The Ugly Truth about Energy Drinks

Before you reach for another energy drink, you should know the facts.

From supermarkets to drug stores, you’ll spot students buying energy drinks to not only quench their thirst but help them survive all-nighters in the library.

Since Red Bull was introduced in 1997, energy drinks have seen a major growth, outpacing nearly every other offering in the beverage market. But do we really know what we are buying? Are these drinks safe?

What is really in energy drinks?

There are so many different kinds of energy drinks now-a-days. From Red Bull to Five Hour to Monster, students have many options when deciding their liquid source for energy. So of course recipes vary, but the common element in energy drinks is caffeine.

A standard cup of coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine, a cup of tea 50 mg and a can of coke cola 35-55 mg. How much caffeine does energy drinks have? Well, definitely more. Try anywhere from 50 to 500 mg of caffeine in a single serving.  And the addition of guarana (a South American plant extract that contains additional caffeine) ups the caffeine dose even more. Although the FDA regulates the amount of caffeine in soft drinks (maximum of 71 mg per 12-oz serving), there is no such limit for energy drinks.

Caffeine is a stimulant. Scientific studies in adults show that caffeine can increase alertness, improve concentration and enhance mood. Modest caffeine intake (less than 400 mg per day) is safe for most adults. But too much caffeine can cause problems, including restlessness, irritability and difficulty sleeping. Massive caffeine overdoses can cause reduced blood flow to the heart and abnormal heart rhythms.

Many energy drinks also contain sugar. Sugar is “real energy.” Your body can use the sugar as fuel to do work. But don’t forget that extra sugar means excess calories. A steady consumption of sugar-filled energy drinks will lead to weight gain.

Other ingredients, including the amino acid taurine, ginseng and assorted vitamins, probably have little to no impact on a person’s perceived energy level. Although manufacturers tout the importance of these additives, their purported benefits are unproven. One note of caution-ginseng can interact with a variety of prescription medicines.

Are energy drinks safe for you?

Energy drinks have not been proven safe. In fact, because they are classified as supplements, they are not even regulated by the FDA. This means that their ingredients are not tightly controlled and their health effects are largely unstudied.

We do think that an adult who consumes an occasional energy drink (one a day) is unlikely to suffer harm. But too much can lead to caffeine overdose and health problems, and mixing energy drinks and alcohol is such a bad idea – Don’t do it for the sake of your health!

Before you reach for that magic bottle that promises enhanced alertness, concentration and physical performance, you need to remember the facts. Instead get a good night’s sleep, exercise regularly and eat well… these are the real energy magic-makers.

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2 responses to “The Ugly Truth about Energy Drinks

  1. Excellent article. There is no shortcut to your best performance!

    • Thanks Diane! No true. More people need to realize that all you need to do is be healthy, and you will always have energy. It’s as simple as exercising regularly, eating right and sleeping well. If you do feel sleepy, run around the block or eat an orange (citrus fruits are a great, natural source of energy).

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