Use energy drinks moderately

By Ms. Marie Berberea (TRADOC)March 10, 2011

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT SILL, Okla.-- Coffee and cigarettes are becoming former staples of the military. Smoking cessation classes are working to decrease the smoking population, and in the meantime another drink has started replacing the ol' cup of Joe. They're called energy drinks.

"Most of our Soldiers are relatively young and the (energy drink) marketing campaign aggressively targets that age group," said Dr. Michelle Val, Family Medical Home One officer in charge.

While the effects of this new trend are being studied, the drinks promise refreshing ways to gain mental focus, stamina and added herbal supplements that are good for you.

One energy drink producer states its product's ingredients are also available in every day foods - like broccoli, avocados, bananas and apples - or already in you, suggesting they are just as good for the consumer. Val said this marketing is deceptive, and those looking for good nutrition need to look no further than the produce aisle.

"There's a lot of things that are in vegetables and fruit that are very beneficial to include water, fiber and antioxidants that you can't package. And, I think it's misleading people to believe they can get the same thing that's in a fruit or a vegetable in an energy drink when really they're better off eating the fruits and the vegetables."

The extra boost can be helpful to the Soldiers working long hours but it can also create a cycle that's hard to get out of. Capt. Kevin Morgan, G3-5 Shop operations officer, said he uses energy drinks for long drives or when he really needs to focus, but not on a daily basis.

"A lot of Soldiers will stay up late at night playing video games and then try to compensate by drinking energy drinks thinking they can function, but they're cognitive abilities are very much impaired from what they would be getting if they had good nutrition and good sleep habits."

Val said using energy drinks into the afternoon can also keep the person up into the wee hours because caffeine has a half life of up to six hours. For example, if a person drinks about 200 mg of caffeine, six hours later they can still have 100 mg of caffeine in their system.

Since energy drinks first came out, some brands have increased their serving size. Several of the brands offer 24 ounces of liquid energy in one serving. Val said while caffeine is not the enemy, high doses may be.

"Kids who drink this on a regular basis actually meet the criteria for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder just based on our symptom list. So you can imagine what it's doing to Soldiers who are out there drinking a couple of these a day, and they're not able to focus," said Val.

She said when too much caffeine is consumed the person can feel restless, irritable and fidgety. It can also increase the amount of adrenaline produced in the body causing his or her heart rate to increase and blood pressure to go up.

"I see quite a few Soldiers who have a resting heart rate of 120 and that's not normal. Many times it can be just related to excessive caffeine intake," said Val.

She said caffeine does have a diuretic effect, but it's more so among people who aren't habitually using energy drinks or for someone who is abstaining from it for a week or so.

"It does increase the urine output. With increased urine output you could say there's increased risk for dehydration and heat-related injuries. For people who drink caffeine every day though they become tolerant to those effects so it's really not noticeable unless they're going past their daily dose and hitting those high doses," said Val.

For those who are trying to cut back on the energy drinks, they may see some symptoms of withdrawal such as headaches. Val suggests switching to lower doses of caffeine to slowly wean yourself off. And, while she's not saying energy drinks are bad, she believes they don't need to be used to excess.

"Caffeine is a drug just like any other. The key is moderation as it is with everything else. Moderation in terms of one small energy drink less than 100 mg of caffeine a day or one cup of coffee a day."

Val said Soldiers and others don't really need to spend the extra money to get a boost of energy. Her prescription is simple: water and exercise.