A relatively new phenomenon, energy drinks have become incredibly popular, with profits increasing almost six-fold from just 2002 to 2008 alone. And despite bans on the drinks on college campuses, in entire countries, and proposed bans on sales to minors, the downsides may not be well-known— or at least not well-known enough to curb sales .
Sugar High — The Need-to-Know
Though often marketed separately, energy drinks are basically amped-up soda with some potentially dangerous side effects . Super-sized energy drinks are often packed with calories and sugar— one brand even has as much sugar as six Krispy Kreme doughnuts! And it looks like the dentist was telling the truth: All that sugar actually could rot teeth— more than standard sodas, even .
But it’s not just sugar that makes energy drinks a dangerous choice. Many also contain higher-than-healthy doses of caffeine, which may cause anxiety, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, and increased blood pressure. All that caffeine also acts as a diuretic, which can lead to dehydration . About 400-450 mg of caffeine per day is considered safe for most adults, but it’s easy to overdo it with energy drinks . Though 8-ounce cans typically keep the caffeine under 100 mg, many manufacturers also have super-sized versions (sometimes nearly double the original’s size!) and concentrated energy “shots” that often contain over 200 mg.
Energy drinks allegedly owe their stamina-boosting powers to more than just caffeine, though. One popular addition is taurine, an amino acid naturally found in foods like meat and fish and a necessary component in our diets . While some research supports the use of taurine to enhance mental or athletic performance, long-term studies haven’t proven its safety (or usefulness) as a supplement. Other common drink additions include herbs (like ginkgo biloba), and vitamins B6 and B12. Often, the supplements’ reps are shaky at best, and a healthy diet likely provides plenty of them— no need to pack in the extra sugar. Plus, while labels may tout the magical contents of these cans, the additions may not even be in high enough concentrations to yield the intended results .
Jitter Bug — Your Action Plan
While energy drinks can be problematic for many, they can be especially troublesome for certain groups of people. While 30 to 50 percent of adolescents and young adults indulge, this population is more likely to experience negative side effects— including seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, or mood and behavioral disorders— than adults . And while the increase in blood pressure caused by energy drinks isn’t usually a problem for healthy adults, those with existing heart problems are especially at-risk for dangerous side effects.
Add alcohol, and there’s an even bigger chance for disaster. Red bull and vodka might be uber-trendy, but the stimulants in the energy drink can mask the effects of the alcohol, increasing risks associated with alcohol consumption like impulsive behavior .
With energy drinks off the table, try turning to caffeinated black coffee and green tea for a healthier energy boost. Plus, they even offer additional health benefits like high doses of antioxidants. Other sources of a natural jolt include high-protein, high-fiber energy bars (though beware of those with high sugar content), dark chocolate, and even a quick run on the treadmill . And then, of course, there’s always catching a few zzz's.