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Red Bull consumers crash and burn
Published 11/27/2012 6:00:00 AM
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Red Bull may claim to give you wings, but you might need to fly to the emergency room.

Concentrated energy drinks such as Red Bull and 5 Hour Energy can have dangerous effects, which are often played down by companies. Consumers need to think twice before reaching for an energy drink on convenience store shelves.

The long term effects of energy drinks are unknown and vary among individuals, sometimes to a deadly degree.

New York Times reported earlier this month that 5 Hour Energy was responsible for thirteen deaths over the last four years. An older article from the same newspaper noted that five cases of seizures and four cases of mania in individuals with bipolar disorder have been linked to consumption of energy drinks.

The latter article reports that studies on the effects of these beverages almost exclusively involve young, healthy adults, in small sample sizes. However, anyone can buy these drinks, so these studies do not accurately represent the consumer population. Children, anyone with a heart condition and people with mental disorders, have heightened adverse reactions to energy drinks compared to your average robust 20-year-old athlete.

These beverage companies are in denial about the dangers and the side-effects of their own products. For example, Red Bull claims mixing the drink with alcohol poses no more of a danger than using any other non-caffeinated mixture, despite ample evidence to the contrary, according to The New York Times.

Even on their own, the danger of these drinks lies in the potent cocktail of energy-boosting ingredients at concentrated levels. While most claim to include as much caffeine as a regular cup of coffee, this caffeine is combined with a potentially dangerous blend of many alternative forms of energy.

The caffeine levels alone pose only a minimal risk, but only partial studies have been conducted on these other ingredients individually, let alone in combination. Their effects remain a mystery.

This approach is indicative of a disturbing trend among energy drink distributers. Manufacturers are not transparent about their merchandise.

The Red Bull marketing campaign is pure genius. The company has managed to link their name to extraordinary feats done by extraordinary people, so that consumers assume the actual Red Bull beverage makes these feats possible.

A quick look at the Red Bull website shows large links devoted to “Athletes and Teams,” “Sports,” “Events,” “World Series” and “Culture.” This last link is most telling of Red Bull’s mission: to create an entire culture in which their product plays a role. Below the links, in small font and placed almost as an afterthought, is the link “Products and Company.”

The company also claims that Red Bull, “Makes you feel more energetic and thus improves your overall well-being.”

By that logic, cocaine must also play a vital role in a holistic approach to health.

The nutrition facts on the same webpage lists “Energy” as the first dietary element, with the quantity recorded as “192 kJ (45 kcal).” I don’t know many 14-year-olds, or human beings for that matter, who know how to interpret this information.

I do, however, know plenty of 14-year-olds who think the Red Bull stunt videos are cool and consume the product accordingly. Armed with this information, it is up to the consumer to choose their energy source.

As long as these opaque claims about energy drinks keep boosting sales, companies will keep using them. The consumer must take charge of his or her own health and consider the effects of these ingredients on the human body.

I also can’t help but wonder why drinkers of these products don’t just grab a coffee instead.

Aside from being the most delicious beverage to grace the planet Earth, coffee offers a natural energy boost sans sugar and synthetic energizers. Unless you have a mean glucuronolactone craving, swing by a coffee shop for a pick-me-up and avoid the disturbing “niacin flush” associated with downing 5 Hour Energy shots.

Coffee will get you through an all-nighter or an early morning class. You may not grow wings, but at least you won’t develop a nervous disorder. Sounds like a fair trade to me.

-Calley Hair is a sophomore communication major from Redmond. She can be contacted at 335-2290 or by opinion@dailyevergreen.com. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of Student Publications.

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