Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Caffeine + Alcohol = Danger

I am extremely pleased to hear that the FDA is standing up to the beverage industry and forcing the removal from store shelves of all energy drinks that contain the problematic and unhealthy combination of high doses of caffeine and alcohol.

A new study has already revealed that beverages containing high levels of caffeine can increase dependence on alcohol, and some data reveals that young people who regularly use energy drinks are more likely to indulge in binge drinking and high-risk behavior.

Beverage companies have recently gone out of their way to create products with catchy names like "Joose", products that are packaged in a flashy manner that belies their questionable and unhealthy contents.

While super-caffeinated drinks like "Red Bull" have been popular for years, newer drinks containing very high doses of caffeine coupled with a 12% alcohol content by volume bring a new problem to the fore. The FDA and other groups have found that young people under the influence of these volatile caffeine-alcohol mixtures are less likely to feel the effects of the alcohol that they are imbibing since it is mitigated by the excessive amounts of caffeine being ingested simultaneously. So, these individuals drink more and more, putting themselves at risk not only of alcohol poisoning but also from the cumulative effects of the stimulating herbs and amino acids contained in these beverages.

Many young people will no doubt feel that the government is overstepping, intruding on their ability to purchase products that are inherently legal yet contain dangerous mixtures of substances whose combination (and excessive use) create enormously dangerous situations.

As I write this post, the FDA has issued a warning to the manufacturers of caffeinated alcohol drinks that the products must be removed from shelves and reformulated. Meanwhile, many universities and colleges---along with some states---are banning these products of their own accord, and we can probably rest assured that energy drinks will continue to come under close scrutiny by parents, consumer groups, the FDA, and researchers.

In a country where the market and profits rule, manufacturers have taken advantage of the situation by marketing products that endanger the health and very lives of vulnerable (and frequently naive) young people. Just like the cigarette industry (which set such a nefarious example), these companies are, as usual, putting profits before safety and health, peddling unregulated products that feed the American addiction to speed, pleasure, and consumerism, not to mention the proclivity towards alcoholism and substance abuse.

The FDA took a stand this week, and I deeply hope that they will follow through on their actions further holding the beverage industry accountable for such a wanton display of poor judgment and corporate selfishness. Our young people don't need companies to hand them their own demise on a silver platter (or, rather, in a seemingly innocuous and brightly colored can), and we need the FDA and other regulatory bodies to walk their talk when it comes to protecting the public from products that create such utterly avoidable scenarios of danger, ill health, and reckless choices.
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