Energy drinks or power drinks, as they are also called, are nonalcoholic beverages that are advertised as energy-giving drinks. Their manufacturers claim that they give you a boost of energy. But, there are disadvantages or dangers to your health that these drinks can cause.
Their use mainly resides in two things:
- Staying awake
- Staying active
- Improve performance
Sounds good, but are they good or bad for you?
Should you drink energy drinks? If so, how much is safe?
According to the Mayo Clinic, it is safe for a typical healthy adult to consume a total of 400 mg of caffeine a day, but no more than 200 mg in a single dose. This also includes the consumption of caffeine from other sources such as coffee and tea. However, for kids and teens, daily caffeine intake should be even less.
400 mg caffeine is the amount of caffeine in roughly three to four cups of coffee, ten cans of cola, or two “energy shots” drinks.
Most energy drinks contain less than this amount of caffeine. Therefore, after accounting for the tea/coffee that you consume during the day, it would be safe for a healthy adult to drink one of its can.
But, do it only if you need it. Don’t take it if you don’t need it for fear of getting addicted. Energy drink is addictive because it causes the brain to release dopamine, the hormone that makes you feel good.
Daily consumption of caffeine, especially more than 500 mg. per day, is a significant health risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that:
“The American Academy of Pediatrics states that caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.”
Energy drinks (EDs) are different from sports drinks. EDs provide a short-lived boost of energy but their ingredients do not give any real nutritional value to you.
Sports drinks, on the other hand, can help you recover from physical activity exhaustion by replacing the main electrolytes in the body lost through sweat.
Common energy drink brands and their caffeine content
There are many brands and varieties of energy drinks. Here are the most common ones with the highest caffeine content.
- Proper Wild: 100 mg Per Shot
- Red Bull: 111 mg Per Can
- Rockstar: 160 mg Per Can
- Monster Energy: 160 mg Per Can
- 5-Hour Energy: 200 mg Per Shot
- NOS: 260 mg Per Can
- Reign Total Body Fuel: 300 mg Per Can
- Bang: 300 mg Per Can
- Redline Xtreme: 316 mg Per Bottle
- Spike Hardcore Energy: 350 mg Per Can
- Of these, Monster, Red Bull, and Rockstar dominate the energy drink industry
What is an energy shot? As Wikipedia explains:
“Energy shots are a specialized kind of energy drink. Whereas most energy drinks are sold in cans or bottles, energy shots are usually sold in smaller 50ml bottles. The marketing of energy shots generally focuses on their convenience and availability as a low-calorie “instant” energy drink that can be taken in one swallow (or “shot”), as opposed to energy drinks that encourage users to drink an entire can, which may contain 250 calories or more.”
Why are energy drinks so popular?
Energy drinks claim to make you more alert and boost your physical and mental performance. That’s why they are also referred to as power drinks.
They are widely consumed especially by teenagers and young adults – more popular amongst men than women. They are used by:
- students to stay awake for studying before an exam
- by sportsmen and athletes before and during a match for the energy boost
- along with alcohol, which is a dangerous cocktail mix
- as a common beverage for its popular taste and for giving a false sense of well-being. This and its colorful packing in cold cans make it a natural choice among users to quench their thirst several times during the day.
How popular are energy drinks? Figures
The rapidly rising popularity of energy drinks or power drinks can be estimated by its annual market sales. In 2001 the retail market of energy drinks had grown to $8 million.
Ten years later in 2010, this figure grew rapidly to $10 billion. I couldn’t find figures for 2012 but they are definitely higher than in 2010.
30% to 50% of teens in the US consume energy drinks and more than 62% drink at least one of its can daily.
Today, the worldwide energy drink market has reached appalling proportions. It was valued at over $134 billion in 2021. Of this, almost $14 billion was the figure spent in the U.S. alone.
The latest figures for 2022 from Statista are thus:
“The energy drink category reported a dollar sales growth of 13.7 percent in the U.S. in 2022, compared to the previous year.”
Energy drinks: Are they good or bad?
The effects of the energy drink on your health do suggest that there is more bad than good. Energy drinks are twice as bad as sports drinks. Most users consume at least one drink every day while some teenagers and young adults drink this beverage every few hours. The risk of addiction in regular users is high.
Some energy drinks contain as much caffeine as five cups of coffee and ten times as much as a can of cola.
Some are more moderate in their caffeine content and contain as much as one cup of brewed coffee or twice as much as a cup of tea.
The caffeine content, at times, is not displayed on the label and it, therefore, makes it difficult to choose.
Dangers of energy drinks
Besides the dangerous side effects of the ingredient combinations of energy drinks like heart problems, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc, here are a few more dangers that were discovered through recent studies.
1. Energy Drinks Cause Irreversible Tooth Damage
A study in 2012 found that the acid content of energy drinks destroyed the enamel of your teeth making you more prone to tooth decay and dental cavities.
A recent study published in the May/June 2012 issue of General Dentistry (the peer-reviewed clinical journal of the Academy of General Dentistry) found an alarming increase in the consumption of sports and energy drinks, especially among adolescents.
This causes irreversible damage to teeth — specifically because the high acidity levels in the drinks erode tooth enamel, the glossy outer layer of the tooth.
Dr. Bone of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) advises that people should minimize their use and they should chew sugar-free gum or immediately rinse their mouth with water after having this drink to prevent damage to teeth.
They should not brush their teeth at least for an hour after consuming an energy drink as else the acid will get deeply rubbed on all the teeth’ surfaces and increase the corrosive action.
2. Increased risk of medical emergencies
According to a report mentioned in WebMD, emergency room (ER) visits jumped ten-fold between 2005 and 2009 from the use of energy drinks.
Hospitalizations in the United States from its use have jumped tenfold to 13,114 in 2009 from 1,128 visits in 2005.
Forty-four percent of these ER visits were people who had combined these stimulant-rich drinks with alcohol or illicit drugs.
Researchers say that adverse reactions such as arrhythmia, hypertension, and dehydration can arise from the excessive use of these drinks on their own.
3. Energy drinks and alcohol – A deadly mix
Having a cocktail of alcohol and energy drinks is a bad mix. Because of the high content of caffeine in energy drinks, you do not feel the alcohol effect that you would otherwise feel if you drank alcohol alone or with water.
This happens because caffeine is a stimulant and gives you a false feeling of alertness even after consuming your alcohol quota. This makes you drink more alcohol which can hit you more after the effect of caffeine has worn off.
4. Energy drinks can cause weight gain
One can of an energy drink contains 100 to 280 calories. Our calorie requirement is sufficiently funded by the food that we eat. Most youngsters and young adults gulp down more than one can per day. This additional intake of calories only adds to your weight and obesity is commonly seen in such people.
The journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes concerns about the excess of calories in energy drinks and sports drinks, saying they can substantially increase the chances of childhood obesity and teens becoming overweight and obese.
Repeatedly consuming energy drinks can lead to the development of dependence. This dependence is actually caffeine dependence.
Addiction comes from energy drink abuse. Abuse is drinking too many cans every day and drinking them too quickly. It may also involve mixing these drinks with other substances of abuse
Some of the health dangers of its addiction include:
- sleep disturbances
- acid reflux
- cardiovascular problems
- difficulty concentrating
6. Other side effects include:
- Diabetes especially type 2
- Kidney stone formation
When should you drink energy drinks?
Keeping in mind the above limit, consuming a can of this energy beverage 30-60 minutes before exercise can improve mental focus, alertness, performance, and endurance in adults. This is largely due to the effects of caffeine.
How many can you safely consume in a day?
According to Mayo Clinic, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine, a day is likely safe for most healthy adults. Therefore, do not exceed one can of energy drink per day.
Which ingredients in energy drinks provide energy?
The major active ingredient of energy drinks that provides energy is caffeine. Other contents such as caffeine, taurine, B vitamins, guarana, ginseng, ginkgo, and sugars, also contribute.
When energy drinks don’t work?
The reason you can’t feel the stimulating effect of an energy drink is you may have become caffeine tolerant. This happens when your body gets used to the amount of caffeine you have been having over a long period and now needs more to give you that energy boost.
Secondly, this can also happen due to your fast metabolism. In such cases, the caffeine that is ingested is quickly disposed of from your body through your urine and liver system. Therefore, the energizing effect of caffeine is lost quickly.
How are they made?
Energy drinks are made by the addition of synthetic added sugars, artificial sugars, large amounts of B vitamins, and taurine. Since these ingredients are lab-made, they are not absorbed by the body in the same way as naturally occurring nutrients.
The absorption of the energy drink ingredients is faster because users gulp them down very fast because of their taste and the need to feel good faster.
Where does caffeine in energy drinks come from?
Synthetic caffeine is the main ingredient in energy drinks that works as a stimulant. Some brands also contain the extract of guarana berries, which contain natural caffeine. Most of the synthetic caffeine comes from factories in China.
The extracts from two other plants that naturally contain caffeine are sometimes used as ingredients for their stimulant effects.
- The guayusa plant is grown in South America, and
- The yaupon holly is native to America
Can vegans have energy drinks?
Most energy drinks are suitable for vegans. This is because many contain natural and fully plant-based ingredients.
Secondly, many of the more synthetic components no longer contain bi-products of animal origin, which previously stopped them from being vegan-friendly.
For example, taurine, an ingredient in most brands was originally collected from ox bile. This practice is long since discontinued and taurine is now fully synthesized in labs.
Will energy drinks make you gain weight?
Regular and frequent consumption of these energy beverages can make you gain weight and increase your belly fat.
The high-calorie content in these beverages (for example, 68 in a 12-ounce Red Bull can) is mostly due to the sugar content. High regular consumption will likely lead to weight gain. The fructose content is responsible for fat accumulation around the midsection.
Besides weight gain, too much consumption can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, /cardiovascular disease, and gout.
Can they make you lose weight?
There’s no evidence to support that energy drinks can lead to weight loss.
Can drinking energy drinks make you thirsty?
Energy drinks increase the risk of dehydration due to their high caffeine content. Caffeine is a natural diuretic and excess amounts of caffeine intake can cause you to urinate more leading to the loss of more fluids from the body. This is how they cause dehydration.
The risk increases especially if you have used energy drinks while exercising. Physical activity causes you to sweat a lot leading to further loss of fluids from the body. More consumption of energy drinks coupled with intense physical activity can lead to extreme dehydration.
One drink a day with a caffeine content of 200 mg or less is okay even when coupled with one or two cups of coffee during the day.
However, large consumption of 3 or more cans every day for prolonged periods gulped down quickly significantly increases the health risks.
Can you die from drinking too many energy drinks?
According to an article in The Times of India dated Dec 3, 2019,
A 26-year-old young man from Texas has died from consuming too many energy drinks. Reportedly, he was consuming almost 8-10 cans of energy drink daily that led to a blood clot and blockage in his heart, which resulted in a heart attack and thus causing death.