En­ergy drinks, cram­ming for ex­ams an un­healthy mix

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - HEALTH & FITNESS - Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion News cov­ers heart dis­ease, stroke and re­lated health is­sues. Not all views ex­pressed in Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion News sto­ries re­flect the of­fi­cial po­si­tion of the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion.

Fi­nal ex­ams — and the en­su­ing all-night study ses­sions they cause — are loom­ing large for many stu­dents across the coun­try. But reach­ing for en­ergy drinks to perk up those droop­ing eye­lids and boost study per­for­mance could do more harm than good.

Re­cent re­search shows just one en­ergy drink can af­fect blood ves­sel func­tion. And other stud­ies have shown these caf­feine­and-herbal con­coc­tions can in­crease stress hor­mones and are linked to changes in blood pres­sure and the heart’s elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity.

“What I say to peo­ple who are study­ing is to avoid en­ergy drinks. And to peo­ple who are ex­er­cis­ing, avoid them,” said Dr. John Hig­gins, chief of car­di­ol­ogy at Lyn­don B. John­son Hos­pi­tal, a sports car­di­ol­o­gist and a pro­fes­sor at McGovern Med­i­cal School at UTHealth in Hous­ton.

Hig­gins led a study that looked at the ef­fects of en­ergy drinks on blood ves­sel func­tion on 44 non-smok­ing, healthy med­i­cal stu­dents who were in their 20s. He and his col­leagues tested the stu­dents’ blood ves­sel, or en­dothe­lial, func­tion and then tested it again 90 min­utes after they had con­sumed a 24-ounce en­ergy drink.

The pre­lim­i­nary re­sults, pre­sented ear­lier this month at the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion’s Sci­en­tific Ses­sions con­fer­ence, sug­gest the drink re­duced by about half how much the par­tic­i­pants’ blood ves­sels were able to di­late, or ex­pand.

“Dur­ing ex­er­cise or un­der stress, your ar­ter­ies have to open up be­cause they need to get blood to the mus­cles, heart and brain,” Hig­gins said. “If there is im­pair­ment dur­ing ex­er­cise or men­tal stress, it could lead to ad­verse ef­fects.”

The mar­ket for caf­feine­in­fused en­ergy drinks has grown dur­ing the last decade, with new blends adding vi­ta­mins and other in­gre­di­ents tout­ing ev­ery­thing from mem­ory en­hance­ment to con­cen­tra­tion ben­e­fits. Ac­cord­ing to re­search com­pany Statista, en­ergy drink sales reached $2.8 bil­lion in 2016, with con­sis­tent in­creases since 2011. A 2016 Statista sur­vey of 18- to 69-year-olds showed 1 in 4 peo­ple had an en­ergy drink al­most ev­ery day.

Cof­fee and its caf­feine have got­ten the green light, in mod­er­a­tion, from the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture. Fed­eral di­etary guide­lines pub­lished ev­ery five years as a go-to source for nu­tri­tion ad­vice say three to five cups a day, which can be up to 400 mil­ligrams a day of caf­feine, can be part of a healthy diet.

But Hig­gins said en­ergy drinks are more than just caf­feine.

“We sus­pect it has to do with their blends,” he said. “They have lots of sugar and caf­feine, but also tau­rine, an amino acid, guara­nine (from a South Amer­i­can plant), an­other source of caf­feine, and they some­times have vi­ta­mins. But they have these sub­stances at lev­els in ex­cess of the rec­om­mended daily al­lowance, some­times even 10 times or more.”

On cam­pus, there’s a com­mon pat­tern, said LaVelle Hendricks, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of coun­sel­ing and a stu­dent af­fairs co­or­di­na­tor at Texas A&M Univer­sity-Com­merce, about an hour north­east of Dal­las. When stu­dents are deal­ing with stress and lack of sleep, “when they get close to exam time, they turn to these drinks,” he said. “They get this boost of en­ergy, but then they have headaches and they crash. As a way to re-en­er­gize and get that same boost, they re­peat the cy­cle.”

The tough-but-true ad­vice is there are no short­cuts.

“You have to stick to a reg­i­men,” Hendricks said. “It en­tails go­ing to class, study­ing, eat­ing right, ex­er­cis­ing right and get­ting the proper amount of sleep.”

A Jour­nal of Amer­i­can Col­lege Health study in 2011 said the con­sump­tion of en­ergy drinks has been as­so­ci­ated with per­ceived stress lev­els of col­lege stu­dents. Mid­dle­bury Col­lege in Ver­mont banned the on-cam­pus sale of en­ergy drinks. In Bri­tain, many su­per­mar­kets have be­gun ban­ning sales to chil­dren un­der 16, and the gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing other re­stric­tions.

Hig­gins said he’d like more short- and long-term stud­ies that show how these en­ergy drinks – and their blends of in­gre­di­ents – work on the body. So far, the ev­i­dence has been in­con­sis­tent, he said, with some show­ing im­proved per­for­mance, some re­duced and oth­ers no ef­fect.

Hig­gins warns that some peo­ple are more at risk for the ef­fects from en­ergy drinks, in­clud­ing peo­ple un­der 18; peo­ple of small stature; peo­ple who don’t nor­mally drink caf­feine or are sen­si­tive to it; preg­nant or breast­feed­ing women; peo­ple tak­ing stim­u­lants for con­di­tions such as at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­der; and peo­ple with cer­tain med­i­cal or car­dio­vas­cu­lar con­di­tions.

For a healthy boost dur­ing study­ing, Hig­gins sug­gests high-in­ten­sity ex­er­cise, or even just a quick run up and down the stairs. Get­ting out­side, “stretch­ing the eyes” with re­laxed na­ture-watch­ing or a power nap also can help, he said.

“If you are re­ally that tired and cof­fee isn’t keep­ing you awake, you should prob­a­bly go to sleep. You aren’t go­ing to re­mem­ber any­thing for the test any­way.”


A can of Mon­ster M-80 en­ergy drink. The bev­er­age in­dus­try has seen rapid growth of en­ergy drinks in re­cent years.


Guru nat­u­ral en­ergy drinks are on dis­play at Dean’s Nat­u­ral Foods store in Al­bany, N.Y. As en­ergy drink sales soar like a caf­feine-fu­eled rocket, more drinks are pro­mot­ing or­ganic in­gre­di­ents, added juices, nat­u­ral caf­feine and some­thing called “clean” en­ergy.

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