Empty promise?

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Energy drinks have become a $3 billion per year industry, according to Pediatric News.

By Jenna Dewitt: Freedom New Mexico

With catchy names such as Rock Star, Monster, Venom and Amp, energy drinks are trendy and widely used by teens and young adults.

Researchers say U.S. consumers spent $744 million on caffeinated energy drinks last year, a 34 percent increase over the previous year, according to WebMD.

Advertisements for energy drinks say they help consumers’ mental clarity and postpone drowsiness. The drinks “give you wings” and help you “stay focused and ready for whatever life throws at you,” advertisements boast.

Although the makers of energy drinks tout mixtures of vitamins, minerals, and tropical extracts, the main ingredient is caffeine. The difference between the caffeine in energy drinks and other beverages is the amount — at least as much caffeine as coffee and much more than soft drinks.

They also are loaded with sugar.

Rock Star Punch contains 240 milligrams of caffeine in a 16 ounce can, which is equivalent to about 2 1/2 cups of coffee.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, overuse of energy drinks “can result in difficulty concentrating, disturbed sleep, nausea, leg weakness and palpitations.”

Kathryn Winters, a pediatrician at Plains Regional Medical Center who treats patients up to 18 years old, said she is perplexed as to why a teen would need an energy boost.

“They are almost in the physical peak of their life,” said Winters, a coffee drinker who has never tried an energy drink.

She described the effects of energy drinks as “borrowing from the future. What you take, you’ve got to give back.”

She said being in a hyperactive mental and physical state will eventually lead to fatigue and what is referred to as the “crash.”

She listed a litany of concerns about the high caffeine doses doled out in the energy beverages, among them:

• fluctuations in blood sugar, which can lead to irritability and mood swings and even unconsciousness

• increased heart rate

• interrupted sleep patterns

• psychological dependence

• weight gain

She said prolonged and heavy use can damage the pancreas in diabetics and in cases involving teens with undiagnosed heart aliments speeding up of the heart could lead to sudden cardiac arrest.

Energy drinks are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, however, for most people 400 milligrams per day is considered a moderate amount of caffeine, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site.

Teens should not consume more than 100 milligrams of caffeine per day, experts say.

One target audience of energy drinks is athletes.

Clovis middle school athlete Jacee Isler said she likes Rock Star energy drinks.

“At first they are not good, but the more you drink them, they taste better. If you drink too much you will get sick,” Isler said. She added that she has noticed athletes drinking them in between back-to-back games and “they don’t always work.”

Several student-athletes admitted feeling sick or shaky after consuming energy drinks while competing.

Marcos Loera, who works at a shoe store in North Plains Mall in Clovis, said he drinks Monster because it “tastes the best and Red Bull is too small.”

Loera said he’s not addicted and mainly uses them when he drives.

Energy drinks are also popular with busy high school and college students.

Texas Tech freshman Emily Ward said she loves Amps.

“It makes me have an extra burst of energy. They taste so good.”

Ward said she drank them as a Clovis High School student for homework purposes, “that’s how I got started on them.”

Not everyone is affected by energy drinks in the same way, however.

Amber Billingsley said she got sick after she had “too many at a time. They’re good for about five minutes.”

Dr. Joel Sievers of Portales said occasional use is nothing to worry about though “it depends on how the person is using them, if someone feels they need it, it is a sign they could be psychologically dependent on them.”

He said he is most concerned about the effects of energy drinks for those that consume them with other stimulants.

“The combinations are probably when they are most dangerous,” he said.

The stimulation from a caffeine-heavy energy drink can make a person feel less intoxicated than they really are, and as a result, a person may keep drinking or take a risk such as driving without realizing the danger, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site. In addition, because caffeine dehydrates the body, alcohol becomes harder to absorb, which makes its toxic effects much more damaging to the body, the site said.

Did you know?

A recently released report by University of Massachusetts Medical School toxicologist Richard Church tracked 4,600 caffeine-related calls to poison control nationwide in 2005, the most recent statistics available. Half involved people under age 19.