Are Energy Drinks Bad for You?
Energy: almost all of us want more of it. We have hectic schedules and are constantly risking burnout from them, as well as our stressful news cycle. Not to mention our constant state of plugging into social media. It’s no surprise that many Americans turn to energy drinks for an extra boost to get them through the day. Behind multivitamins, they are the most popular form of “supplement” in adolescents and teens.
In this article, we’ll go behind the enticing advertising and splashy claims and examine the true safety of energy drinks.
What Are Energy Drinks?
Energy drinks are a mainstay on the shelves of any gas station, grocery store, or vending machine. The most common ones you’ve likely heard of are Red Bulls, Monster, 5-Hour Energy, Rockstar, or NOS, among others. They all contain high doses of caffeine and other stimulants, designed to deliver a jolt of energy.
The caffeine content and ingredients vary widely from brand to brand. Still, all contain moderate to very high levels of caffeine. Other common ingredients include:
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Certain vitamins or amino acids like vitamin B or taurine
- Herbal ingredients like ginseng
- Natural or artificial flavoring
Uses for Energy Drinks
Many people grab a quick energy drink to help them start their day, get through a tough workout, focus on school or work, or anytime their energy levels are waning. The primary benefit and use of these drinks are to provide energy to improve brain function. This can include improving focus, memory, concentration, mental sharpness, or helping with physical endurance.
Many energy drinks are marketed to help with athletic or strength performance, such as for athletes or weight lifters.
Pros and Cons
The predominant risk associated with energy drinks has to do with their high quantity of caffeine. One energy drink can easily top more than two cups of coffee’s worth of caffeine. And often, people don’t just have one.
The following side effects are associated with high caffeine intake. It’s important to note; caffeine affects everyone differently. Some are far more sensitive to it than others.
- Increased anxiety
- A jittery, restless feeling
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Sleep disruptions
- Digestive problems
- Impaired decision making, coordination, and risk-taking behavior (especially when paired with alcohol)
- Impairments to cardiovascular development and nervous system in children
Aside from the potentially dangerously high caffeine levels, energy drinks are typically very high in sugar. A 16-ounce energy drink may contain 60 or more grams of sugar, which exceeds the recommended daily allowance of sugar. If consumed regularly, this adds many extra calories, which can cause weight gain. This can ramp up the risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes, gout, or other diseases over time.
Of course, as any caffeine fan can attest to, there are some benefits to caffeine consumption. Drinkers may feel a boost in energy, mental sharpness, focus, and improved physical endurance. If driving long distances or studying long hours for a test, an energy drink may keep you feeling alert, far longer than you otherwise would. Some studies have demonstrated a boost in brain function — in concentration and memory specifically — after consuming a can of Red Bull.
Though an energy drink here and there can help in some situations, if it becomes a habit, it can easily do more harm than good.
Are They Healthy or Harmful?
Troublingly, thousands of people seek medical attention each year because of the side effects of energy drinks. From 2007 to 2011, the number of emergency room visits involving energy drinks had more than doubled, from roughly 10,000 to almost 21,000. Most of these visits involved teens and young adults.
Energy drinks are marketed to and very popular with the adolescent crowd. Specifically, young men between the ages of 18-24 are the heaviest consumers. However, younger children between 12-17 years are also turning to them in huge numbers. Depending on the drink, a single energy drink on its own can cause health problems like nausea, anxiety, heart rhythm and blood pressure disturbances, digestive issues, dehydration, and more. When multiple drinks are consumed or mixed with alcohol, as they often are, the dangers generally only increase. There is a strong link between the dangers of energy drinks and young people, specifically.
In some cases, energy drinks can provide a harmless boost, and in others, they can be potentially deadly. The effects of an energy drink will depend on the quantity of caffeine, as well as any prior health conditions or medication, plus the quantity consumed.
Unfortunately, energy drinks are not regulated or tested as thoroughly as one might hope or think. Many common drinks are considered supplements and therefore are not subjected to stringent testing because of FDA guidelines. While they are still readily available to anyone, it comes down to the individual to be aware of the potential risks and side effects.
Who Should Avoid Energy Drinks and Why?
So, are they bad for you? For starters, energy drink consumption should not be taken lightly, given how many people experience negative side effects or even end up hospitalized. And yes, deaths have been linked to energy drink consumption, unfortunately. Many had to do with developing blood clots, high blood pressure, or heart attacks after consuming the drinks.
Those with a known sensitivity to caffeine would be wise to steer clear from energy drinks. They often pack more caffeine than a standard coffee or cup of tea. Adolescents and teens often experience more side effects and sensitivities like disruptions to heart rhythm, sleep, increased anxiety, and stomach problems.
Anyone considering using energy drinks regularly should keep their consumption low, no more than around 200 mg of caffeine a day. Consider consulting with your doctor to make sure your medications or health conditions won't make you more susceptible to the dangers of energy drinks.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (Energy Drinks)
- Healthline (Are Energy Drinks Good or Bad for You?
- The Harvard School of Public Health (Energy Drinks)
- Center for Science in the Public Interest (Documents Link More Deaths to Energy Drinks)
- HealthDay (ER Visits Linked to Energy Drinks Double: Report)