drinking energy drinks, just this week the Los Angeles City Council is contemplating creating an age restriction of 18 and order, as reported by CBS News. When purchasing, ID will be required and a citywide campaign will be implemented, alerting the public about the health risks associated with drinking too many energy drinks with its high caffeine contents.

In actuality, caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the world and is also found in coffee, tea, chocolate, OTC pain relievers, and more. Many digest caffeine with without issues. But it is the high levels of caffeine found in energy drinks tat can be harmful with negative effects along with physical dependence.

As for me, when I awoke early Saturday morning to head to the gym, I was still feeling exhaustion. One who can’t sleep in, I headed off my day but by mid-morning I hit a wall of fatigue. I must admit stopping at a mini-market to grab myself another Red Bull for a third day in a row definitely crossed my mind, but I nixed it not once but twice, and powered through my day. In the end, I ended up going to bed two nights early to catch up on my zzzzz’s. Moving forward, energy drinks will be a boosting drink I will avoid giving in to as a quick fix instead replaced with driving less mileage in a week (let alone a day!) and more shut eye when my body requires.

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.