The Times West Virginian

Opinion

March 31, 2013

Should caffeine-rich energy drinks be regulated?

They call them energy drinks.

But perhaps they should be referred to as “stimulant” drinks. The various energy drinks, from the little shots you buy on the counters of convenient stores to the tall cans purported to “give you wings” all have one thing in common — caffeine. Well, they actually have another thing in common — the don’t have to tell you how much caffeine that’s in them either.

A regular cup of coffee has 95 milligrams of caffeine. So you wake up after a not-so-long night’s sleep and brew a pot of coffee before you start your day. Chances are, you sit and sip your fresh-brewed cup. Perhaps you feel like a second cup, so you stumble over to the coffee pot and pour another one.

So, over the course of maybe an hour or 90 minutes, you’ve gradually put 200 milligrams of caffeine into your system. However, if you’re on the run and didn’t have time to brew a pot and just slammed down a shot of energy drink in a little two-ounce bottle, you’ve shocked your body will more than 200 milligrams within seconds.

“Getting a lot of caffeine all at once along with potentially harmful megadoses of vitamins is a bad way to go, and there is real potential for misuse,” said Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of consumberlab.com, which tested several.

“Thousands of case reports bear this out. In addition, people who mix energy drinks and alcohol are more likely to engage in risky behavior because it makes them feel or act alert while they are mentally compromised.”

Thousands go to emergency rooms across the country each year because of caffeine overdoses. And, sadly, 11 lose their lives.

“The problem with consuming large amounts of caffeine is two-fold, One, it targets the central nervous system directly. Two, it can lead to dehydration and loss of water-soluble nutrients that have a calming effect on the central nervous system. This combined effect can cause agitation and sleep problems and potentially lead to the development of long-term anxiety issues,” Dr. K. Steven Whiting, author of “Healthy Living Made Easy,” told The Huffington Post.

Heart palpitations. Chest pain. Tremors. Shortness of breath.

These are the symptoms that doctors in emergency rooms see when too much energy drinks are consumed. And a lot of those cases are children, who can freely open a cooler at their local store and buy one. Or two. Or three.

There’s been a push for lawmakers and the Food and Drug Administration to put the brakes on children being allowed to purchase these products. Others believe in buyer beware, though uninformative labeling makes that a little difficult.

But we wondered what our readers thought of energy drinks. So when we wonder, we ask our readers on our online poll question, which can be found each week at www.timeswv.com. Last week we asked, “A study found that energy drinks may increase blood pressure, putting consumers at risk for sudden cardiac episodes and even death. Should they be regulated?”

And here’s what you had to say:

• Perhaps warning labels would help, like those attached to cigarettes and alcohol — 22.89 percent

• Absolutely not — people should be responsible for what they eat and drink — 24.1 percent

• Yes! Children should never be allowed to purchase such drinks — 53.01 percent

We’ll keep our finger on the pulse of this issue, if you’ll pardon the bad pun, as it’s sure to heat up in the coming months.

This week, let’s talk about health again. Two of West Virginia’s largest population areas — Charleston and Huntington — ranked the lowest for “well being” on a recent Gallop poll, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the state, receiving a failing grade for physical and emotional health, work environment and access to basic necessities. How can we tackle health problems in the Mountain State?

Log on. Vote. Email me or respond online.

Misty Poe

Managing Editor

mpoe@timeswv.com

@MistyPoeTWV

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