Are Energy Drinks Bad?
Energy drinks have become a staple for many people, and there is lot of controversy about whether or not they are safe to drink. Like most things the devil is in the details when it comes to energy drinks.
One of the first points to consider for energy drinks is their sugar content. Sugar is something the vast majority of people could do with consuming less not more. People who drink energy drinks with high levels of sugar are taking in a lot of extra calories – up to 200 calories for large energy drinks with sugar. This not only contributes to weight gain and slows or prevents weight loss – it can also wreak havoc on the millions of people with outright diabetes and the many millions who are on their way to diabetes due to insulin insensitivity from too much sugar intake and not enough exercise.
Although sugar/carb free energy drinks do not have the issues associated with sugar described above – artificial sweeteners are clearly not healthy. Now like all things it is all about the dosage consumed on a regular basis so someone having a single beverage with artificial sweeteners daily is very different than someone having four!
Another important consideration is the “energy” ingredients contained in the drink. The most common ingredient is caffeine and the typical energy drink contains about 200mg of caffeine or the same amount you get from a large coffee. If you are an adult and accustomed to caffeine this will provide an energy bump but will not send you into convulsions! However, it is all about your size and your experience with caffeine. The more you take in caffeine the more accustomed you become to it, and larger individuals can safely consume higher quantities for obvious reasons. Moderate caffeine intake – 300 to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day — carries “little evidence of health risks and some evidence of health benefits,” conclude researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University in Corvalis, writing in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition in March 2006. This equates to 2 average size energy drinks per day.
Yohimbine is another potent stimulant so adding this together with caffeine can cause big problems – particularly in those with existing high blood pressure.
N-methyltyramine, Octopamine, and synephrine are other stimulants. As with Yohimbine best to steer clear of any energy drinks containing any of these ingredients!
Other stimulants are also frequently added and this can create a powerful synergy with caffeine and cause real issues. Energy drinks frequently have amino acids like L-Phenylalanine and/or L-Tyrosine. These amino acids act as precursors used by the body to produce excitatory neurotransmitters and hormones. So they can amplify the effects of caffeine. NOTE: for people with Phenylketonuria (commonly known as PKU) phenylalanine can be dangerous but there is a mandatory warning on all energy drinks containing this substance.
Another common energy drink ingredient is the amino acid taurine. Taurine is found in large amounts in the brain, retina, heart, and blood cells called platelets. The best food sources are meat and fish. Excess taurine is excreted by the kidneys. Taurine promotes cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, electrolyte balance, hearing function, and immune modulation. Authors of a 2012 study actual made the following statement concerning Taurine: “Considering its broad distribution, its many cytoprotective attributes, and its functional significance in cell development, nutrition, and survival, taurine is undoubtedly one of the most essential substances in the body.” So Taurine is not toxic either.
Another popular ingredient is Glucuronolactone which is added to “aid in detoxification”. Interestingly enough there actually is some science supporting this claim. More importantly it does NOT seem to be toxic in moderate doses used in most energy drinks. Like the amino acids mentioned above glucuronolactone is produced in the body naturally so it is not foreign to cells. There is an urban legend that this ingredient causes brain tumors but this is just that – a legend!
Most energy drinks contain the following B-Vitamins in significant doses:
Niacin – Niacinamide
B-2 – Riboflavin
B-6 – Pyridoxine Hydrochloride
B-12 – Cyanocobalamin
B-5 – Pantothenic Acid
B-Vitamins are water-soluble meaning excess will simply be excreted in the urine, and not having enough B-Vitamins can cause serious issues because B-Vitamins are essential for energy production and many other functions in the body.
So Why All the Concern?
Like all stimulants – energy drinks can be abused with potentially serious consequences. Heavy intake (3 or more per day) can cause nervousness and anxiety and heart palpitations. For those with anxiety disorders, heart disease, or high blood pressure this is a real concern. Anyone with heart arrhythmias should check with their physician before taking any type of stimulant including caffeine and energy drinks.
Certain energy drinks like “Redline” which contain multiple stimulants have very specific direction to only consume half a small bottle with a warning that should scare most people. It is very easy to forget and consume a whole bottle and put yourself in a very uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening situation.
Always look at serving size, dosage and ingredients and start with smaller intake. Gradually increase intake.
Last but not least stimulants can ruin your sleep – so be very careful not to take them past Noon. Also if you start to develop sleep issues cut back your intake of all stimulants – this almost always helps! Remember stimulants are not a substitute for rest, sleep, healthy diet, and exercise!