An Overview of Energy Drinks and Alcohol – Part 1

Energy Drinks and Alcohol |

Energy Drinks and Alcohol | cautions consumers to be aware that, since the early 1990’s, energy drinks and alcohol pop drinks (alcopops) have proliferated and become a permanent fixture in our culture.

An energy drink is any beverage that contains some form of legal stimulant and/or vitamins which have been added to give the consumer a short term boost in energy. These drinks tend to contain significant amounts of sugar and caffeine.

An alcopop is a term used to describe a bottled alcoholic beverage that resembles soft drinks or lemonade. The alcohol beverage industry classifies these drinks as RTD’s (“Ready to Drink”) due to the fact that they are pre-mixed,  FAB’s (“Flavored Alcoholic Beverages”), FMB’s (“Flavored Malt Beverages”) or PPS’s (“Pre-Packaged Spirits”).

An alcohol energy drink is either premixed by the manufacturer or mixed by the consumer.

As stated, the energy drink or energy component of the mixed drink contains many different ingredients that are vitamins or stimulants, all with the purpose of increasing energy. Ingredients that may be found in these beverages include:

- Caffeine – a mild stimulant found in cola, tea, coffee, and chocolate. Most energy drinks have 70 – 200 mg of caffeine. Caffeine is known medically as trimethylxanthine. Medically, caffeine is useful as a cardiac stimulant and also as a mild diuretic (it increases urine production). Recreationally, it is used to provide a “boost of energy” or a feeling of heightened alertness.  Caffeine is an addictive drug and it operates using the same mechanisms that amphetamines and cocaine use to stimulate the brain, though caffeine’s effects are more mild than amphetamines and cocaine. (see appendix for caffeine content of various beverages)

- Guarana is a climbing plant, native to Brazil, that contains caffeine. Each fruit contains about one seed, which contains approximately three times more  caffeine than coffee beans. (It also contains modest amounts of related compounds, one is theophylline a substance that dilates the bronchi in the lung and is used to treat various respiratory diseases such as asthma.). Guarana has also been found to promote weight loss, again through its stimulant properties (increasing the metabolic rate).

- Taurine is an amino acid which is just now being researched. It is a possible inhibitory neurotransmitter and a cardiac stimulant and it is not known yet what influences it has on the body. One theory is that taurine enhances the effect of caffeine.

- Ginseng is actually three different herbs commonly grouped together and called ginseng: Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), and Siberian “ginseng” (Eleutherococcus senticosus). The latter herb is actually not ginseng at all, but the Russian scientists responsible for promoting it believe that it functions identically. Asian ginseng is said to stimulate and relax the nervous system, encourage the secretion of hormones, improve stamina, lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels and increase resistance to disease. It is used internally in the treatment of debility associated with old age or illness, lack of appetite, insomnia, stress, shock and chronic illness. There are known adverse effects to the use of excess ginseng and these include: headaches, restlessness, and raised blood pressure, especially if it is taken with caffeine and/or alcohol.

- Inositol is any one of nine isomeric alcohols. One of these is found in plant and animal tissue and is classified as a member of the vitamin B complex, though it is not considered a vitamin per se, since the human body can synthesize it. Inositol, unofficially referred to as “vitamin B8,” is present in all animal tissues, with the highest levels in the heart and brain. Inositol may also be involved in depression. People who are depressed may have lower than normal levels of inositol in their spinal fluid. In addition, inositol participates in the action of serotonin, a neurotransmitter known to be a factor in depression. Inositol also is said to boost the body’s natural cellular defenses by increasing the levels of inositol phosphates in the cells; as a result, it dramatically increases natural killer cell activity, which plays a key role in strengthening the body’s immune system.

- Choline, a dietary component of many foods, is part of several major phospholipids (including phosphatidylcholine – also called lecithin) that are critical for normal membrane structure and function. Due to its effects on brain acetylcholine levels, choline supplementation can enhance memory capacity in healthy humans and rats. Furthermore, choline, in conjunction with supplements that prolong the effects of acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction, may improve neuromuscular transmission. Large oral doses of choline or phosphatidylcholine may be associated with hypotension, sweating, salivation and diarrhea.

- Sugar (glucose) is the major carbohydrate used as fuel in our body to supply energy. Glucose is the preferred fuel of brain cells, and also muscle cells in early exercise. Carbohydrates (which sugar is) provide most of the energy needed in our daily lives, both for normal body functions such as heartbeat, breathing and digestion and for exercise such as cycling, walking and running.

- Carnitine, an amino acid, creatine, ginko, milk thistle and many vitamins (especially the B vitamins – riboflavin, niacin, etc) have also been ingredients in these drinks.

ALCOPOPS, are beverages that are sweet, are served in 12 fl oz cans or bottles and contain 4 – 7% alcohol by volume (8 – 14 proof). In Europe and Canada, alcopops tend to be pre-mixed spirits. In the United States, they are generally beers with added sugar, coloring and flavorings. One advantage to the manufacturer is that if legally classified as beers, they can be sold in outlets that do not carry spirit based drinks. The alcopops hit the US in the mid -90’s with the successful marketing plan of “malternative beverages”. Later, other beverages came onto the US scene.

There has been significant concern that these beverages might appeal to children due to their names, sweetness and colors.

Tomorrow’s post: What happens when energy drinks are combined with alcohol?

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