The Downsides of Bottled Water and Energy Drinks

Posted by Simeon Margolis, M.
Provided by John Hopkins Medicine

In an earlier entry, I railed against the bogus health benefits of bottled waters such as Aquafina®, a Pepsi product that TV advertisements are now admitting is simply tap water that has been “filtered, filtered, and filtered” again, to remove the (harmless) impurities present in much cheaper tap water.

Next to appear on the supermarket shelves were additional unneeded bottled waters fortified with unneeded herbs and vitamins. In addition, the non-degradable plastic bottles containing these unneeded products add to the litter on streets and the problems associated with waste disposal.

The wisdom of using bottled waters may be questionable, but at least they don’t pose the possible health risks of so-called “energy drinks.” You’ve surely heard about these malevolent products, but probably haven’t given them much thought.

“Energy drinks” were popularized in the U.S. with the 1997 introduction of Red Bull®, a carbonated beverage from Austria that contains 80 mg of caffeine in every bottle—about the same amount as is found in a cup of coffee. For comparison, classic Coca Cola® contains 23 mg caffeine and Mountain Dew® contains 37 mg caffeine.

Additional ingredients in Red Bull include two caloric sweeteners (glucose and sucrose), three non-caloric sweeteners, some B vitamins, and the same amount of the amino acid taurine as is found in a glass of red wine.

Other brands of “energy drinks” may contain twice as much or more caffeine as Red Bull, plus other questionable ingredients such as guarana — a South American caffeine-containing herb. (In 2005, the sales of “energy drinks” amounted to an estimated $3.5 billion.)

The calories in these drinks do provide some energy, but mostly their content of caffeine and taurine “soup up” one’s feelings of alertness and may produce troublesome side effects such as anxiety, irritability, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping, and indigestion.

These manifestations are more likely to occur with “energy drinks” than with coffee, which is usually drunk more slowly than the cooled “energy drinks.” “Energy drinks” can also lead to dehydration because caffeine stimulates urination and thus increases water loss.

Yet another downside to “energy drinks”: Because of their high caffeine content, they are frequently used by young people during nightlong parties as a mixer for vodka drinks.

And, quite predictably, many brewing companies have taken notice of this trend and are now selling “energy drinks” already laced with alcohol – carbonated malt beverages (beers) containing somewhat more alcohol than average beers, along with the caffeine, taurine, and other constituents of the non-alcoholic “energy drinks.” The Marin Institute, self-described as a watchdog group for the alcohol industry, claims that 20 brands of alcoholic “energy drinks” have been marketed in the last 10 years.

Attorneys general from 28 states and the District of Columbia have issued harsh criticism of beverage companies that sell alcoholic “energy drinks.” They ask that federal officials investigate the ingredients in these products because of their alcohol content and because of the advertising accompanying them, which targets underage customers with misleading claims of benefits, such as increases in energy and stamina.

One take-home message here is the need for greater awareness on the part of parents, teenagers, and young adults about the possible negative health effects of these popular beverages.

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