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Getting the rush

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Posted: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 12:00 pm | Updated: 5:02 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Desiree Johnson

Killeen Daily Herald

First thing in the morning, most people need their traditional cup of coffee to get a jolt of caffeine and start their day. More recently, however, there is much more to worry about when it comes to caffeine consumption than what traditional coffee drinks provide.

Major coffee chain Starbucks has seen its stock value drop by half in the past year, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Among other solutions, the company announced plans on reviving business in the next year by entering into a market that has seemed to take over the world of caffeine: energy drinks.

The revolution began when Red Bull hit North America in 1997. Now Red Bull sells more than 3.5 billion cans a year, and grocery store and gas station shelves are constantly stocked with the drink and its knock-off counterparts such as Rockstar, Monster and Full Throttle.

Killeen resident and self-described caffeine addict Theresa Posey indulges in ice-cold Red Bull and Monster energy drinks instead of coffee from time to time and says Starbucks stepping into the energy drink ring is a good idea.

"It just depends on what's more convenient," Posey said. "I might have (an energy drink) depending on how hot it is outside. It sounds like a good move."

Many of these drinks have tapped into alternative sources of caffeine such as taurine, an organic acid and guarana, a common plant in Brazil whose fruit contains a seed with three times as much caffeine as coffee beans. In a few short years, the energy drink has caused an entire culture to emerge that is exciting for some and alarming to others.

In 2006, Cocaine – the soft drink – made its debut. Sold in thin red containers in the manner of predecessor Red Bull (but containing 350 percent more caffeine), "the legal alternative" boasted a whopping 750 mg of taurine.

By May 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pulled Cocaine from the shelves, saying the company was illegally marketing the drink as an alternative to street drugs.

But Cocaine is the least of America's problems.

Energyfiend.com lists and reviews caffeinated products, and the list is overwhelming. Consumers now can find caffeine in jelly beans, lip balm, soap, dissolving strips, mints and more.

This year, Snickers unveiled "Snickers Charged," a twist on their classic candy bar with 60 mg of caffeine and 250 mg of taurine. Stay Alert chewing gum, for "when liquids are a hassle," is designed to shoot caffeine into the system in the quickest way possible because more caffeine is absorbed through blood vessels under the tongue than through the stomach. Each small piece of cinnamon-flavored gum packs 100 mg of caffeine and was originally designed and approved for U.S. military use.

Taking the Cocaine energy drink fiasco one step further, Blow energy drink mix is marketed as "pure uncut energy" and comes to users as a vial of white powder that can be added to any beverage. The powder contains a staggering 2,000 mg of taurine and 250 mg of caffeine. Consumers can purchase the drink mix online in quantities with titles including "The Recreational User" pack and "The Fiender's Hook-Up." The makers have already received an FDA warning letter about their marketing strategy.

All these new developments in caffeine consumption can have serious repercussions for those who love the drug and especially for those – such as teens – who may not think of caffeine as a drug, let alone recognize the consequences of overconsumption. There have been multiple reports of teens being hospitalized as a result of too many energy drinks, causing symptoms such as profuse sweating, feeling lightheaded, having a much quicker heart rate and even trouble breathing.

Health becomes a concern when caffeine users are uninformed about (or ignorant of) their daily caffeine intake. The Caffeine Awareness Alliance Web site has a caffeine calculator that can average daily caffeine consumption, a full listing of caffeinated products by category, caffeine addiction quiz and even information on a caffeine support group.

Moderation is the key to good health – instead of reaching for that third cup of coffee in the middle of the afternoon (when naps start to seem extra appealing), reach for natural energy boosters such as fruit, fiber and nuts.

Energy drinks can be a good boost in the morning or afternoon, but there are warning labels about how many you should drink in a day, and drinking them in late afternoon or evenings can keep caffeine in the system and cause less than ideal sleep conditions for the night (meaning you'll just be even more sleepy in the morning).

Contact Desiree Johnson at djohnson@kdhnews.com or call (254) 501-7559

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