Of course, Coca-Cola was the original energy drink – cocaine, caffeine and sugar – that became breakfast of champions for some folks. Kind of puts the New Coke controversy in perspective. It was about 100 years ago that Coke changed the formula, but it hasn’t seemed to hurt sales much.
The other traditional energy drink is coffee – my personal favorite. Just typing the word has me looking toward the kitchen – was that a bell?
Those little aluminum cans certainly look powerful, all red and silver, and a screw cap to imply the liquid inside could otherwise not be contained. And they contain only a precious ounce, suggesting any larger amount might achieve critical mass.
The ingredient list sounds complicated and exotic, which no doubt is also part of the appeal. Taurine, glucuronolactone, guarana, ginseng, gingko, and a handful of B vitamins are thrown in to obscure the only active ingredient – caffeine. The average energy shot has about the same caffeine content as a good cup of coffee – 80 milligrams.
That is not to malign caffeine, a drug that we have been searching for a dark side for most of this century. Before you are too critical of energy shots, know that the average American takes in over 200 mg of caffeine per day. That dose of caffeine is considered safe even for pregnant women.
Caffeine is a legal mood altering drug, the most widely used on the planet. Caffeine reduces physical and mental fatigue, improves thinking, memory and coordination.
The distance between therapeutic range and toxic range is one of the widest of known drugs. An energy shot is less than 100 mg of caffeine, and the LD50 is somewhere around 10 grams or 100 cups of coffee.
LD50 is short hand for the dose that will kill half the people who take it. Every drug has one, and almost all take considerably less than a 100-fold increase to become dangerous.
Your body adapts to caffeine consumption relatively quickly – roughly a week or so. It takes about two weeks to get your brain settled down if you give up caffeine.
If you consume enough caffeine (a couple of dozen energy shots) you will become a quivering mess. Mania (elevated irritability), hallucinations and psychosis are all possible, but you eventually “run out of neurotransmitters,” and crash.
Caffeine and alcohol are a particularly troublesome combination. The caffeine helps counteract the sedative effects of alcohol, keeping you up to drink some more. The LD50 of alcohol is way less than 100 times the therapeutic range. There are times when you should just stay down.
Energy shots are an expensive cup of coffee and lack the reassuring warm weight of a coffee mug. Cold steel just isn’t as cozy; although the upside is fewer trips to the bathroom.
Personally, I’ll keep drinking coffee and making those annoying treks to the bathroom.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.