How are Energy Drinks Impacting Your Health?

Everyone understands a sluggish morning. The alarm went off too soon and your bed seems more desirable than whatever else is planned for the day. You wonder whether or not you can actually get through the day without a bit of a pick-me-up, but you have no time to wait for your coffee to cool enough to drink it, so you grab an energy drink for some instant gratification. Right after that drink enters your body, the caffeine and sugars start to do their jobs. Your heart rate increases, your blood thickens, and your blood pressure spikes. An efficient pick-me-up.

More than 29 billion gallons of energy drink liquid is consumed by Americans every year and that number is growing rapidly. The global energy drink market was estimated at $39 billion in 2013 and expected to almost double by 2021. Energy drinks are more or less a black box in terms of regulation; since they are considered ‘dietary supplements’ and not ‘soft drinks’, there is no FDA approval required before they hit the shelves.

The drinks usually include ingredients like caffeine, sugar, B vitamins, and legal stimulants such as guarana (a caffeine-containing plant grown in the Amazon), taurine (an amino acid naturally occurring in meat and fish), and L-carnitine (what our bodies use to turn fat into energy). The way in which these ingredients interact with each other within the body is largely unknown and under-researched. The individual components of energy drinks are not particularly harmful, however, the large quantities in which they are provided is concerning.

It has been reported that the average 500-milliliter/16.9-ounce energy drink contains roughly 54 grams of sugar, which is well beyond the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 25-35.7 grams per day. Too much sugar consumption can lead to Type 2 diabetes and obesity. The high levels of caffeine within energy drinks is a major concern too, as some contain up to 100 mg caffeine per fluid ounce, which is eight times more than a regular cup of coffee (12 mg). For adults, up to 400 mg of caffeine per day is the recommended limit, but for adolescents ages 12 to 18 it is much lower (100 mg) as they are more sensitive to the stimulant overall.

In 2014 the American Association of Poison Control Centers documented 4,037 caffeine overdoses and 68% of those were in individuals under 20. In some more extreme cases, this can even cause death. In 2015, it was reported that a 19-year-old basketball player collapsed and died after drinking a 3 1/2 twenty-four fluid ounce Monsters before a game. Nearly half of all energy drinks today are consumed by people under the age of 30. Although irregular heartbeats, trouble breathing, heightened levels of anxiety and depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure are large problems, caffeine and sugar aren’t the most concerning aspects of energy drinks. The fact that these are most often combined with other things such as additional cups of coffee or even alcohol are what can further heighten the health risk associated with energy drinks.

Other countries have placed strict regulations regarding the sale of energy drinks. In Lithuania and Latvia specifically, energy drinks are illegal to sell to anyone under 18. In May 2015, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) banned energy drinks containing caffeine and ginseng—including Monster Energy—deeming the mixture “irrational and impermissible.”

Therefore, until more research becomes available in regard to energy drinks, maybe next time you find yourself needing a pick-me-up possibly look to more natural energy boosting methods. These can include behaviors like avoiding large amounts of sugars and fats in the morning and loading up on B vitamin-containing foods (like spinach) instead. Other proven energy boosters include going for a walk in the morning, eating multiple small meals during the day, and getting enough sleep.

Additional Reading

Energy drinks cause concern for health of young people – World Health Organization Europe

Energy Drinks – National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

Are Energy Shots Safe? – WebMD

Article by Tatiana Eaves

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