Energy Drinks. We see them everywhere, at every convenience store, gas station and supermarkets.
But…are they safe?
Traditionally coffee, tea and certain herbs are used because they contain the most popular and reasonably safe naturally occurring stimulant – caffeine. Later, caffeine itself was isolated and put into convenient pill form, such as Vivarin and marketed to people who needed to stay awake during long boring work shifts.
There are plenty of soft drinks that contain some amounts of caffeine, from Coca Cola to Mountain Dew. Then the 1980’s saw offshoots such as Jolt cola that had twice the caffeine as regular soda. Later we saw the advent of the five hour energy shots, which were often at the checkout counter at many convenience stores.
But it was Red Bull and Monster that came along and took the concept of energy drinks to a new level.
At their simplest form, energy drinks are:
The above can easily be the description of any soda. But adding the terms ‘energy’ or ‘revitalizes’ implies the products have some health benefits.
BUT DO THEY?
A sample ingredient list:
Carbonated Water, Sugar, Glucose, Citric Acid, Natural Flavors, Taurine, Sodium Citrate, Color Added, Panax Ginseng Extract, L-Carnitine L-Tartrate, Caffeine, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Benzoic Acid (Preservative), Niacinamide ( Vit . B3 ), Sucralose, Salt, d-Glucuronolactone, Inositol, Guarana Extract, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride ( Vit . B6 ), Riboflavin ( Vit . B2 ), Maltodextrin, Cyanocobalamin ( Vit . B12 )
Originally, Red Bull was a small can of 8-12 ounces. Now 22-24 ounce “tall boys” are taking up most of the shelf space on convenience store shelves. A big issue we have always talked about when it comes to health is dosing. You see, many of these cans contain two servings. While a can of Monster might say 27 grams of sugar, it actually comes out to 54 grams because there are two servings in one can.
There are many people who have two of these drinks PER DAY. If you look at the added sugar content alone, this is extremely unhealthy, especially when females should consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar and males 36 grams of sugar PER DAY. With other added sugars invariably consumed throughout the day then we can see that there is a huge surplus of excess sugars being added to the diet. While this article will not deal with the specifics, even diet or zero sugar versions of these products have their own host of issues. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to many health problems, and most health professionals recommend avoiding them.
Besides sugar, B vitamins are found in many energy drinks. But with some of them containing 200%, you may run into the issue side effects such as gastrointestinal problems, liver toxicity, skin conditions, blurred vision and nerve damage.
Taurine is another ingredient found in many energy drinks, an amino acid which regulates water and minerals along with neurological development. However, there is no data on the long term effects of added taurine, especially when combined with other ingredients.
Ginseng and other herbs: While they are inherently safe on their own, this changes when combined with caffeine and sugar. There is not much research on how these substances interact with energy drinks. But there are high dose side effects such as high blood pressure, heart palpitations, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, swelling, dehydration and kidney failure.
What about the caffeine?
The caffeine content varies in different energy drinks. A standard version of the drinks will in many cases have less caffeine than a cup of coffee. It is the combination of other ingredients and excess use that can create a caffeine addiction, with the potential of going over the 400mg daily recommended limit. However, some energy drinks are amped up with ‘java’ versions that can go over 100mg of caffeine. A recommended daily dose of caffeine is about 400 mg.
Energy drinks – Designed for Mass Market Daily Consumption
We tend to be skeptical of the health value of any product that relies on mass marketing, PR stunts and displays at chain stores and gas stations. These combination of chemicals seem to be particularly addictive. While there are stories of people who are addicted to coffee or coca cola, it seems to be an exception versus the norm.
A quick search on the internet shows an astounding number of energy drink addiction articles and related support sites.
“I used to drink 910ml Cans 1-2x a day, that’s 4x the recommended intake.
One day my hands and fingers started to shake and i could “hear” my heart beat.. like a big “thud” outside.
I visited the doctor that evening, she said my blood might have high sugar and caffeine content(she asked if a drank anything), she said if i was an old man i would have suffered heart attack because the effect i had is similar to a minor heart attack. “
This is a big problem that make take a further ten years to determine the full side effects, especially as people age and their body cannot withstand the caffeine sugar combinations.
Energy Drinks can be highly highly addictive – and lead to more addiction
While energy drinks can be addictive on their own, there is also a new study the reveals that energy drink consumers also have higher levels of drug use.
Many energy drinks can be purchased in bulk at low prices, but many people will go to a convenience store or gas station and pay a much higher mark up. This is especially in lower income areas, where customers might not have transportation to get cases of product.
This leads many people to spend $5 a day or more. Many of these drinks are also falling under the so called sugar taxes being levied in various cities. Whatever your opinion is on sugar taxes, they are growing in number and energy drinks are not immune to them.
Energy drink alternatives and solutions – How to stop drinking monster and red bull, quitting energy drinks and treating the addiction
We are taking the common sense approach that drinking products loaded with chemicals, sugar and caffeine should be avoided. PERIOD. Just like drinking soda, these beverages are not healthy and have little to no nutritional value. The sugar content is way too high, and non-sugar versions aren’t any healthier and have their own host of long term issues, much like diet soda.
There are often side effects to withdrawing from energy drinks, much of it due to caffeine.
The first step would be to switch to simpler, natural drinks that actually have some health benefits.
Plain old coffee, for example, will provide you with a short term energy boost and anti-oxidants. Tea will also provide anti-oxidants, with a lesser amount of caffeine, but that means you can drink more of it! There are also a variety of caffeinated herbs like Yerba Mate or Guayusa. Naturally occurring caffeine is always better than consuming the synthesized forms of caffeine added to mass produced beverages.
By switching to these beverages, you can lower your dose to minimize the side effects of caffeine withdrawal such as headaches, irritability, depression and lack of concentration. After all, you can brew a 6-8 ounce cup of coffee or tea, and not be committed to a 22 ounce caffeine sugar bomb.
Both coffee and tea will have their health benefits negated if they are drowning in sugar. However, you can control the sugar yourself, something you cannot do with bottled products. It is much easier to gradually whittle down your sugar intake.
With tea, there are some other things you can do if you want some of the other properties found in energy drinks but have far more benefits. The popular author, podcaster, and self-proclaimed human guinea pig, Tim Ferris, came up with an interesting blend he nicknamed ‘Titanium Tea’ which combines several different teas, and also added a recipe for a shake that includes grass fed butter of all things. TruGrit Tea is an all-in-one blend that uses many of the ingredients found in the Titanium tea but includes things like purple tea, turmeric, and yerba mate.
Conclusion – We consider Energy drinks glorified soft drinks. Simply ask yourself, is drinking a 1-2 large cans of soda every day part of a healthy life style? The long term consequences will be the same – excess sugars causing obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Coupled with caffeine, there may be cardiovascular side effects from the combination of sugar and that various other chemicals found within energy drinks.
I’m with you about avoiding added sugar to drinks. Make that adding sugar to EVERYTHING. Sugar is poison to our bodies, it’s found its way into almost every packaged product we buy.
The simple solution, make some organic teas and you’ll be putting the healthiest beverage into your body.
FYI – Tim Ferris’s video unfortunately continues to pass along a bit of misinformation about decaffeinating tea. The first steep of 30 seconds doesn’t remove the vast majority of caffeine. Science/lab tests have proved otherwise. I wish it wasn’t so but apparently it is.