Monsters v. Students: the battle for energy

Evan Da Silva

A refrigerator in the Saddleback College cafeteria is home to a bevy of energy drinks and supplements, keeping college students fueled throughout the day.  (Angie L. Pineda )

A refrigerator in the Saddleback College cafeteria is home to a bevy of energy drinks and supplements, keeping college students fueled throughout the day. (Angie L. Pineda )

College life contains a slew of deadlines, test dates, and research projects and for the average college student balancing all of this as well as work and a social life can be draining. Juggling all of these things can often take the place of one of our most critical bodily functions, sleep. So how do students keep going without this valuable recharge time? A study conducted by the University of Ohio says 74% of undergraduates turn to energy supplements in the form of drinks or shots.

A single can of Monster Energy drink can contain up to 14 teaspoons of sugar — that’s 54 grams which contributes 200 calories per container, says They warn that the rush of energy felt by those who consume the drinks  are due to the amount of sucralose in them which is an artificial sweetener over 600 times sweeter than sugar. Also found in these artificial energy drinks are caffeine levels of over 505 milligrams, as opposed to the 71 milligrams found in a 12-ounce can of non-diet soda, Livestrong adds.

What happens when people, especially of smaller stature, binge on these caffeine- and sugar-laden drinks? According to Medicine Plus, in 2007 almost 6,000 caffeine-related deaths occurred in people under the age of 19 and since then, they say the number continues to climb.

“There’s just lots of caffeine and most of them have lots of sugar and so they kind of take people up pretty quickly and then drop them, so health-wise they aren’t good,” says Dean of Health Sciences and Human Services Donna Rane-Szostack. “People should get their energy from getting enough rest [and] eating well, especially for students who need to be as alert as they can; real alertness, not artificial alertness,” she continued.

A few other substances found in these beverages include B vitamins, L-carnitine, taurine, ginseng,  and guanine which are meant to further boost consumer’s energy levels. However, according to the Journal of the American Pharmacist Association the levels of these minerals in the drinks are not high enough to actually provide people with any energy benefits, but at the same time do not cause any negative health effects either.

Despite negative perceptions of these supplements, a German psychiatric journal, Tijdschrift Voor Psychiatrie, found that users do express periods of heightened productivity, awareness, and memory, but it is largely due to the high caffeine levels, as opposed to any other mineral. Still the journal warns of the crash that often accompanies the use of artificial energy sources.

One of the fastest-growing areas of the artificial energy market is that of Living Essentials’ 5-Hour Energy shot. According to Forbes, this product alone makes up over 90% of the energy shot sector and has encouraged manufacturers like Coca-Cola, Monster Energy, and Red-Bull to create products of their own.

What is most attractive about energy shots for users, especially 5-hour energy, is the small portable size and next to zero calories that come with it, says online health database WebMD. This tinier and convenient size however can be dangerous they warn as these shots contain equally as much caffeine as a can and users can often lose track of how much of the product they are consuming.

“Unfortunately, I think it is too easy to get these substitutes. We all know that excess sugar isn’t that great and caffeine in small amounts is terrific, but it isn’t a substitute [for sleep],” says Dean Rane-Szostak.

While the vitamins find in these shots may be more naturally occurring than those found in energy drinks, the large amount of them concentrated into such a small container can be severely detrimental to one’s health, WebMD explains. 5-hour Energy contains over 8,000 percent of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin B12 and over 2,000 percent of Vitamin B6. Most B vitamins are not usually toxic to the human body, but extremely high doses of B6 have been known to cause nerve damage, tingling, and numbness in the arms and legs the website says.

“One of the things I think is really important is to find ways to reduce stress as well. It’s just so important because everyone’s feeling stressed … and there are really good ways to reduce stress and taking energy drinks, in some ways, makes things more stressful because instead of unwinding you’re winding up,” Dean Rane-Szostak says.

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