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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Truth About Red Bull

     According to the US Department of Agriculture one 12 ounce can of Red Bull contains 108 mg of caffeine. Caffeine in an 8 ounce cup of coffee can vary widely, but let's assume it contains 95 mg, so a cup and a half of coffee yields 142.5 ounces of caffeine. By the way, the USDA website allows you search their Search Food Data Central for information on the nutritional value and ingrediants in thousands of foods and drinks. 
     Originally Red Bull was the drink of choice for truck drivers in Thailand, but it's pretty much everywhere today. The original Red Bull is called Krating Daeng and it was created in 1976 by an entrepreneur in Thailand named Chaleo Yoovidhya. Truck drivers were among the first targeted as customers. 
     It wasn't until 1987 that a completely unrelated business encounter turned it into Red Bull and introduced it to the world. Chaleo's company was working with importing product from a German toothpaste company called Blendax. After Blendax's marketing director sampled the drink, the idea of forming a corporation specifically to bring it to the rest of the world came into being.
     It seems many researchers just want to make a name for themselves and one has to question just how trivial some reports on the safety of energy drinks are.  On the other side of the coin there are a number of studies that say Red Bull is completely safe, but if you read the fine print, you'll find they're often financed by...you guessed it...Red Bull    
    In 2004, France raised concerns about the levels of caffeine Red Bull contains and banned the import and sale of it completely. The ban was challenged, but upheld. It wasn't until 2008 that the original, unmodified version of Red Bull was allowed to be imported and sold in France because continued testing couldn't find any evidence of the supposed health risks.
     In 2009, when Red Bull Cola was tested in Germany and it was found samples contained trace amounts of cocaine, some people went into a panic. It was clarified that the product was made from the same coca plant that's notorious for its illicit byproducts. It's included in a number of energy drinks, but the manufacturing process removes the cocaine component… in most cases. Even though the amount found was negligible (it would take chugging almost 3,200 gallons, or 12,000 liters, to get any cocaine-like effects) it was still banned in six German states.   
     In 2014 Lithuania voted a law into effect that took away a huge part of Red Bull's target audience: minors. The law forbid the selling of any high-caffeine energy drink to minors.
     Also in 2014, Dr. Peter Miller of Australia's Deakin University published an article that questioned just how honest some of these studies are. His concern though was about investigations into what happens when you combine energy drinks and alcohol.  Common sense says that's not a good idea, but that's something that's lacking in a lot of people who probably don't care what Dr. Miller's report said anyway.
     Red Bull's logo is NOT two red bulls; they are animals called gaurs which are native to South and Southeast Asia. The gaur is the tallest of the world's wild cattle and they all have the horns you see on the Red Bull logo, regardless of whether they're male or female. They're also among the largest land animals. 
     So, what's the skinny on Red Bull? Is it bad for you? It's claimed high levels of caffeine and sugar can be extremely dangerous and have even been shown to stop the heart. 
     Claims have been made that the acidity of energy drinks is potentially harmful to bone, muscle, and brain health. 
     And, claims have been made that it is extremely addictive and causes consumers to depend on them to boost their energy. This one seems believable when you consider coffee, tea and cola drinks are also addictive.
     Energy drinks are known to elevate blood pressure. A 2015 study found that after adults drank one 16 ounce can of an energy drink, the average systolic blood pressure of the participants increased by 6.2 percent, while the average diastolic blood pressure increased by 6.8 percent. 
     My question is, what happens to your blood pressure if you drink 16 ounces of coffee? The report didn't say. However, an article in Healthline referenced a study which showed that 200–300 mg of caffeine from coffee (approximately the amount you'd consume in 1.5–2 cups) resulted in an average increase of 8 mm Hg and 6 mm Hg in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respectively. Let's do some math assuming one's blood pressure is 120/70. A 16 ounce can of Red Bull raises your BP to 127/75. Two cups of coffee raises it to 128/78.  Piffle! The difference is negligible. It should be added that some studies show that energy drinks raise blood pressure by other mechanisms in a way different from caffeine alone. 
      A report from the World Health Organization says energy drinks, such as Red Bull and Monster, contain high levels of the stimulant caffeine. Considering the caffeine levels of Red Bull, Monster, etc. and coffee are very similar, the WHO report sounds like alarmist drivel.
     Despite all the hype and people screaming about the dangers of Red Bull and other energy drinks, it looks like having one serving is equivalent to a regular cup of coffee. It is when one exceeds the limits and drinks 2 or 3 cans that trouble could occur. 
     People with heart or circulatory medical conditions are at higher risk of adverse effects. Nor is it advisable to drink such drinks (including coffee) right before working out. The goal of working out is to elevate heart rate during exercise and maintain it at a high level for a while. If you drink something with caffeine in it, it could trigger a heart attack, especially when there is an underlying medical condition of the heart. 
     Remember energy drinks (including coffee) are not substitutes for meals, especially breakfast! 
     If I have any complaint against energy drinks, it's the fact that it is appealing to young people. One teenager told me about how he and a couple of friends drank Red Bull before basketball practice and it had an adverse effect that left them frightened. They all swore off the stuff thinking it was too dangerous...smart young fellows. I suspect the problem was that they were not used to the effects of caffeine and that's what caused their reaction and had they drunk two cup of coffee the same thing would have happened.

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