Gratitude for the Energy of a Healthy Body

November 20, 2012 in Foodland, Health, Nutritionism by Joyce Bunderson

I think it’s a good habit to reflect on our blessings and be grateful every day; but it’s now the time of year to celebrate our sense of gratitude in a bigger way. This year I am especially grateful for the bounty of the real food that is available to us in the US; and, in addition, for the incredible and marvelous human body that science is beginning to learn about. Thanksgiving is a busy time of year; the official beginning of the holiday season; it requires lots of energy to take care of guests, to travel, to cook, to shop, and to visit – all this overlaid onto our already challenging lifestyles – everything needs to fit into 24 hour days – the same 24 hours that each of us has.

A couple weeks ago, I was going through a grocery line and noticed Pink Lemonade 5-hour Energy drinks with the Breast Cancer Awareness pink ribbon adorning their tiny bright pink 2-ounce bottle’s label. The existence of a product like 5-hour Energy combined with Breast Cancer Awareness was an oxymoronic experience in advertising that stunned me.

I picked up the bottle and quickly tried to discover how much caffeine was in the product, but I thought ‘maybe they’ve removed the caffeine from their Breast Cancer Awareness product’ because it was not listed. I learned later that because it is optional to disclose the amount of caffeine in this type of product that the manufacturer has chosen not to include it. Ouch! Not quite as thoughtful as the thought for a donation to Breast Cancer charities.

Because Vic and I live on real food and don’t use energy drinks or shots, I didn’t really notice the energy drinks very much. But since my first startled sighting of the Pink Lemonade 5-hour Energy shots, I’ve begun to notice that such concentrated so-called energy shots are everywhere candy used to be – right next to the cash register.

I was perplexed. What could possibly be in these little bottles that were perched at each register? I went home from the market and looked up what was in the 5-hour Energy. It contains a blend of caffeine, taurine, glucuronolactone, malic acid N-Acetyl L-tyrosine, L-phenylalanine and citicoline, plus vitamin B12, vitamin B6, folic acid and Niacin. The last four ingredients starting with vitamin B12 are all B vitamins. B vitamins are involved with producing energy in the body; but taking extra essentially enriches the toilet water; it doesn’t give you extra energy, unless you are very malnourished, and that’s not the case with most Americans. Choline is grouped with B vitamins and made by the body and is a close relative of citicoline which is a psycho- stimulant. Reading the ingredients list led me to decide that maybe it was time to write a little more about what we drink and about energy; so I put the idea into my queue for blog topics. (If you missed Drinking Trouble, published on March 27, 2012, you may want to review it. The March article was mostly about drinks like Monster, Red Bull, Rock Star, AMP, and Energy Potions, but if, in addition, you want to read a little about what’s in the new drinks/shots read Energy Drink Ingredients.)

Could it be that those taking the “shot” of caffeine overlap with the slice of the population that fear a speck of sugar; carbs; pesticides; GMO particles; or a dab of gluten? Surely, not! It brought me back to a desire that physiology be taught in school, so that it would not be easy for the marketing people to defraud the populous so effortlessly. Understanding physiology would lead to appreciating the fact that the human body is a huge lesson in balance and moderation.

It wasn’t long after I discovered Pink Lemonade 5-hour Energy that the news about The Adverse Event Report from the FDA came out. The 5-hour Energy product was included. The New York Times article said that the federal report reported over 13,000 emergency room visits in 2009 where an energy drink was cited as a possible cause. The argument that 5-hour Energy uses is that they sell 9 million bottles a week and there have been only 33 hospitalizations and 13 deaths and 92 serious adverse events in four years – at least those that specifically cited 5-hour Energy. They say: “Adverse events reports do not prove that our shots caused deaths.” And that is true. It took decades of research to prove that cigarettes actually caused cancer. But maybe while the FDA and independent researchers work to discover what is causing the adverse events and deaths; you may want to try to avoid this type of product.

Let’s say that you are a cross-country driver; a student who needs to study long hours or you’re required to work late. Is getting more sleep an option? You say no. Then maybe consider asking your physician or pharmacist to discover if your health or your medications might react negatively with caffeine.

Caffeine is a drug, but because it is found naturally in food, it is legally allowed to be added with less control than for other chemicals. When you find caffeine in nature, coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans, then historically it is turned into a hot cup of coffee, a piece of chocolate candy, or a cup of steeped tea. But when you concentrate it, and add it to a tiny two-ounce shot, it may be part of a new problem – or newly recognized problem.

One of the ways these energy shots are being used is to help people feel less drunk. Unfortunately, it does not alter the blood alcohol level. The use of high-caffeine drinks/shots makes it possible for inebriated and cognitively impaired people to get ever nearer, and even exceed, the lethal blood alcohol concentration. Be aware and beware! Read a little about alcohol poisoning, if you’re not aware of the danger. The body is designed to let you know when you’re taking something that is risking your health – thus, the vomiting with excessive drinking. But combining alcohol and caffeine may reduce or postpone the body’s self-protective responses. It may also introduce additional new risks not yet fully investigated and reported.

It appears that one of the lethal combinations of high-caffeine drinks/shots is with the use of ecstasy, amphetamine and methamphetamine. There are other possible ways that the adverse reactions are happening, including the loss of potassium (caused by caffeine) and combining it with products like No-Doz. Potassium is involved in heart rate, so we do not want to mess with too much loss of potassium. One of the dangers of the small shots is that it is easier to take a large dose of caffeine without the bulk (and volume-limiting and diluting effects) of a large number of cups of coffee or even in the more concentrated and intense caffeine in energy drinks like Monster, Rockstar. There’s much more on this subject in a very nice review written by David DiSalvo.

DiSalvo points out that caffeine is a drug. He explains that in 1969, President Nixon ordered the FDA to review the substances on the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list. The FDA didn’t get to caffeine for nine years, but they did express serious concerns about its health risks including high blood pressure.

It’s fascinating to me that I lived through 9 years of college, while raising 3 children; put on many holiday events and never used any energy shots or drinks. I believe that I’ve taken fair care of my body and my body has repaid me nicely with health – I have much to be thankful for. Energy shots and drinks are not alternatives to rest or sleep; eating a healthy diet; and exercise. I won’t say that I’ve never been tired, but I will say that I did pull it off without relying on these new products – the point is that it’s possible. It seems likely to me, if you continue to manage your energy by the use of chemicals, you will over time, increasingly be degrading a healthy vigorous, energetic body and mind. Remember, sooner or later there will be health repercussions. Digging out of them, if possible, may take away all or more than the time you supposedly saved by abusing your body.

I’m thankful for the health and ability that I’ve been blessed with; for abundant, delicious whole foods and for each of you that join me in striving to take care of our minds and bodies. We live in a culture where advertising and social expectations often make it hard to be satisfied, to realize that we have enough. I’m grateful for the gift of a body that allowed me the strength and energy to do the things that I have been able to do. And thankful that I have been given sufficient energy- even enough to do for others. Being grateful for a healthy mind and body may help us realize that we have enough, we may become content – no we’re not super action heroes, but what we are is enough.

I’m sending my very best wishes for a beautiful and grateful holiday season.