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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - Energy Drinks

Mar 7, 10:39 AM

Last year I had my very first energy drink. I thought I could try one and that it wouldn’t be much different from my morning coffee with an extra shot of espresso. I was really wrong! Shortly after I consumed the shot of “Brand X”, I began to quiver as though the room was cold. Then I began shaking slightly.

I noticed something was seriously wrong when I got up in front of the audience to make my presentation. I was speaking in high speed, l couldn’t slow myself down. I was giddy to say the least. It took several hours for my pulse to calm down to a point I didn’t feel my heartbeat in my throat. At that moment I decided I must be some freak of nature and couldn’t tolerate “those” drinks everyone around me was drinking.

Recently I met another person who had the same reaction to the power drinks. Why did I react that way? What are in energy drinks that affect a person in a negative way or a positive way? I have been resolute to find out all I can about energy drinks since that incident. What if a flight crew member had the same experience? What a crazy flight that would be. My mind goes wild wondering how a member of a flight crew would handle an emergency if an energy drink did the same to him or her.

I was surprised to find these facts about the use of energy drinks . . .

  • Sales of energy drinks have doubled every year over the last five; diet energy drinks are growing twice as fast as the non-diet referred to as non-crashing.

  • The majority of people who drink the energy drinks (66%) are ages 13-35 with males approximately 65% of the market.

  • Some countries have banned certain energy drinks. The French government decided to ban Red Bull after the brand was linked to the death of an 18-year-old Irish athlete. Denmark and Norway have also banned the drink. Other countries, such as Canada, require the can to carry a warning label for pregnant women and children.

  • Energy drinks became popular in Asia before they reached the United States. The Asian drink was designed to help employees work harder well into the night. These drinks contained Taurine which is listed below.

Each brand of drink has its own claim to give you an extra burst of energy, but with their own formula in addition to any caffeine included. Energy drinks in most cases are a cross between a cola and a nutritional supplement . . . or so they want you to think. Generally speaking, most of the “energy” comes from two main ingredients: sugar and caffeine with nutritional supplements and other stimuli often included. Sports drinks are a different formula as they are designed to replenish fluids lost during activity. Sports drinks usually contain water, electrolytes and sugar. Below are the most common additions to energy drinks.

  • Ephedrine – A stimulant that works on the central nervous system. It is a common ingredient in weight-loss products and decongestants, but there have been concerns about its effects on the heart.

  • Ginseng – A root believed by some to have several medicinal properties, including reducing stress and boosting energy levels.

  • B-Vitamins – A group of vitamins that can convert sugar to energy and improve muscle tone.

  • Guarana Seed – A stimulant that comes from a small shrub native to Venezuela and Brazil.

  • Carnitine – Amino acid that plays a role in fatty acid metabolism.

  • Creatine – An organic acid that helps supply energy for muscle contractions.

  • Inositol – A member of the vitamin B complex (not a vitamin itself, because the human body can synthesize it) that helps relay messages within cells in the body.

  • Ginkgo Biloba – Made from the seeds of the ginkgo biloba tree, thought to enhance memory.

  • Taurine – A natural amino acid (the building blocks of proteins) produced by the body that helps regulate heart beat and muscle contractions, found extensively in animal tissue. Taurine is found in meat and fish. It is also found in human tissue, our large intestine, and human breast milk. Taurine was first isolated from ox bile, and thus its name is derived from the Latin ‘taurus,’ meaning ‘ox’ or ‘bull’. A significant amount of taurine can help with these nutritional needs, but research states that you do not get enough from drinking energy drinks to achieve any medical benefits:
    Skeletal Muscles
    Blood Pressure
    Cardiovascular Function
    The Retina
    The Central Nervous System
  • Caffeine is found in all of the drinks whose labels I checked in my search. I found the following information on caffeine that I thought was of interest.” Caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine, a brain chemical involved in sleep. When caffeine blocks adenosine, it causes neurons in the brain to fire. Thinking the body is in an emergency, the pituitary gland initiates the body’s “fight or flight” response by releasing adrenaline. This hormone makes the heart beat faster and the eyes dilate. It also causes the liver to release extra sugar into the bloodstream for energy. Caffeine affects the levels of dopamine, a chemical in the brain’s pleasure center. All of these physical responses make you feel as though you have more energy. Because caffeine is a stimulant – consuming a lot of it can lead to heart palpitations, anxiety and insomnia – it also can make you feel jittery and irritable. Over time, caffeine can become addictive. It is also a diuretic – it causes the kidneys to remove extra fluid into the urine and if combined with sweating, can lead to dehydration. If an energy drink advertises no caffeine, the energy comes from guarana, (see above).


Two studies reported significant improvements in mental and cognitive performances as well as increased subjective alertness from drinking Energy drinks. Great, if your body can tolerate what is in the energy drink, especially if you need that boost, but, prepare yourself for the crash.

If you are totally drained, energy drinks have been shown to have restorative properties when a combination of caffeine and sugar glucose were included in an energy drink. Consumption of a single energy drink will not lead to excessive caffeine intake, but consumption of two or more drinks in a single day can. Read the label as the larger drinks are listed as 2 servings. Energy drinks do not provide electrolytes as found in sports drinks, so they have a higher likelihood of an energy “crash-and-burn” effect leading to dehydration.

If the body is dehydrated by 1%, performance is decreased by up to 10%. Not good for a flight crew on a long leg. The drinks can cause seizures due to the “crash” following the energy high that occurs after consumption. Although I am not a doctor, I would make sure I knew how my body was going to react to an energy drink before I got in an aircraft as a flight crew member!

What’s next . . . How about “anti-energy”, “chill out”, or “relaxation” drinks? Who knows with those I might sleep for a week!

Link to the BlueSky Business Aviation News Article Featuring Paula Kraft of Tastefully Yours

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