Beware Of Evil Foods

evil-foodsSuzi felt run-down after battling mono, but she had to get through calculus class. Energy drinks at her local drugstore promised vitamins and natural energy boosters. But one brand-name drink gave Suzi a rude shock when she tried it.

“I felt really wired,” she says. Later that night, Suzi couldn’t get to sleep. Not only was the drink loaded with stimulants, but it had three times the recommended amounts of other ingredients too.

“Functional’ Drinks”

The energy drink Suzi tried is part of a growing market of “functional” drinks. Companies sell these drinks as supplements that supposedly deliver health benefits.

Should you believe the hype? “Sustained thermogenic energy. Face it, you could use everything in here!” “New Pre-Workout Drink So Outrageously Powerful … It Stimulates Thousands of Muscle Fibers That Haven’t Grown in Years!!” While making exaggerated claims, the ads conveniently omit mention of risks.

“Some of these drinks may contain three or four different stimulants in one beverage,” says Cynthia Sass, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Besides caffeine, energy drinks often contain guarana, yerba mate, ginseng, and other stimulants, including ephedra. Ephedra (or ma huang) is an herbal supplement that has been linked to hundreds of deaths. The International Olympic Committee, NCAA, NFL, and minor league baseball all ban it.

Often you can’t tell how much of each stimulant there is in a product. Plus, combining caffeine with other stimulants may compound each chemical’s effects.

Stimulants make your heart work overtime and increase blood pressure. People may feel nervous, jittery, nauseous, or unable to concentrate. Caffeine and other stimulants also dehydrate people. That’s especially risky for athletes.

Other “natural” ingredients present risks too. Kava kava can cause dizziness, drowsiness; and impaired vision and balance. Adverse reactions to gingko biloba can include headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and flatulence.

Many energy drinks also boast combinations of vitamins and amino acids. “Sometimes consumers think the more the better,” says Sass. “That’s definitely not true.”

Too much Vitamin [B.sub.6] can cause nerve damage, for example. Too much vitamin C can produce diarrhea or bloating. Add what you get from foods you normally eat to some drinks’ mega-doses, and you could be in trouble. A balanced diet is a better nutritional bet.

Relaxing Drinks

Will “relaxing tea” really soothe you after a long day?

“A lot of consumers think the product wouldn’t be on the market if it wasn’t safe,” says Sass. “That’s not necessarily true.” “Relaxing” teas, “energy” drinks, and other functional beverages are sold as supplements. They do not require approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Thus, manufacturers don’t have to prove that the products are safe and effective.

Avoid herbal supplements, especially if you are taking any prescription medicines. Herbs can interact with prescription drugs and cause complications. Ask a doctor or pharmacist before considering such products.

It Looks Like Lemonade

What could be wrong with a glass of lemonade? Plenty, if it’s “hard” lemonade.

Alcopops are sweet alcoholic drinks. Because they taste sweet or fruity, teens may not realize they contain as much alcohol as beer.

Don’t be fooled by ads for alcopops. Distillers spend about $350 million yearly marketing alcopops. The ads often appeal to teens. Plus, alcopops are almost tailor-made to teen tastes. Pre-mixed gelatin-shots are just as bad.

Be a Savvy Consumer

Be wary of any stimulants, herbs, alcohol, or added nutrients. Read all labels carefully. Be skeptical of any health claims too. Get reliable information from a health center, government Web site, or other source that’s not trying to sell you something. Or, ask your doctor. Remember: Your health is in your hands, so be a responsible consumer.


While visiting with friends at a young man’s apartment, Samantha Reid simply fell asleep after drinking her Mountain Dew. Within hours, the 15-year-old Michigan girl died.

Samantha’s drink contained GHB, one of about three dozen predatory drugs. Predatory drugs prevent victims from fighting off attackers. They also impair memory, so victims can’t remember rapes and other crimes. Predatory drugs include:

* GHB (gamma hydroxybutyric acid)–also called Grievous Bodily Harm, Easy Lay, and Liquid Ecstasy. Analogs (similar chemicals) such as gamma butyrolactone (GBL), valeric acid, and 1,4 Butanediol (1,4BD). Dangers include vomiting, unconsciousness, slowed heartbeat and breathing, dizziness, seizures, and coma.

* Ketamine, or Special K–an anesthetic used by veterinarians–can cause high blood pressure, delirium, hallucinations, and breathing problems in humans.

* Rohypnol–also called fiunitrazepam, roofies, and the “date rape drug”–incapacitates victims, relaxes muscles, and impairs memory.

Even when people voluntarily abuse them as “party drugs,” predatory drugs are dangerous and often highly addictive. Risks increase when people mix the drugs with alcohol.

Poisoning and assaults don’t happen only on dates. Special Agent Will Glaspy at the Drug Enforcement Administration says, “We’ve been advising everyone to take appropriate precautions with their drinks when they’re out.” These include:

* Watch out for your friends. Everyone who comes together should leave together.

* Hold onto your beverage. If you ever put it down, get another drink. If possible, drink only from sealed cans or bottles that you’ve opened yourself. Refuse drinks from someone you don’t know or trust.

* Don’t drink anything that tastes “off.” But remember, many predatory drugs have no taste, color, or smell.

* Call 911 or your local rape crisis center if you ever wake up and cannot remember what happened.

Predatory drugs’ symptoms often resemble alcohol poisoning: falling asleep, feeling exhausted or drunk, dizziness, slurred speech, little animation or expression, headache or nausea, going limp, passing out. These drugs are dangerous. If you suspect someone has been drugged, don’t let him or her “sleep it off” because you’re afraid of trouble. Get help fast.

“Wake them up and get them out of there!” urges Samantha’s mother, Judi Clark. “If you can’t get them walking, you can’t get them talking, you need to get them to a hospital–quick!”

Maybe it feels weird to be wary. But it’s worth it.

“By educating yourself and your friends on symptoms, you’re not only going to protect yourself,” says Clark. “You may be in a situation one day where you can help save someone else.”

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