Red Bull is one of the first of these drinks and it’s led the way for a wave of high-octane drinks to the market. An 8-ounce serving typically has about 80 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as a cup of coffee and more than twice as much as a 12-ounce can of Pepsi or Coke.
In addition, Red Bull is enhanced with the sugar glucuronolactone, which is found in grain and red wine. It also contains taurine, an amino acid that grew into an urban legend as party-goers described it as an energy-enhancing compound extracted from bulls’ testicles. Taurine actually occurs naturally in human muscle and is also found in scallops, fish, poultry and infant formula.
The caffeine – 80mg per can, more than three times what’s in the same amount of Coke, but a similar amount to a cup of strong coffee – produces the trademark ‘buzz’. But sugar is the only ingredient in Red Bull that actually supplies ready ‘energy’ – and, being refined sugar, the ‘high’ is at best short and unsustainable and can, with continued consumption, depress immunity and wreak havoc with the body’s own energy-producing systems. To put Red Bull’s sugar content into perspective, the UK Food Standards Agency defines a high-sugar product as containing 10g per 100g. Red Bull contains 11.3g per 100g – a mighty 28g of simple carbohydrates per can.
But data from the Austrian National Food Authority suggests that the amount of taurine in just two cans of Red Bull is around five times that in an omnivorous diet. Similarly, intake of glucuronolactone (a metabolite, or breakdown product, of glucose) from two cans of Red Bull is in the order of 500 times what humans would normally get from food.
Although taurine has a calming effect on the central nervous system and lowers blood pressure, these effects need to be judged in relation to the caffeine in Red Bull, which has the exact opposite effect, and the potential havoc that combining these ingredients could play on the body. Each of the ingredients in Red Bull clearly has the capacity to produce its own adverse effects; but they can also interact. Given this, it is all the more amazing that there is no long-term research on how sugar, caffeine, taurine and glucuronolactone might interact in the body.
Some ‘performance drinks’ contain the caffeine equivalent of at least ten cans of cola – as much as 300 mg of caffeine (vs 80 mg in a cup of strong coffee).
Warnings advise people not to drink more than two cans a day. The drink is banned in Norway, Uruguay and Denmark, while officials in France, Ireland, Turkey, Sweden, Canada, and the U.S. have expressed concern. Turkey has required the company to cut the caffeine in half to sell it in their country. In Sweden, Denmark and Norway, Red Bull is a medicinal product; and in Japan, until recently, it was available only in pharmacies. In Canada, where it has only relatively recently been allowed on sale, the product carries the warnings: ‘Not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, caffeine-sensitive persons or to be mixed with alcohol. Do not consume more than 500 ml per day.’
Earlier this year, a study suggested it could increase the ‘stickiness’ of blood and raise the risk of heart disease and stroke, but the company sold 3.5billion cans and bottles in 143 countries last year.
They are also high in sugar – as much as 13 teaspoons per 8 oz container (or artificial sweeteners) and with additional ingredients such as Guarana, Taurine, Glucuronolactone amongst many others, including chemical flavourings, all interacting with each other – the synergistic effect of these ingredients and resultant impact on our health is largely unknown.
The truth is, these drinks are most definitely not a good idea for kids under 17 and probably not so great for any of us kids over 17. Some convenience stores that care more about the kids in their community than their bottom line have actually banned the sale of these drinks to kids under 17.
Now, drinking a cup of coffee/mate/green tea here and there is in a totally different category than drinking a mind-altering, shouldn’t really be legal energy drink. Caffeine-Nazi husband wouldn’t really agree, but that’s where you, my friends with the pots brewing all come in handy on those mornings I just know it’s a gotta-have a cup kind of day! I have you all plotted on my handy map for such emergencies.
If you are having doubts about you and your caffeine, check out this article for a list of possible adverse reactions to caffeine. I am on the sensitive side, others can handle a daily cup without a problem. I wish I could! 🙂