Archive for Wednesday, August 26, 1998


August 26, 1998


Do kids need sports drinks?

That's a great question! Indeed, sports drinks are a booming business -- they are everywhere. They may be canned, dehydrated, bottled, dispensed in fountain form or even homemade. And, thanks to the power of the media, commercial sports drinks are marketed as the athlete's ``edge'' when it comes to fluid replacements. The advertisements may lead you to believe that these special formulations are the ultimate in carbo-hydration. But, let's look at what makes up a sports drink. Commercial fluid replacers are nutritionally similar to diluted soft drinks but more expensive. They offer carbohydrates (about 50 to 70 calories per cup), insignificant amounts of sodium and potassium, and generally little or no other nutritional value.

According to Sandy Procter, a registered dietitian at K-State Research and Extension, sports drinks do have a place. If you're running a marathon, competing in a triathlon, or participating in some high-intensity endurance event that lasts longer than 90 minutes, you might want a beverage that contains a small amount of sugar to improve your stamina. But most of us, and most of our children, don't go ``full steam'' for this long stretch. Young soccer players, for example, often snack on orange slices (good sources of potassium and fluids) and water at half time, and reward themselves with juice or soda pop (calorie and fluid replacement) after the game.

The design of fluid replacers, or sports drinks, makes them most advantageous to the endurance athlete during exercise -- not 20 to 45 minutes beforehand, when they might trigger a hypoglycemic reaction, and not afterwards, when the muscles want full-strength carbohydrate-rich beverages to replace glycogen and minerals.

Drinking too many sports drinks can erode the teeth, according to a British dentist whose 23-year-old patient regularly drank sports drinks for more than a year. The acidity -- not the sugar -- was the culprit for damaging the athlete's smile. Eight sports drinks evaluated in a study highlighted by ``Environmental Nutrition'' had pH values less than 5.5.

Experts urge moderation in drinking sports drinks.

Try these tips:

  • Try water instead of sports drinks, soft drinks or juice after a workout. It's cheaper and not acidic, as the other beverages are.
  • Water down sports drinks to dilute the acidity.
  • Chill down acidic beverages, because warm temperatures increase erosion.
  • Drink sports beverages with a straw to reduce contact with teeth.

Is it true that vitamin C pills might cause genetic damage to cells?

According to Mary Clarke, nutrition education extension specialist, a study published earlier this year in ``Nature'' suggested that vitamin C pills might cause genetic damage to cells. Genetic damage can promote aging, cancer and birth defects. Vitamin C was blamed because vitamin C is not only an antioxidant but could be an oxidant under certain circumstances producing the free radicals that are responsible for damage to DNA, our cells' genetic codes.

Since then, many leading scientists have criticized the design and methods of this small study of only 30 subjects who took 500 milligrams of vitamin C daily for six weeks. The most serious criticism is that the methods used for grinding up the cells to assay for DNA damage may have been responsible for 90 percent or more of the damage observed.

Clarke said that ``in a review of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and disease, human as well as other kinds of studies support the important role of vitamin C in protecting health.'' Strong evidence points to the following benefits:

  • Stomach and other cancers: Worldwide studies point to Vitamin C preventing stomach cancer and other gastrointestinal tract cancers of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus and pancreas. It may also help prevent lung and cervix cancer.
  • Heart disease: Some human studies suggest that people with low levels of vitamin C are more prone to have a heart attack. Vitamin C may help prevent the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol, the ``bad'' cholesterol that damages and clogs arteries. It may also reduce artery constriction that limits the blood supply to the heart muscle.
  • Gallbladder disease: A recent study reported that postmenopausal women taking vitamin C supplements had less gallbladder disease than those who hadn't. Not enough vitamin C can slow down the conversion of cholesterol to bile acids, the way the liver disposes of excess cholesterol through the gallbladder. A build up of cholesterol can lead to gall stones and gallbladder disease.
  • Colds: People often treat the common cold by taking extra amounts of vitamin C. It takes some 2000 milligrams (2 grams) a day to reduce the severity and duration of a cold, but that much may cause diarrhea and kidney stones in susceptible people. Unfortunately, taking large daily doses of vitamin C does not seem to prevent colds.
  • Cataracts: One usually thinks of vitamin A in connection with healthy eyes, but vitamin C may help prevent cataracts. Vitamin C supplements taken over 10 years can halt or prevent cataracts from developing.

-- Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in home economics and consumer science with K-State Research & Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper. She can be reached at 843-7058.

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