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Dr. Manny: 4 of America’s favorite stimulants, but proceed with caution

red bull

I know that lately I’ve been saying we are a country of loving, pill-popping consumers – but we are also a country that has become enamored with our daily stimulants.  Now, I think it’s okay to have a stimulating substance once in a while.  For example, if you’re getting tired in the afternoon, you take a shot of espresso and Bingo, you seem awake and alert.  However, going overboard on these stimulants can have dire consequences.  

Here are four popular stimulants used by people every day:

Guarana

Guarana is a plant in the maple family that’s fruit contains very high concentrations of caffeine, providing enhancement to energy and cognition.  Often found in the Amazon rainforest, guarana is used in some South American soft drinks similar to the way caffeine is used in some sodas in the United States.  The plant has been recognized as generally safe by the FDA, it can also be found in herbal teas and in capsule form.

Ginseng

Ginseng is a perennial herb found in the eastern United States that is typically used to make medicine.  According to the National Institutes of Health, ginseng contains chemicals called ginsenosides that manipulate insulin levels and lower blood sugar in the body – providing a boost of energy.  Polysaccharides found in ginseng may help to boost the immune system.

Ginseng is used in small doses in some soft drinks, energy drinks and teas.  The herb’s roots can also be ground and presented in capsule form to be taken orally.  Certain cosmetic items utilize oil extracts from ginseng plants.

Caffeine

This very popular stimulant is found in a variety of beverages and foods – including coffees, teas, sodas, chocolate and more.  According to the FDA, caffeine occurs naturally in over 60 plants. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, providing a big boost of energy.  Some common side effects of imbibing caffeine include jitteriness, an elevated heart rate and, sometimes, dizziness and dehydration.

While caffeine is found in many of the foods and drinks we consume every day, oral caffeine supplements are also available to provide people with a quick energy fix.

Taurine

An amino acid that boosts neurological development, taurine is a stimulant that helps to regulate water and mineral salt levels in the blood, according to Mayo Clinic.  While it naturally occurs in various animal tissues such as meat and fish, Mayo Clinic added that is often used as a dietary supplement and can be found in sports drinks, purportedly due to its ability to improve mental performance.

I don’t know when this obsession with stimulants started, but in my opinion, it seems to be out of control.  Nowadays, it seems that at all times of the day, people choose a beverage on the basis of how stimulating it is for them.  

Recently I visited a summer camp for teenagers. Here I was in this beautiful open-air facility, with beautiful rolling hills and fresh air, and when I got to walk around inside the campus of this camp, I saw that they had the Red Bull lounge.  Inside, there were many little seats of red bull cans so that the teenagers can go and tank up on Red Bull any time they wanted while they were enjoying the camp.  

We fail to forget many of these stimulants have side effects.  They dehydrate you, they hyper stimulate your cardiovascular system, and they sure disrupt your sleep pattern.  And the dangers are greater for teenagers and young adults.  Many times they’re mixing these stimulants with alcohol, which makes the effects of alcohol worse, causing them not to know just how much alcohol they’re having.  Controversy arose a  few years ago over the drink Four Loko – a combination of alcohol and caffeine – after the drink was suspected in numerous deaths and hospital visits by youths.

So as we move on, especially in this summer heat, think about how many daily stimulants you are putting in your body.

And as my mother used to say, “Make better choices.”

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's Senior Managing Editor for Health News. Prior to this position, Alvarez was a FNC medical contributor.
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