Energy drinks are popular because of the large sugar rush and caffeine jolt. These are not bad to drink occasionally, but should not be consumed on a daily basis. Energy drinks should never be mixed with alcohol, due to the extreme dangers that arise when stimulating and depressing the Central Nervous System (CNS).
Energy drinks have taken over the United States soft drink market following a trend that started in Japan in the 1960s. In 1985, Jolt Cola was introduced in the US with “all the sugar and twice the caffeine”, one of the first of the new brand of energy drinks beyond typical cola-flavored soft drinks containing caffeine. In 1987, Red Bull exploded onto the market with its claim to “give you wings” and its popularity sparked development of numerous brands of energy drinks with additives other than caffeine, such as ginseng and taurine. Today, the number of energy drinks in the supermarket aisle is nearly as large as the soft drink selection and include such brands as Monster, Amp, Rock Star, and Full Throttle.
Most energy drinks contain a variety of supplements, vitamins, and herbs. The recommended serving size is required to be listed on the label along with warnings about consuming more than the suggested amount.
Along with caffeine, typical ingredients are taurine, B-vitamins, ginseng, inositol, glucuronolactone, ginko biloba, L-carnitine, L-theanine, and large quantities of sucrose and glucose. In sugar-free energy drinks, the sucrose and glucose are usually replaced by artificial sweeteners, such as acesulfame K and/or aspartame/sucralose. As we know, going artificial is always a mistake.
Caffeine is the most studied food additive, due to its popularity, but the FDA states that 400 mg/day is safe for most adults to consume. The amount of caffeine in energy drinks ranges from 218mg/ounce in the 10-hour Energy Shot to amounts comparable to a cup of coffee. The amount of caffeine in a small (8.46 oz.) can of Red Bull is 80 mg, comparable to the 90 mg of caffeine found in a typical cup of coffee.
Caffeine hypersensitivity can be reported in some individuals who experience, jitters, sleeplessness, and heart arrhythmias, or rapid heart rate. People who experience hypersensitivity to caffeine should avoid all drinks containing caffeine, including coffee, black tea, and energy drinks.
However, caffeine is far from the biggest concern. The average energy drink is loaded with sugar. When energy drinks first came to market in the US, the tiny 8.4 oz. cans were all that was available. Demand for larger cans led most energy drink companies to produce sizes ranging to 24 oz., indicating that energy drink consumers do not stop at just one small can per day. For anyone who is concerned about sugar intake, 27g in a small can of energy drink is excessive. For comparison, 6 teaspoons of sugar is 25g, and the maximum daily amount recommended by the American Heart Association for women.
Excessive sugar intake is a large culprit responsible for inflammation in the body. Inflammation can cause a multitude of illnesses, various symptoms, fatigue, body aches, low immunity, and a multitude of disruption in normal body functioning. Large amounts of sugar are also associated with weight gain, diabetes II, and tooth decay.
Whenever the topic of high sugar content arises, the next topics falls to artificial sweeteners. We know that artificial chemicals created to give a sweetened taste to food are always trouble waiting to happen. Sugar substitutes, especially aspartame, trigger increased cravings for sugary, carbohydrate-laden foods. There are numerous research studies correlating various artificial sweeteners to cancers, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, birth defects, brain tumors and more. This is not surprising to find in any chemically created substitution.
The combination of excess sugar plus caffeine gives an energy boost and can improve mental focus. The well known ‘sugar high’ is rapidly followed by plummeting energy levels and an emotional ‘low’ feeling, prompting the reach for another dose. Physiological addiction to sugar and caffeine is well-documented, and withdrawal causes unpleasant symptoms such as the common withdrawal headache.
Among the list of ingredients in many energy drinks is Taurine, an amino acid that helps regulate the amount of water and minerals in the blood. Taurine supports neurological development and is believed to be an antioxidant. Taurine is believed to boost the effectiveness of caffeine. There is little research on long-term effects of Taurine.
B Vitamins are also on the list of ingredients in some energy drinks, and their presence does very little. Most individuals get more B vitamins from their daily diet.
The other common ingredients, such as ginseng, inositol, and ginkgo biloba do not have any added benefit, according to studies. Reports are inconclusive as to whether they even provide additional energy.
A serious problem gaining media attention recently is mixing alcohol with energy drinks. The combination of alcohol and an energy drink will minimize the physical impact of alcohol the on the body, causing the person to not feel intoxicated. In turn, individuals consume more alcohol in order to receive the buzz they are searching for. Studies have also shown that those who mix energy drinks with alcohol were more likely to drive while under the influence of alcohol. In addition, the combination of a stimulant with a CNS depressant can lead to dangerous cardiac implications and even death.
Energy drinks are considered to be mostly safe for average, healthy adults to consume in moderate quantities. While the caffeine and sugar content are unhealthy, an occasional pick-me-up could be justified for those late night study sessions or early mornings at work. Some drinks have higher quantities of sugar and caffeine than others do, so be sure to read the labels carefully. Avoid artificially sweeteners or unknown chemicals in any beverages.
Possible short-term side effects
- heart palpitations
Possible long-term side effects
- sugar addiction
- death (in limited cases)
Ingredients to be aware of
- boosts energy
- increased cognitive performance
Organic energy drinks (what is this?)
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Written by DeeAnne Oldham | 03-16-2016
Written by DeeAnne Oldham
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