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  • Writer's picturevancevoetberg

Red Bull v. Coffee: Is There Actually a Difference?

Updated: Feb 15

We've all heard someone compare caffeine to drugs.

But there are two classes of drugs: ones that destroy our health, and others that restore it.

So what kind of drug is caffeine? Is it one that builds or breaks health?

My answer: Yes.

Caffeine, a Product of Nature

We've consumed caffeine for thousands of years, given its prevalence in nature.

Caffeine-containing plants – coffee, green, black, and oolong tea – have been extensively researched. And as it happens, we've discovered several unique antioxidants in these plants.

Think of these antioxidants as vigilantes that protect against the villainous process of oxidative stress.

For example, in one randomized controlled study, dark roast coffee reduced DNA damage by 23% in just four weeks. Similar results were identified in a separate 8-week interventional study.

Moreover, coffee has shown itself to be antagonistic to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and metabolic diseases like coronary heart disease.

And then there are the well-established benefits of green, black, and oolong tea, which, frankly, are too expansive to list but include having the capacity to dismount cancer cells.

The research indicates that plants containing caffeine are profitable for our health. This is good news for all you coffee-loving Buttercups.

The Flipside of Caffeine

Unfortunately, much of the caffeine Americans consume isn't made by nature. Instead, it's synthesized in Chinese pharmaceutical factories that operate with very little oversight from the FDA.

Products like Redbull, Monster, Rockstar energy drinks, and Pepsi and Coke sodas incorporate a chemist-made form of caffeine into their beverages. Many sports performance nutrition companies also include manufactured caffeine in their supplements.

And contrary to what the marketing teams of these companies suggest, there is a difference between natural and synthetic caffeine. A severe difference.

When we drink tea or coffee, there are hundreds of constituents (i.e., vigilante antioxidants) that accompany caffeine. But when we drink Red Bull, the synthesized caffeine is left unchaperoned.

In turn, this alters the way the body recognizes, receives, and reacts to caffeine.

Synthetic Caffeine: Run, Don't Walk Away

In one study comparing the differences between the caffeine in coffee and synthetic caffeine, researchers discovered just how contrasting the same molecule (in this case, caffeine) can be when it's removed from its cofactors.

The study examined telomere length and its correlation to synthetic versus natural caffeine intake. Telomeres are essentially little stockings that cap and protect the ends of chromosomes.

Shorter telomeres accelerate aging, while longer telomeres are correlated with better health. Therefore, we want long telomeres.

The study concluded,

"As caffeine intake increases, telomeres tend to be shorter in U.S. adults. On the other hand, this investigation indicates that as coffee intake increases, telomeres tend to be longer...The present findings suggest that cell aging may be accelerated in U.S. adults as caffeine intake increases, but may be decelerated as coffee consumption increases."

Other research signals that coffee and tea are associated with a lower risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, while further research shows that synthetic caffeine impedes glucose regulation.

Perhaps the most terrifying report is a 2013 study that found that energy drink-related hospitalizations increased from 10,068 visits in 2007 to 20,783 visits in 2011.

Considering that energy drink consumption has only increased since 2011, it's plausible to suggest that hospitalizations related to drinking synthetic caffeine have also escalated.

Red Bull: Please Stop Advertising to Children

Another unsettling aspect of the rise of energy drinks is the marketing strategies of companies like Red Bull.

Red Bull intentionally markets their energy drinks to impressionable minors. They've built a really cool image that attracts young people. I mean, who wouldn't want to be like one of the adventurous skiers, skateboarders, surfers, or rock climbers they sponsor?

Their marketing team is brilliant.

But their products are harming children.

As The American Academy of Pediatrics advises, "energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents."

I would contend that energy drinks have no place in the human diet.

Red Bull advertises that their energy drinks "give you wings." I completely agree. Energy drinks do give you wings – for a short time. Then your wings fall off mid-air, and you plummet as any wingless specimen does. Splat.

If you know and love someone – especially a high schooler or college student – who drinks energy drinks, please persuade them that synthetic caffeine is crippling their health and sabotaging their life.

And if you love coffee or tea, don't fret; keep drinking them if you want.

And if you love Red Bull, you can keep drinking them if you want. It's your life. But you do have a reason to worry.


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