Dausey cautions students to avoid energy drinks during finals week

Energy Drinks
With college students around the country about to enter finals week, many of them are reaching for the latest magic bullet to stay awake and alert: energy drinks. But energy drinks may turn out to be more foe than friend, warned public health expert David Dausey, Ph.D., chair of the public health department at Mercyhurst University.

“We’ve already reached a point where many people in the public health community compare these sugary drinks to cigarettes in terms of their threat to public health,” said Dausey in this month’s installment of The Dausey File: Public Health News Today. “Energy drinks are the equivalent of unfiltered cigarettes. Many students will consume excessive amounts of energy drinks during finals week to try to keep up. When they are combined with lack of sleep, stress and alcohol consumption, you can have a very dangerous combination.”

The vast majority of the American public already consumes too much sugar and too much caffeine, he said, adding, “The public health advice when it comes to sugar and caffeine is to have a little as possible.”

That goes to the heart of Dausey’s concern: Instead of limiting sugar and caffeine intake, energy drinks are designed to get people to overload on them. The overload can take its toll on the body, delivering both short-term and long-term health effects, especially during times of stress and sleep deprivation, like finals week.

Energy drinks are particularly dangerous for individuals who have cardiac abnormalities or a family history of heart problems. Dausey warned that many college students may not even know that they have a cardiac abnormality and consume energy drinks totally unaware of the risk.

“This is incredibly serious,” he said. “Many young people don’t realize what a clear and present danger energy drinks represent to their health. Under the right conditions, excessive consumption of energy drinks can and will kill you.”

Indeed, instances of energy drinks leading to death have come to light in recent weeks, including a case in which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received claims that the drink 5-Hour Energy may have led to 13 deaths and 33 hospitalizations during the past four years.

Dausey said sugar and caffeine are not the only culprits connected to energy drinks. “They also come loaded with additives,” he said. “The potential negative synergies of these additives with things like over-the-counter medications and alcohol are unclear.”

The FDA is currently investigating energy drinks to see if they pose a health risk, but Dausey said he wouldn’t wait for the FDA’s conclusions. “The FDA doesn’t regulate energy drinks as food; instead they are regulated as ‘dietary supplements,’” he said. “This means that the regulatory standards for energy drinks are different than the standards for a typical soft drink.”

In addition Dausey said, “The FDA has been a day late and a dollar short for practically every threat to human health for the last decade - from pesticides to BPA. Don’t wait for the FDA to come out and say energy drinks are unsafe. Use common sense and stay away from energy drinks.”

For more information, contact Dausey at ddausey@mercyhurst.edu.
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