Getting Energized? NKU Professor’s Study Finds Energy Shots May Not Be as Good as Advertised

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NKU Professor's Study Finds Energy Shots May Not be as Good as Advertised

By Ryan Clark
Web Marketing + Communications

Dr. Cecile Marczinski has garnered lots of attention in her short time at NKU. Since coming to the school in 2008, the associate professor of psychology has – along with the help of her students and colleagues – discovered interesting facts about the relationship between alcohol and energy drinks.

Now she has expanded her research, shining a light on energy shots and how the products may not perform as advertised.

Her latest study, co-authored by undergraduate students Amy Stamates, Sarah Maloney, and Cliff Brown, as well as advanced nursing assistant professor, Dr. Julianne Ossege, and psychological science professor, Dr. Mark Bardgett, will appear in the next issue of the Journal of Caffeine Research. The formatted article is already posted online.

Inside NKU caught up with Dr. Marczinski to talk caffeine, NKU’s newly-approved health innovation center, the importance of undergraduate research and the future of the health industry.

Inside NKU: In the past you've gotten a lot of media attention for your studies on alcohol and energy drinks. It seems like you're researching similar interests now. What got you interested in this area and what specifically are you investigating now?

Dr. Marczinski: I still spend the majority of my research time investigating the combined effects of alcohol and energy drinks. This is a pressing public health concern since the frequent use of alcohol and energy drinks has been shown to be associated with immediate harms such as impaired driving and injuries requiring medical treatment, and long-term risks such as developing alcoholism.

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Dr. Cecile Marczinski, left, and students Sarah Maloney and Cliff Brown presented their "energy shots" study in Frankfort.

However, this study that examines energy shots arose from questions about these very new consumer products. Physicians, scientists, the media, and the general public have been asking if they are safe. There is very good data from emergency room visits in the U.S. that visits associated with energy products use has doubled in the past five years. While the exact reasons for this remain unclear, cardiovascular complications seem to be common. This study was conducted because there was no research that looked at whether an energy shot worked as advertised and if there were health concerns associated with energy shot use.

Inside NKU: What did you learn from this study? Anything that may surprise people?

Dr. Marczinski: We learned that use of energy shot will make you feel more alert and less tired over several hours. This was not a surprise since this product is advertised to do exactly that. However, we also studied performance over six hours on a relatively boring cognitive task. The energy shot did not result in any benefits to deteriorating performance. This was surprising. These products are advertised for tired office workers suggesting that the product could help the person work better. We did not observe that benefit. Finally, and most importantly, we observed that use of the energy shot resulted in elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressure for six hours. This was really surprising. Our participants were healthy individuals with no prior medical conditions. While caffeine is known to slightly increase blood pressure, this was a long duration of time to observe this increase. These findings suggest that there are many people in society that might want to be cautious in using energy shot products. These include children and adolescents and adults with preexisting medical conditions such as hypertension (which often has no symptoms).

Inside NKU: Is it alarming how little attention we sometimes pay to what we're putting into our bodies? Are we reaching a critical level when it comes to ingesting these kinds of drinks?

Dr. Marczinski: Scientists in this area have been repeatedly been finding that excessive use of caffeine can create a vicious circle where high doses of caffeine disrupt normal sleep, which then leads a person to be really tired and thus need caffeine to function normally. Poor sleep is strongly associated with obesity. Therefore, what we eat and drink is part of the package of our overall health. Given the obesity crisis in our nation, I think we need to be attentive to all of our health choices. Getting proper sleep would go a long way in keeping caffeine consumption in a moderate range. I also think it is important to emphasize that children and adolescents really do not need caffeine. Children already have lots of energy.

Inside NKU: You mentioned that during your research, you have had NKU undergraduate students help you. Is this a habit, and what do undergrad students bring to the table in terms of research?

Dr. Marczinski: All of my research involves undergraduate students. In fact, this study was conducted because a student who was in my cognitive processes lab class, Cliff Brown, told me about these energy shots. I really had not noticed them. However, he mentioned these shots were becoming very popular and he prepared a research proposal for this class that would examine these shots. That was when I started looking for research on energy shot products and found nothing. NKU undergraduate students are very hard working and enthusiastic. In this study, every subject was tested repeatedly for seven hours on three different days. That is a lot of hours in the lab and my students never complained while engaging in meticulous work.

Inside NKU: What benefits do the students receive by having their names on a paper like this?

Dr. Marczinski: Currently, one student who is on this paper is now a graduate student in a doctoral psychopharmacology program at Old Dominion University located in Norfolk, Virginia. The other two students on this paper work at NKU in biomedical research labs as research assistants/technicians. Both of these other two students will likely pursue graduate work in the future. When a student gets his or her name on a research paper, this is objective evidence that the students are experienced biomedical researchers.

Inside NKU: NKU is marketing itself as a future leader in Health Innovations (as we recently received more than $90 million in state funding to build a new center for precisely that purpose). As part of that innovative approach, we expect to see more collaboration involving departments like what we have in this study - a collaboration of psychology and nursing. How do you see your role expanding, and will we see more research like this in the future? What will you be working on next?

Dr. Marczinski: The strongest research is inherently collaborative across disciplines these days. By having a building where people with overlapping interests will interact every day, innovation will emerge. I am hoping that the building is built soon because there are so many areas in health that this university can address. There are several departments that have clear and overlapping interests with complementary skills that can be brought to the table. This study illustrates how this was done with psychology and nursing. That is only the beginning. However, there needs to be space to do research. Right now, I am limited to supervising about three students each semester in research because of space constraints. The Department of Psychological Science has a strong pipeline of students graduating and pursuing careers in biomedical research at places like Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and various other pharmaceutical companies. However, most of the students who get those jobs have had undergraduate research experience. Every semester, I have to turn away interested students because I just do not have space for them to do research. Every faculty member in my department has the same issue.

The Study

Marczinski, C.A., Stamates, A.L., Ossege, J., Maloney, S.F., Bardgett, M.E., & Brown, C.J. (in press). Acute effects of an ‘energy shot’ on subjective state, blood pressure, and behavioral control. Journal of Caffeine Research.