Energy drinks have become trendy in recent years. Made up of a mix of sugar, caffeine, stimulants, and nutrients, energy drinks promise a boost in physical strength, endurance, alertness, and concentration. There is a wide variety of products, each with different additives and varying quantities of ingredients. In general, most energy drinks contain at least a few of the same ingredients: caffeine, glucose, vitamins, minerals, and herbs, Nigerian Tribune reports.

The quantities and concentrations vary, and some drinks may also be fortified with additional chemicals beyond those that are most common.

But a 250ml serving of an energy drink contains about 80mg of caffeine per litre – twice as much as a regular cola drink, but the same as a 60ml espresso. The caffeine recommended daily limit is 400 milligrammes for adults.

People have different motivations for drinking energy drinks. Many individuals in search of a boost in body and brain functions turn to these popular beverages.

One regular-sized energy drink does not usually contain toxic doses of these ingredients.

But, desperately tired individuals, competitive athletes or individuals in search of extra vitality or wanting to improve their decision-making skills or judgment, end up abusing these beverages, drinking more than one at a time.

Also, people who are not in good health end up consuming these drinks, mistaking them for a regular carbonated drink, even if their bodies are not able to handle its ingredients.

Despite their popularity, the health risks of energy drinks have only come to the attention of the medical community relatively recently as it has been considered a possible cause of mild problems such as headache, inability to sleep, dizziness and jitteriness as well as more serious medical issues such as seizures, heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers wanted to determine what quantities, if any, are safe for consumption. In particular, they wanted to know whether the risk lies with the individual ingredients or the combination of ingredients or if some brands could be more harmful than others.

Experts claim that energy drinks could increase a person’s risk of having a stroke by 500%.

The sudden spasm of the brain’s blood vessels after taking an energy drink can either restrict its blood supply or cause a hemorrhage, resulting also in stroke.

A stroke is a life-threatening brain attack which occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. Without blood, the cells in the brain can be killed or damaged. Common symptoms of stroke include sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body, difficulty finding words, and sudden blurred vision or loss of sight.

Others are sudden confusion, dizziness or unsteadiness, sudden and severe headache, difficulty understanding what others are saying and difficulty swallowing.

Professor Mayowa Owolabi, a stroke expert at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, says that energy drinks with constituents such as caffeine and other psychoactive substances can cause a raised blood pressure sufficient enough to hemorrhagic stroke or a reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome.

He stated that “it can also cause a problem like a stroke and hypertensive encephalopathy, particular in those who have underlying medical conditions like hypertension and some people who have heart problems but are not aware of it. If they consume energy drinks that contain stimulants and other psychoactive substances in large amounts, this can trigger a stroke or hypertensive encephalopathy.”

Hypertensive encephalopathy is general brain dysfunction due to significantly high blood pressure. Symptoms may include headache, vomiting, trouble with balance, and confusion. Onset is generally sudden.

According to Professor Owolabi, at the hospital individuals that suffer a stroke are usually questioned on the use of psychoactive substances, including alcoholic drinks and energy drinks because these may have contained substances that if consumed in large amounts could cause a rapid elevation in blood pressure, hence the brain’s blood vessel bursting or starting to leak suddenly.

He declared that hypertension is the number one cause of bleeding into the brain, aside from bleeding disorders, low platelets, snake bite, and a reaction to intake of anticoagulants and natural products like ginseng.

Also, liver or kidney failure can also lead to people bleeding into the brain, abnormalities in the blood vessel as well as severe infection that have spread through the body.

Interestingly, some people who have been consuming energy drinks for a while become more sensitive to them as time goes on.

Others are very sensitive to begin with, and can develop common symptoms and complaints including nervousness, jitters, throbbing or pulsating headaches, rapid or pounding heartbeat, dizziness, blurred vision, inability to sleep, and fatigue the first time they consume one.

Previously, a small study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that people who drank 32 ounces of energy drinks in an hour had abnormal electrical activity in their hearts and higher blood pressure four hours later.

The controlled study had enrolled 34 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 40 to study the effects of energy drinks on the heart and blood pressure in young, healthy people. Participants were randomly assigned to drink 32 ounces of one of two commercially available energy drinks or a placebo on three separate days.

The researchers studied the electrical activity of their hearts using an electrocardiogram. When this time interval for the heart to generate a beat is either too short or too long, it can cause the heart to beat abnormally, resulting into arrhythmia. Abnormal heartbeats can be life-threatening.

Over the past several years, there have been increasing reports of healthy people showing up in hospital emergency rooms across the country with common symptoms and complaints including nervousness, jitters, throbbing or pulsating headaches, rapid or pounding heartbeat, blurred vision, inability to sleep, and fatigue that were eventually traced to energy drinks.

However, while it is definitely less common, there has also been an increase in strokes, seizures, and heart attacks that were believed to be caused or triggered by energy drinks.

Moreover, energy drinks also have a damaging effect on the kidneys. High levels of Taurine, amino acid and a common ingredient in sports supplements to enhance athletic ability in the blood can have damaging consequences, especially in people with chronic kidney disease (CKD).

Interestingly, mixing alcoholic beverages with energy drinks has been shown to increase the rate of alcohol consumption and the overall quantity of alcohol consumed in an experimental setting.

Participants in a study who were given alcohol mixed with energy drink drank at a faster pace and consumed more alcohol than study participants who were given alcohol that was not mixed with energy drink.

Almost everyone wishes for more energy, endurance, and insight. Shortcuts are certainly appealing. Yet, achieving ‘more’ is rarely the product of chemical shortcuts. Forget about grabbing an energy drink to keep up, it may be time to reevaluate the situation and postpone or slow down on these goals rather than using a shortcut to achieve unrealistic objectives. Of course, get some rest.

About Dotun Olanibi

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