Yemeni energy-drink formula detrimental to health [Archives:2008/1207/Last Page]

November 13 2008

By: Firas Shamsan
For the Yemen Times

The phrase “poison in honey” is a famous expression that alludes to hidden death inside something that looks beneficial. Here the poison is the local formula of energy drink or “power drink” that many Yemenis rush to buy from the market on a daily basis with little regard to its consequences.

Local energy drink is a mixture of several energy drinks such as Red Bull or Power Horse, barley juice and medicine including panadol and aspirin. The formula is sold in public and both children and adults buy it to boost their energy levels, particularly for qat chewing sessions and to stay up late to study.

Although these drinks contains sugar, caffeine and herbal extracts that energize the body physically and mentally, many experts warn that they a seriously detrimental to health, particularly if they are used with other substances. Red Bull, for example has been banned in many countries such as Canada, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Malaysia and Thailand.

“This drink is not harmful if it is consumed with a large quantity of water,” said an employee of an energy drink company, explaining that ingredients such as caffeine stimulate the bladder and can lead to the body's dehydration.

According to Michael Hart, a medical specialist in a health center in California, energy drinks can have long-term health effects on the body and explained that a follow-up of their impact in the long run was necessary. He further declared that some of these drinks contain a substance called ephedrine similar to adrenaline, which, coupled with caffeine, can negatively affect the heart.

July Wood, an Australian nutrition expert, has suggested that laws be put in place to ban selling energy drinks to young people under 18 years old. However, Red Bull has declared that banning these drinks would only make them more desirable to youth.

The consumption of “natural” energy drinks has also witnessed an increase among American youth. However, experts have warned that even these -a mixture of stimulants and herbal extracts- are detrimental to their health.

Dr. Gregory Stewart, sports medicine expert, says that these “natural” energy drinks contain potential risks. He points out that the substances used in these drinks do affect those people who are sensitive to them, and adds that being natural doesn't mean they are safe.

In addition to ephedrine and caffeine, these natural drinks also contain other substances such as ginseng that can lead to dehydration, kidney diseases, high blood pressure and disorder in the heart pulse.

Dr. Stewart maintains that adolescents and children below 16 years old, those who suffer from heart problems, high blood pressure, kidney diseases and anxiety, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid energy drinks. A lot of these energy drinks contain vitamins and minerals, sometimes in too high quantities.

In addition, energy drinks contain substances that lead to addiction, anxiety and abortion, according to Dr. Abdul Aziz bin Mohammed Al-Othman, professor of clinical nutrition in Saudi Arabia. Dr. Al-Othman says that energy drinks contain a big quantity of glucose which boosts energy levels in the body. He notes that a bottle of 250ml of energy drink contains around 120 calories and around 80 mg of caffeine which can cause addiction.

“We all know that that caffeine is a potent substance that causes addiction. A bottle of energy drink equals a big quantity of coffee and this is the reason that prompts youth to drink it, particularly to study in examination periods,” said Dr. Al-Othman. “Medical organizations recommend that those below 18 years-old be banned from drinking such drink.”

The problem in Yemen is that people not only people drink these beverages as they are, but also mix them together with medicine to make a special formula. Mujeeb Al-Khaiwani, a health worker, says that he drinks this formula ever day, especially when he chews qat.

“I like this drink because it refreshes my mind especially when I chew qat,” says Al-Khaiwani, “These drinks cause health problems particularly for the kidneys but they have positive effects as they increase sexual energy.” Asked whether he blends any kinds of medicine such as panadol and aspirin with the drink, Al-Khaiwani answered, “This is reasonable, but I believe that some people who sell the formula also add some hashish to the drink because when I drink it, I feel different and have a lot of health problems.”

This formula of energy drink is abundantly available in qat markets and the price of a bottle varies between YR 100 and YR 300, and can even reach up to YR 3,000.

Dr. Ameen Al-Radami, consultant of medicine at Al-Jamhori hospital, says, “This drink is a mixture of chemicals that interact with each other resulting in poisonous substances especially when it contains medicines that cause addiction.”

He maintains that it affects liver and kidneys, but admits: “I don't know the nature of these drinks as only a nutrition expert and pharmacologist can decide.”