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Caffeine kick

Students turn to energy drinks to increase productivity, may fall victim to unpleasant side effects

It’s no secret — energy is a valuable commodity for multitasking college students these days. There is always a paper to write, a problem set to finish, a party to attend and simply not enough hours in the day to accommodate everything. It isn’t hard to find that kid in the computer cluster nursing a Red Bull as though it were the serum of youth or the fatigued classmate chugging a 5-Hour Energy before a 9 a.m. midterm.

(ERIC KOFMAN/The Stanford Daily)

Despite the short-term boost energy drinks can offer, Colin Campbell ’12, a Peer Health Educator (PHE) in Toyon Hall, described how large amounts of caffeine can take a toll on an individual’s health.

“You’re using [energy drinks] as a stimulant to ward off drowsiness and increase alertness for a short amount of time,” he said. “But if you use them on a regular basis, then you’ll develop a caffeine tolerance. It will no longer have that effect on you, and you might develop heart palpitations or hyperreflexia [overactive reflexes].”

Students often consume energy drinks when work needs to be completed in crunch time.

“I know it’s not healthy, but you overlook that when you have a deadline,” said Cecilia Jojola ’11. “You compromise a healthy lifestyle for efficiency.”

Although Jojola only chooses to consume coffee every couple of weeks, she rarely indulges in energy drinks.

“I stay away from the energy drinks just because they are unhealthily loaded with sugar and who knows what kinds of chemicals,” she said.

Ralph Castro, associate director for health promotion services at Vaden Health Center, cites sleep deprivation as the number one reason why students turn to energy drinks. Although Vaden does not maintain specific statistics on students’ consumption, he described energy drinks as popular at Stanford, as evidenced by the empty cans he sees littered about the campus from time to time.

Castro said that the larger issue at hand regarding these drinks, however, is mixing them with alcohol, such as mixing Red Bull with vodka.

“You’re mixing a stimulant with a depressant,” he said. “The stimulant masks the effects of the depressant, and so it makes people reach a stimulant high. But the stimulant wears off quicker than the depressant does in the alcohol.”

“When people are consuming multiple drinks, at one point, it all comes crashing down on them like a ton of bricks — they get really drunk really quickly,” he added.

Another serious concern for Castro is the use of stimulant medications to achieve similar or more extreme side effects of energy drinks or caffeinated beverages.

“There’s been an increase in students who use stimulant medications such as Adderall and Ritalin for non-medical purposes,” he said.

According to Castro, about seven to 10 percent of college students have used those drugs in the course of their lifetimes.

“When we look at our averages here [at Stanford], it is definitely lower than the national average,” Castro said. “However, we are at risk given the high academic rigor of our culture. But we don’t have the data to really say whether we are higher than other schools in terms of energy drink and caffeine consumption in general.”

Vivian Crisman, a dietician at Vaden Health Center’s Health Promotion Services, suggested that students should limit their caffeine consumption to about 300 milligrams per day.

“An eight-ounce cup of coffee has about 100 milligrams,” she said. “For the average college student who has a little bit of coffee, some tea, some soda later on in the day, they are probably in the range of about 300 milligrams. But obviously, some drinks contain a lot more caffeine than that.”

And how should students combat this caffeine craving? Crisman argued that it all boils down to sleep and proper nutrition, starting with a balanced breakfast, a mid-afternoon snack and proper hydration. Castro maintained that regular exercise — whether that means hiking the Dish or even something as simple as running around Wilbur Field with your friends — will help keep you awake throughout the day.

Crisman and Castro’s comments fall in line with Campbell’s matter-of-fact solution to curbing the consumption of caffeinated drinks.

“The overall goal would be to prevent cramming and all-nighters from ever happening in the first place,” Campbell said.