Overview

Energy drinks are non-alcoholic beverages that are primarily manufactured to offer a burst of high energy to the consumer. There are varieties of ingredients in an energy drink that make this happen.

While we know about caffeine as the main ingredient, we do not know a lot about some of its other contents and how they work in combination. This only adds to the mystery of its effects – good or bad.

The safety of these energy drinks and power drinks, therefore, stands in question and cannot be guaranteed. There is a lack of scientific evidence due to insufficiently controlled trials

Almost every energy drink has its own blend of contents. And, to make matters more of a mystery, the manufacturers are not required to mention how much of each ingredient their product contains.

Some manufacturers have also chosen to market their energy drinks as supplements. If you drink a lot of these, you should know what’s in these energy drinks to be aware of their benefits and dangers.

The regulations for energy drinks are incoherent and need to be reformed to protect the consumers’ health and interest.

They are also available as powders and energy tablets, which makes them convenient to carry. All you have to do is mix it with water when you want to drink it.

It is most concerning that there is a lack of regulation about the safety of these drinks. Add to it aggressive marketing tactics that are targeted toward adolescents who get easily carried away and resort to regular and long-term use of these beverages.

Energy drinks (EDs) differ from sports drinks. EDs provide a short-lived energy boost without giving any real nutritional value to an athlete.

Sports drinks, on the other hand, can help an athlete recover from physical activity exhaustion by replacing the main electrolytes in the body lost through sweat. They also provide carbohydrates, which help the athlete last longer by providing additional energy.

Ingredients in energy drinks

Different energy drinks have their own blend of contents. But, almost all have the following six ingredients. These basic ingredients act as stimulants and improve performance.

It is the high levels of caffeine and sugar in energy drinks that make them dangerous for health if consumed frequently and in high amounts.

Caffeine

Of all the energy drink ingredients, caffeine is central and is invariably present in all brands. It is central to the impact that energy drinks have on you and are mainly made for.

Caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It stimulates the CNS thereby increasing alertness, energy, and physical activity. Central nervous system stimulants also raise blood pressure and increase heart rate and respiratory rate.

Caffeine works most notably by blocking the action of the neuromodulator adenosine, which prevents the onset of drowsiness.

Energy drinks contain as much or more caffeine as a cup of coffee. Some contain much more almost as much as five cups of coffee. And, while coffee is sipped slowly, energy drinks are gulped down more quickly.

  • On average, an 8-ounce cup (250ml) of coffee contains about 40 mg to 125 milligrams of caffeine.
  • Most energy drinks contain 70 mg to 200 milligrams of caffeine.
  • One can of Monster energy drink contains 160 milligrams of caffeine.
  • One can of Jolt Energy contains 280 milligrams of caffeine.
  • A Red Bull can contains 80 milligrams.

Side effects of caffeine

Caffeine is not a totally benign substance. It has its positive and negative effects and can be toxic if consumed regularly in high amounts. It causes palpitations, increased blood pressure and heart rate, heartburn, anxiety and irritability, sleeplessness, depression, and even dehydration.

Secondly, if you play in the hot sun after consuming caffeine, the risk of dehydration is greatly increased and can lead to sunstroke. This is because caffeine is a natural diuretic and causes you to urinate more. You, therefore, lose more fluids from the body through urine. This only emphasizes not using energy drinks during play or exercise.

It also causes dependence and can turn you into a caffeine addict – in this case, an energy drink addict. It is also known to cause withdrawal syndrome when you suddenly stop consuming it.

Secondly, caffeine gets consumed more due to the consumption of other caffeine beverages. For example, you often see people consuming coffee + energy drinks + green tea during the course of the day. This only adds to the health dangers of energy drinks.

Check out the label of the Rock Star energy drink, which shows that each serving of Rock Star energy drink contains 120 mg of caffeine. Each can of Rock Star is 2 or 3 servings meaning that each can contains 240 to 360 mg of caffeine. Just FYI, one cup of coffee contains 95 mg of caffeine.

This high content of caffeine in most of these power drinks becomes all the more dangerous when people mix energy drinks with alcohol to “feel high” and “feel good”. This mix is dangerous to your health in more ways than one!

Taurine

Taurine, another important energy drink ingredient, is a sulfur-containing amino acid that is produced in our body from the food (meat, fish, and dairy products) that we eat. It maintains our energy levels by regulating the heartbeat and the contraction of the muscles.

Taurine is perfectly safe when taken alone. In fact, research highlights many health benefits of taurine when taken without caffeine!

Side effects of Taurine and caffeine combination

  • Studies showed that a combination of caffeine and taurine significantly found in energy drinks increased stroke volume (blood pumped by the heart during one heartbeat) and ventricular filling. This can result in an increased heart rate. People with heart conditions who drink energy drinks regularly, increase the risk of complications. And usually, you do not know how much at risk your heart is.
  • Secondly, increased supplementation of taurine can reduce the ability of the body to produce taurine on its own. You, therefore, are forced to become dependent on energy drink supplementation of taurine.
  • Thirdly, the combination of caffeine and taurine has been linked to heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrests. A study in 2010 found that this combination of caffeine and taurine found in energy drinks increased platelet aggregation, thereby increasing the risk of blood clots and cardiovascular problems.

However, though the side effects of taurine and caffeine are established, the beneficial effects of this combination on physical performance remain doubtful.

Sugar

Some energy drinks contain a lot of sugar because sugar is a source of energy. Sugars in these drinks are simple carbohydrates that can cause spikes in blood sugar levels and increase the risk of diabetes.

One Rockstar energy drink can have about 63 grams of sugar  For comparison, one teaspoon contains about 4 grams of sugar = 16 calories. Therefore, one Rockstar Energy can contains 16 teaspoons of sugar. However, some brands like 5-Hour claim that they have zero sugar.

Soon after drinking a high-sugar energy beverage, your blood sugar levels will spike. However, this boost in energy will only last an hour or two, after which your blood sugar and energy levels will drastically fall, leaving you feeling more exhausted than before.

Guarana

Guarana or guaranine is a plant native to the Amazon rainforest of South America. It is highly thick in caffeine – thrice the amount more than coffee beans. It is used here for its rich caffeine content. It is used in energy drinks because it increases mental alertness, fights fatigue, and increases stamina and physical endurance.

Side effects

Guarana is unsafe for use in people with sensitivity to caffeine, people with heart conditions, high blood pressure, kidney disease, thyroid conditions, anxiety, pregnancy, and insomnia. It is also contraindicated for use with some drugs

Ginseng

Panax ginseng is a natural herb that is used in energy drinks because it increases energy and endurance, and reduces fatigue and the effects of stress.

It has a neuroprotective effect that may be useful in depression. This can indirectly, enhance memory and improve anxiety.

Side effects

However, the abuse of ginseng can lead to hypertension, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, headaches, agitation, restlessness, and insomnia.

Panax ginseng has hormone-like effects that could be harmful when taken for more than 6 months.

The most common side effect is trouble sleeping. Uncommon side effects include a severe rash, liver damage, and severe allergic reactions.

B Vitamins

B vitamins are added to energy drinks mainly because they act as a source of energy. Since energy drinks contain large amounts of sugar, these vitamins help convert sugar into energy.

B Vitamins added to energy drinks are Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine), and Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin). Some brands include Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) and Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid).

Most people get enough B vitamins through their diet. Only those already deficient in B vitamins will feel the energy-giving benefit from these energy beverages.

The amount of B vitamins added to these beverages is so high that most of it is excreted through urine because your body doesn’t need it.

For example, one popular beverage contains more than 8,000 percent of your daily value of B12 requirement and 2,000 percent of your daily value of B6.

However, according to experts, the push you get from energy drink ingredients comes mainly from caffeine, and maybe sugar. B vitamins are added just to give a push to the marketing campaign and make the population believe that these drinks are supplements.