FORT EUSTIS, Va., — Service members who rely on stimulant-cocktail energy drinks to keep alert on duty increase their risk for significant, lifelong health issues, say research scientists.
According to the Center for Disease Control, about 45 percent of Service members downrange use energy drinks to stay awake. There are other ways to stay alert without reliance on cleverly marketed chemical mixtures.
“Caffeine can be good for you, multivitamins are generally good for you and different forms of supplementation can be beneficial, depending on the person,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Sonya Shaw, McDonald Army Health Center deputy commander. “Although energy drinks have all of those ingredients, they should never be considered healthy.”
The individual ingredients of energy drinks, when ingested moderately, have shown to have some potential benefits, said Shaw.
Depending on your current physical activity levels, caffeine, guarana and taurine can be used in conjunction with ginseng to keep eyelids open without serious health concerns. The most important part of taking any supplementation is reading the instructions on the labels and consulting your doctor.
According to ExRx, a supplementation and workout-centric website, ginseng is one of the most researched and understood energy-boosting agents on the market. There has been no reported toxicity for the supplement, and it has been shown to enhance your mood, promote psychological wellness and perception, indirectly improve strength, increase muscle growth and increase oxygen intake.
Energy drink companies advertise the benefits of Vitamin B12, and marketing gimmicks, such as “energy synthesizers,” “smooth rush” and “less caffeine than a cup of coffee.”
In many cases , these claims are not only vague, but misleading. According to ExRx and the New York Times, all of the ingredients combined can be pretty disastrous. With the addition of about 13 teaspoons of sugar per 16 ounce can, there are some serious health concerns coming your way.
The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate energy drinks, as they are considered “supplements,” so only independent research has a grasp on what these ingredients might do to the body.There have been no major studies determining the long-term effects of energy drinks since they have only been widely available for approximately five years.
Researchers have discovered that the levels of additives in most energy drinks are not good for the body. All of the common ingredients in energy drinks do two things, overload the body with energy-inducing chemicals and restrict water absorption in blood cells.
Caffeine, taurine, L-carnitine, guarana, ginseng and B vitamins ramp up the body’s energy to unsafe levels. Blood vessels expand too far, perhaps resulting in hypertension; the heart pumps too quickly, which can worsen pre-existing heart problems; stomach acid increases, potentially causing heartburn and stomach ulcers, and the body attempts to expel all of the chemicals when you go to the bathroom every 30 minutes, causing dehydration.
In the end, all of those “cognitive and energy enhancers” will be nullified when you get a headache from the lack of water. You can try to rehydrate, but all of that sugar slows down the process, so sit back and rub those temples because it is going to be awhile.
Now if it is your first week of the graveyard shift, there is no doubt it will be difficult to stay awake at work, so that big, gas-canister-looking beverage in the fridge may seem appealing. Stop and consider the alternatives.
Experts recommend engaging in physical activity to keep yourself awake.
“Just standing up will remove grogginess,” said Shaw. “Physical exercise gets your blood pumping and prepares your body for more activity.”
Drinking plenty of water helps as well, said Shaw. With 75 to 80 percent of the nation suffering from chronic dehydration, many Service members might discover the old Basic Military Training addage, “Hydrate or die,” could lend them a few extra hours of alertness.
Finally, the most important part of staying awake on the job comes from sleeping enough. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, missing just one or two hours of sleep for several nights is equivalent to not sleeping at all for one or two days. Furthermore, sleep deficiency has been shown to decrease cognitive function, increase mood swings and increase the risk of obesity.
Energy drinks are as helpful as they are healthy, so every Service member should instead get some rest, fill up their water bottles and do some burpies to feel that “smooth rush of energy.”