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Energy now, no crash later? 5-hour energy, caffeine supplements can cause health issues, fatality

By Georgie Flynn
On November 29, 2012

  • Rose Tea Cafe, located on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill, has a variety of food selections as well as exotic drinks and bubble teas. Fred Blauth / Photo Editor

As finals week quickly approaches, everyone is swallowing caffeinated beverages, whether it be coffees, lattes or the beloved 5-hour energy. Before chugging your beverage of choice to stay alert through your many hours of studying, it's important to keep in mind the negative effects that caffeinated beverages can cause.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, a few effects of high-caffeine intake include dehydration, inability to sleep, increased blood pressure  and jolt-and-crash cycles. 

The ever-popular energy drinks which keep college students up at night have garnered a lot of negative media attention. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote an article on November 16th, and discussed the investigation which thirteen deaths which were all linked to 5-Hour Energy over the past four years.

According to Nancy Generalovich, clinical nurse and campus relations coordinator for Duquesne's student health services center, students should be wary of how much caffiene they consume in the upcoming weeks.

"We are approaching the end of the semester, the time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the final push for finishing out the semester strong, completing projects and studying for exams becomes the chief focus. Suddenly there are not enough hours in the day to do all the things that you want to do," Generalovich said.

Generalovich explains that there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to how much caffiene is too much.

"I am often asked about the dangers associated with high caffeine levels. My answer is that there are dangers to some because individual responses to caffeine vary," Generalovich said.

This does not mean caffeine is not the enemy, it means over indulgence is not an option.

Cherith Simmer, assistant dean of the school of nursing, see a key in caffeine usage: moderation.

"Caffeine is known to increase mental acuity and alertness. Caffeine can be useful to students, but in moderation. The trick is moderation," Simmer said.

Caffeine-rich drinks should be kept to a minimum, according to Simmer.

"People should only limit themselves to only two to three caffeinated beverages a day. You should always stay away from super caffeinated drinks, such as 5-hour Energy," Simmer said.

Energy boosts and a caffiene high are not the only side-effects of energy drinks and enhancers. The high amounts of caffiene and other stimulants can lead to potential health risks later on.

"Energy drinks have become a popular energy booster but these drinks contain large amounts of sugar, caffeine and other legal stimulants like ephedrine, guarana and ginseng. Energy drinks may contain anywhere from 80 to 500 mg of caffeine, compared to coffee, tea, Pepsi  or Coca Cola, with around 80 to 130 mg caffeine," Generalovich said.

To help break an unhealthy habit with caffeine addiction, one must learn some healthy substitutes.

"If you're going for a soda, you probably want something sweet. Go for something with natural fructose, like an orange. Sometimes when you drink coffee, you're just thirsty," Simmer said. "Substituting a walk, fruit, and even teas; they are lower in caffeine, but they are good for you."

Generalovich has three ways to cut down on caffeine consumption.

"If you are consuming caffeinated drinks because you are tired, sick, or run-down, consider a better and healthier way to boost your energy. Get adequate sleep; we need sleep to think clearly, react quickly, and to remember. Skimping on sleep has a price. Cutting back by even one hour can make it tough to focus the next day and can slow your response time" Generalovich said.

Missing hours of sleep at night can definitely cause problems during finals week and can cost a poor grade on an exam.

"Exercise regularly. As research shows that those who regularly exercise show significant improvement in high level mental processes and intellectual function, and above all, eat a healthy diet. Obtaining adequate amounts of essential nutrients is just as crucial for brain function as it is for the rest of your body's functions. The brain utilitzes carbohydrates for energy, antioxidant benefits, and enhance neurotransmitter function. Egg yolk, wheat germ and peanuts are good food sources that regulate brain function carbohydrates, all of which provide energy," Generalovich said.

These are all strategies that will not only increase alertness and improvement on upcoming exams, but it will also help kick a caffeine habit.

"The habits you begin as a student tend to continue through adulthood," Simmer said.

Have a fresh start and get rid of coffee pots. Substitute them with healthy supplements, such as teas and start exercising, whether it is weight lifting, running or yoga. Ending bad habits and starting healthy ones is the way to go.

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