At the tender age of nine, coffee stained her sugar milk. Sharing an afternoon snack of “coffee” and cookies with Grandma made her feel like a grown-up. The evolution of this afternoon treat progressed to a caffeine addiction during college. Her alarm clock is the aroma of fresh brewed coffee. Within minutes of a first sip, her eyes are open, she carries a coherent conversation and the multi-tasking teen begins her day.
She continues the daily ritual of three steps forward, two steps back as she sips coffee to keep her alertness elevated throughout the day. Depending on her brew method, the caffeine in her 10-ounce cup varies from 130 to 230 milligrams. Caffeine reaches peak performance in her bloodstream 15 to 45 minutes after consumption. After five to six hours, the concentration in the initial cup of caffeine is reduced by half.
Added to all that caffeine consumption from coffee are energy drinks and a new concern. Do energy drinks have an impact on driving ability?
Do Energy Drinks Offer Same Benefits as Coffee?
During warm summer months she shifts her focus to iced caffeine. After a full day of labs and study halls, she gears up for a night on the town with her girlfriends. To prevent driver fatigue she has a choice of a 20-minute nap, 1-2 cups of a caffeinated drink or both. She decides the quick jolt of an energy drink at the local gas station would do the trick before heading home to get ready.
Energy drinks supply a comparable amount of caffeine to a cup of brewed coffee, give or take a couple hundred milligrams. Caffeine is a natural byproduct found in many products. However, the amount of caffeine is not listed on all product labels. If a product adds caffeine, then it must be an ingredient listed in the nutritional facts. When caffeine content appears on the label, it is an indicator the manufacturer is a member of The American Beverage Association. As a member of the ABA, the manufacturer must agree with a voluntary policy to list the caffeine amount from all sources found in the energy drink. If the manufacturer is not a member of the American Beverage Association, there is no regulation to the contents on a label.
Are energy drinks a dietary supplement?
The selection of bottled energy intimidates her. She grabs the first drink promising “energy” to improve alertness and quickly returns to driving. Will the unpronounceable ingredients help or harm her driving?
There are over 50 brands of energy drinks. The caffeine her body is used to is not the only chemical with the power to give her body a boost. When looking at options, she overlooked the difference between Nutritional Facts and Supplemental Facts labels. The reaction from additional “ingredients” listed on the labels may create additional concerns.
Nutritional Facts labels provide a breakdown of serving sizes to compare the daily value of ingredients in like products. The FDA defines nutritional labels as foods that are not dietary supplements. The labeling is specific to the percent of daily value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. According to the FDA, one 12-ounce can (one serving size) of soft drink may contain no more than 71 milligrams of caffeine.
A couple of ingredients more prevalent in energy drinks are Taurine and Guarana. Taurine is amino acid that is believed to create mental performance and physical endurance. However, the long term effect of Taurine additive is unknown. The seeds of the Guarana plant are used to enhance athletic performance, and reduce mental and physical fatigue. Interestingly enough, since guarana produces caffeine naturally it is not necessary to include the amount on the label.
Energy Drinks with Nutritional Facts include Red Bull, Monster, Amp, Rockstar, Full Throttle and Starbucks Double Shot.
Drinks that are sold with a Supplemental Facts label infer it is a dietary supplement, like a vitamin pill. The Food and Drug Administration defines a supplement as 1) Not used to replace a meal or diet but taken by mouth to supplement diet; 2) Contains one or more dietary supplements which could include: Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs or other botanicals, and/or Amino acids. It also states that caffeine is not required to be listed as an ingredient. However, some ingredients listed on the energy drinks in this category have not been tested for safety. Although categorized as a “sports drink” the ingredients may cause high blood pressure, dehydration and heat illness. Due to the fact that supplemental facts are not regulated by the FDA the daily value is not established. The labeling preference is decided by the manufacturer. Therefore many highlight the benefits, some include a warning label listing the side effects of overconsumption, and others withhold the harmful effects altogether.
On June 14, 2014, a healthy and active 16-year old consumed Red Bull instead of water to “stay hydrated” while on vacation with friends in Mexico. After a day in the sun, she was not feeling well and died as a result of cardiac arrest. Preliminary research indicates the high level of caffeine and sugar played a significant role in her death. Her family was not prepared for the additional expense of bringing their daughter back to the United States. Discussion with an independent insurance agent regarding coverage with a child life insurance policy may have avoided the need to create a GoFundMe account.
Energy Drinks with Supplemental Facts include 5-Hour Energy Shots and NOS.
Why Change to Nutritional Facts?
Monster Energy Corp reclassified its drink as a beverage in 2013 to be more transparent about their ingredients and added caffeine to the label. The switch from supplemental to nutritional label came after the popular drink was preliminarily linked in a death lawsuit of a 14-year old girl. Another 13 deaths were preliminarily linked to 5 Hour Energy in November 2013, yet their label remains as a supplement. The FDA continues to research the effects of energy drinks when accidents occur.
Do Energy Drinks Affect Ability to Drive?
Our young caffeine user’s fatigue from labs and studying is temporarily disguised with a burst of energy. As the energy drink wears off, she notices her fatigue is greater than before. As the fatigue increases, reaction time increases and concentration decreases.
excitement, restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, flushing of the face, gastrointestinal disturbance, increased urination, muscle twitching, irritability, a rambling flow of thought and speech, irregular or rapid heartbeat, and psychomotor agitation.
When combining large amounts of caffeine with unpronounceable Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs or other botanicals, and/or Amino acids found in Energy Drinks, her body experiences greater changes. This includes, but is not limited to mania, high blood pressure, depression, lapses in judgment, dehydration, disorientation, disinhibition, delusions, hallucinations, heat illness and psychosis.
No conclusive studies collaborate the ingestion of energy drinks to a higher risk of driving impairment exist today. Each body reacts differently to various levels of caffeine. When two or more risks are concurrently experienced, adverse reactions can be attributed to the energy drink as a whole. The risk of receiving ticket for distracted driving, causing a car crash or even death to a loved one is minimized when care is taken to drink responsibly. This will keep your insurance premium low.
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*From Consumer Reports published December 2012