A Super-Charged Nation

Do Nigerian men really walk about packing a permanent hard on as the image in one of the energy drink brands suggests or is it the women that are leading them on? What is this new craze for energy drinks in this African nation of over 120 million people?

At every beer parlour or restaurant in Nigeria where locals congregate to devour local delicacies, also known as orishirishi ranging from isi-ewu, Nkwobi and goat meat pepper soup, or where Nigerians gather to partake of what is fast becoming a national pass time – the ability to, and the added satisfaction of watching fishes paddle in crowded bowls, while the patrons select and point out the unlucky ones from the bowls to be killed by the waiting cooks. At such ‘joints’ you will find cans of energy drinks being consumed mixed with alcoholic drinks.

It appears that energy drinks are the new drinks for the Nigerian, male and female.

Unaware of the associated health risks, or the truthfulness of the famed efficacy of the drinks in increasing the male libido and female sexual drive, Nigerians both young and old are consuming these energy drinks as if they are going out of fashion. The restaurateurs are smiling to the banks, likewise the energy drink stockists and importers including a governor of one of the South Eastern states whose company has the sole import rights of Erectus, one of the energy drink brands.

Most of the energy drinks come in standard 33 CL cans although size and shape varies amongst the competing brands. Their brand names sound like something out of a sex shop or torture chamber. “The more high and wicked sounding, the better” says Anozie Okeke, a spirits and drinks retailer at the Area 2 Shopping Centre in the Garki area of Abuja. Anozie is right. As we chatted about Nigerians and their new found love for energy drinks; I counted about 10 different brands on display with brand names such as Battery, Power Horse, 911, Burn, Red Alert, Effect, Wellman, Erectus, Red Bull and Acid. According to Anozie, “Red Bull is still the leading brand in the market but the other brands are doing well as they are priced below the leading brand”. In order of sales, Anozie says that “Power Horse is also doing very well in the market and is favoured mainly by women”.

What do Nigerians themselves think about their new found love for energy drinks?

Igoni Barrett, editor of Farafina magazine ascribes the craze to fashion, according to him, “My favourite brand is Red Bull, but I am not one of those Nigerians that believe that energy drinks boost the male libido. People talk about the health implications of mixing energy drinks with alcohol but I have to confess I am not aware of such”.

Another Nigerian, Lanre Obafemi, an engineer with an oil exploration company who also prefers the Red Bull brand says that he is not aware of any health risks associated with energy drinks. “I love energy drinks as they help keep sleep at bay” Lanre said.

Adaobi Oruche, an Abuja – based company executive who prefers the Power Horse brand has different reasons for her love for energy drinks, “I know that the caffeine content is high and i also know that caffeine is not so good for the body. I do not know the health implications of mixing it with alcoholic drinks, but personally i crave for energy drinks because the sugar content is low, it gives energy and reduces ‘hunger’ unlike taking ordinary soda e.g coca-cola”. Asked if she also believes that energy drinks enhance sexual performances in males and females, her reply was; “Absolutely not. It doesn’t enhance anything”.

It is actually on the health angle that Nigerians should be careful. On their own, energy drinks may not be harmful but the danger lies in mixing the drinks with alcoholic drinks. This is because energy drinks contain caffeine which becomes a deadly cocktail when mixed with alcohol, caffeine is considered an effective ‘ergogenic aid’ (physical performance enhancer), it also aids cognitive performance (stimulates cardiac output and the central nervous system).

A shocking new report by researchers from North Carolina‘s Wake Forest University which interviewed over 4,000 US students about their drinking habits found that people who drank energy drink cocktails were more likely to suffer injuries, require medical help or get into trouble over sex.

The report said it was because energy drinks masked feelings of drunkenness. This local practice in Nigeria is also known as dilution where drinkers believe that alcoholic contents could be diluted by tinges of energy drinks.

According to the lead researcher Dr Mary Claire O’Brien “We were surprised that the risk of serious and potentially deadly consequences is so much higher for those who mixed energy drinks with alcohol.” Continuing, Dr. O’Brien said that the problem was that students did not realise they were as drunk as they were when they mixed alcohol and energy drinks.

“Students whose motor skills, visual reaction times, and judgment impaired by alcohol may not perceive that they are intoxicated as readily when they’re also ingesting a stimulant. “Only the symptoms of drunkenness are reduced – but not the drunkenness. They can’t tell if they’re drunk, they can’t tell if someone else is drunk so they get hurt, or they hurt someone else.”

Ifeoma Ikeani, a US based Nigerian agrees and wonders why Nigerians are putting themselves through such high risks; “I visited Nigeria recently and had the opportunity of visiting some local hot spots in Enugu. When I looked at a table next to me, I was amazed at the quantity of energy drinks being consumed as if it were the daily tonic or beverage of choice. I laughed out loud and drew a couple of stares. The waitress asked me if there was a problem and I told her that there wasn’t”

Continuing, Ifeoma said that she then asked the waitress why the table of guys who she had observed earlier drinking Gulder and Heineken beers had suddenly switched to Monster, an energy drink brand. “She smirked and said “Aunty, na dem be fineboy, you no know?”

Ifeoma also narrated another experience she had in America which shows that the consumption of energy drinks or such types of drinks is not limited only to Nigerians at home but could also be the case amongst the Nigerian diasporan community.

“I attended a send – forth party thrown by a Nigerian family for their “Mama” who was travelling back home after a three year stay in America and was shocked to see a blue bottle being handed out to guests at each table who then quickly popped the top and swished the contents down. It was Niagra. I wondered if the guests knew that they were socially drinking a sexual enhancing drink, or perhaps they thought it was an energy drink.”

Ifeoma said that when she curiously approached the chairman of the event to enquire if he knew what was being served; his reply even shocked her more. “Oh, it’s a popular energy drink back home that tastes good, that’s all”, the chairman said to Ifeoma.

While other nations have already started issuing warnings and alerts to its citizens over the consequences of high consumption of energy drinks, and the associated risk factor of combining it with alcohol, the Nigerian government is yet to start doing the same. Perhaps this may be because NAFDAC, the drugs and foods regulator currently has its hands full with other issues.

The website Nutrition Australia.org has an alert for Australian citizens warning against excessive consumption of energy drinks. The website claims excess consumption of energy drinks “carries with it a risk of increased blood pressure, anxiety, shaking, elevated heart rate and increased urine production (increasing the risk of dehydration)”. It also warns that “if a little is good, more is NOT better”.

In a story published by the UK Metro newspaper on Monday, November 12th 2007 captioned Could Energy drinks Cause Heart Attack? The writer Ella Stimson quoting from different sources cautions drinkers. She warned particularly people who suffer from high blood pressure or related heart conditions to avoid energy drinks completely. She also stated that it is as result of the health concerns sorrounding energy drinks that the sale of Red Bull, the leading global energy drink brand has been banned or restricted in several European countries including France and Denmark.

Interestingly, manufacturers of energy drinks claim that their products are safe if consumed responsibly, but they could hardly complain since sales continue to rise especially in the developing countries which appear to have become the next battle ground or new frontier for market leadership battles amongst major global brand manufacturers. The website www.livescience.com estimates annual global sales of energy drinks to be around £2.5B.

Will Nigerians heed such warnings before it is too late? Only time will tell, and perhaps by then, it may have been too late. The way forward at least may be for NAFDAC and their hard-working Director General Dora Akunyili to insist that energy drinks being imported into Nigeria carry a health warning. Something along the lines of ‘Warning: this drink may be unhealthy for you when mixed with alcohol’ may perhaps raise the consciousness of Nigerians to the associated health risks. Not that this will deter some people, the same way cigarette health warnings have not deterred smokers but at least such a message may help to increase the awareness of the associated risks of consuming energy drink cocktails. This may be particularly and urgently required in Nigeria where ignorance contributes to alcohol, drug, chemical and substance abuses.

2 thoughts on “A Super-Charged Nation

  • Energy drinks don't pose that much of a risk unless consumed in high quantity just as soft drinks don't pose too much risk except consumed in high quantity. I love Red Bull. Especially when driving long distance. It keeps you alert and focused when you need to be. I would not recommend drinking it for recreation or winding down. It packs too much of a punch. Alcoholic drinks are actually more dangerous than energy drinks. Some energy drinks in moderate consumption provide vitamins essential for performance (not necessarily sexual performance). Alcohol does not do that. This is just a case of people panicking over nothing. Moderation is key.

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