Energy drinks and you: Watch what you consume 

Q: I heard that energy drinks with amino acids in them could hurt my heart. I didn’t think they could market something so risky. What gives? — Benny B., Plano, Texas

A: Well, we’ve been cautioning you against these superchargers for a while. In the U.S., the number of emergency-room visits they cause has doubled in four years — in 2011 it hit more than 20,000.

And now, the latest test using cardiac MRIs has revealed how your heart reacts about an hour after you have an energy drink that contains the amino acid taurine. Eighteen healthy volunteers (15 men, three women) around age 27 drank the equivalent of a 16-ounce energy drink. The MRI then measured what researchers called significantly increased peak systolic strain in the left ventricle as the heart contracted and sent oxygenated blood throughout the body. Charge!

Anyone with a history of cardiac problems and kids, whose heart muscles are still developing, are at the greatest risk from these drinks. But we need more data: We’re not sure how many minutes or hours the drink keeps your left ventricle contracting more intensely. And we need to know how that affects the general population’s risks for heart attack, stroke, dementia, impotence and yes, even cancer.

So our advice is to skip energy drinks with the words amino acids on the label and any that contain lecithin, creatine, taurine, phenylalanine, citicoline, tyrosine or choline. Still need a boost? Drink black coffee. If you make it at home, you can keep caffeine to 100-180 milligrams in a 12-ounce cup (daily totals should be around 300-600 milligrams). One alternative to coffee is caffeinated water (45-90 milligrams in 12-16 ounces). And to keep your energy up all day, eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables. In a blender with a little ice, it’s called a smoothie!

Q: The holidays are over, and I’m left feeling beaten down and disgusted with myself for spending so much. I have to figure out how to feel less pressured and less stressed about what I think I need to buy. Help! — Virginia S., Bloomington, Ind.

A: You’re not alone, Virginia. The Black Friday shopping frenzy that starts the day after Thanksgiving leaves many folks weary and, according to a new study, a whole lot less merry than they thought it would. And while the act of pure giving is good for the heart and spirit of the giver and the receiver, researchers from the Netherlands say valuing stuff as a ticket to happiness causes lower self-esteem, social isolation and loneliness.

So, here’s our simple, two-step guide to getting all the good out of giving. We hope it will help you have a happy, relaxed New Year and truly joyous holiday seasons in the future.

Step 1: Make conscious choices. Whether you’re scouting out gifts or just buying underwear for yourself and the kids, shop with a list. As you write down each item, ask yourself: “If I don’t spend money on this, what can I do with it?” Give to charity? That has big rewards: Generosity, according to some studies, increases your lifespan. Pay down debt? Smart again. Debt is a No. 1 tension builder and can trigger depression and high blood pressure! Or maybe finance a fun experience for the family. A camping trip? Going to the museum? Turns out giving and getting gifts that are experiences, instead of things, creates deeper happiness.

Step 2: Give the gift of better health. How about giving a friend a voucher that says you’ll be a walking buddy three days a week for a year? And don’t wait until the holidays; make it a “because it’s Wednesday!” gift. Plus: Get your family a shared gift of get-up-and-go. Take walks, do workout videos together or maybe get equipment for biking, tennis, soccer — whatever appeals. You’ll all find getting healthy makes you happier, and being happier makes it easier to stay healthy.

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

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