Although energy drinks may seem like the perfect remedy to the 3pm slump, the quick hit they provide comes at a cost.
Not only have energy drink-related emergency department visits shot up in recent years, but several deaths have been linked to the beverages. In fact, researchers warn that just one of these drinks can lead to hospitalization!
Their high levels of sugar, caffeine, artificial colors, flavors, and calories lead to a myriad of health problems – especially when blended with ingredients like taurine, glucuronolactone and guarana, as the compounded effects cannot always be predicted and adverse reactions have been reported.
The FDA even cautions consumers about using energy shots or drinks as an alternative to rest, stating that ‘if you are thinking about taking one of these products, please consult your health care provider to ensure that you don’t have an underlying or undiagnosed medical condition that could worsen as a result of using them’.
Here are some of the dangers associated with energy drink consumption:
1. Diabetes and Hypoglycemia
Some energy drinks contain more than 20 teaspoons of sugar – a shocking figure when you consider the American Heart Association recommends that men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar a day, and women no more than 6.
These high levels of sugar lead to rapidly rising and falling blood glucose levels, which translate to energy peaks and crashes for you. If consumed regularly, this can lead to hypoglycemia and eventually to type 2 diabetes.
2. Anxiety and Low Mood
Once the effects of the caffeine wear off, and you experience a sugar crash, you will most likely endure episodes of low mood or anxiety.
A 2013 study published in the official journal of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that drinking one 250ml can or more a day of energy drinks is associated with increased anxiety in young men. The association gets stronger as energy drink consumption increases.
This research supports previous studies that identify energy drinks as a potential risk factor for mental health problems.
3. Reactions to Artificial Ingredients
The unnatural hues of many energy drinks are achieved by the addition of artificial coloring – some of which have been linked to potential health concerns such as hyperactivity (especially in children), anxiety, migraines and more.
And, in a bid to clean up their image, some energy drinks offer ‘sugar-free’ varieties, which are made using artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame. These are linked to even more side effects than artificial colors!
So far, over 90 side effects – ranging from cancer and seizures to rashes and nausea – have been connected to aspartame; while the newer zero-calorie sweetener sucralose may reduce the number of good bacteria in the gut by 50%, increase the pH level of the gut and contribute to weight gain!
4. Stress and Blood Pressure
In addition to increasing anxiety and negatively affecting mood, these drinks have been found to release stress hormones and raise blood pressure.
For example, Mayo Clinic research discovered that a 240 mg version of Rockstar Energy Drink caused a 74% increase in norepinephrine levels, while the placebo drink caused a 31% increase. It also led to a 6.4% increase in average blood pressure. Caffeine is also known to increase the stress hormone cortisol.
Over-consumption can also raise blood pressure levels in young adults, as demonstrated by a recent case study on a 16-year-old boy who used energy drinks as a study aid.
5. Headaches and Migraines
Headaches and migraines can be triggered or exacerbated by some of the ingredients in energy drinks – including sugar, caffeine, artificial sweeteners and colors, and more.
Even athletes aren’t immune to the sleep destroying properties of these beverages. In a study on energy drink consumption among athletes, it was found that although their sports performance improved by between 3% and 7%, they also experienced an increase in the frequency of insomnia and nervousness.
7. Risky Behaviors
When mixed with alcohol, these energy drinks are associated with an increase in behaviors such as unprotected sex, substance abuse and violence – especially among young adults, according to research. There is also an increased risk of injury and a need for medical intervention.
Those mixing energy drinks and alcohol are more likely to be victims or perpetrators of aggressive sexual behavior; and are four times more likely to intend to drive while intoxicated.
8. Cardiac Events
Consuming stimulants like the ones found in energy drinks can cause an irregular heartbeat, which can lead to a heart attack. Those with underlying heart conditions are especially at risk.
Energy drinks are also linked to cardiac events among teenagers and a survey by Johns Hopkins University found that almost one in five college undergraduate students experienced heart palpitations from these drinks.
9. Caffeine Overdose
While caffeine can bring some health benefits when enjoyed in moderation, it’s best to get your fix from a cup of coffee rather than a soda or energy drink.
The amount of caffeine in an energy drink varies from 80 mg to more than 500 mg (compared with 100 mg in a 5-ounce cup of coffee or 50 mg in a 12-ounce soda). This may be because guarana, a common ingredient in some drinks, has three times the caffeine content as coffee. What’s more, certain additives may compound the stimulant effects of caffeine.
Caffeine overdose symptoms range from mild to severe. It has been linked with dizziness, diarrhea, increased thirst, fever, vomiting, hallucinations, confusion, uncontrollable muscle movements and convulsions.
Excessive levels of caffeine also impair cognition – which is why these drinks don’t make good study aids!
10. Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue is a condition characterized by generalized fatigue and a sense of sub-par health. It occurs when the adrenal glands – which are responsible for producing the hormones cortisol and aldosterone which help regulate blood pressure, blood sugar levels, stress and metabolism – become overworked.
The stimulants in energy drinks are attractive to many with adrenal fatigue because they provide a boost of energy. But in the long-run, they compound stress and exhaustion, further disrupt hormone balance, and impair restorative sleep.
11. Tooth Decay
Just like sodas and other sugary treats, energy and sports drinks damage tooth enamel and increase the risk of cavities.
Research has shown that just five days of repeated exposure to energy and sports drinks leads to enamel loss. The average enamel lost with sports drinks was about 1.5%, while the average loss with energy drinks was more than 3%.
12. An Overworked Liver
Pollution, pesticides, food additives, chemicals in our skincare and a whole host of other hidden poisons find their way into our bodies every single day. These must be processed and eliminated by the liver, a hardworking organ that can easily become overburdened when you factor in a poor diet and energy drink consumption.
It takes 12 hours for the liver to process and remove the caffeine in energy drinks, which means the body gives less attention to removing other toxins – leading to illness and disease.
The combination of caffeine and guarana in energy drinks can lead to dehydration because caffeine is a diuretic.
Those who drink energy drinks should be diligent about staying hydrated with water, especially if exercising intensely and sweating.
14. Weight Gain
Because they’re high in calories (the majority of which come from sugar), energy drinks have the potential to cause weight gain.
Some of these energy drinks contain up to 600 calories per can! What’s more, these liquids are devoid of fiber or nutrients, which means they don’t fill you up or provide your body with what it needs. As a result, people tend to enjoy these drinks in addition to their regular meals, which can lead to weight gain over time.
10 Healthy Homemade Energy Drinks
While consuming store-bought energy drinks isn’t a good idea for your health or waistline, homemade drinks can provide you with a hit of energy and nutrients! Here are 10 delicious recipes to try:
Ginger Sports Recovery – a detoxifying and electrolyte-rich drink with ginger, lemons and sea salt.
Mineral-Rich Energy Drink – made with coconut water, herbs, calcium-magnesium powder and juice.
Cranberry Maple ‘Gatorade’ – a healthy and tasty take on the popular sports drink, featuring cranberry juice, maple syrup and star anise.
Lemon Lime ‘Lay-Low’ – a simple but effective concoction of lemons, limes, salt and honey.
Citrus Coconut Energy Booster – a delicious and filling blend of coconut water, coconut oil, dates, sea salt and citrus juices.
Strawberry-Infused Sports Drink – with strawberries, orange, honey and sea salt, this is the ideal refreshment before or during your workout.
Coffee Crunch Smoothie – satisfy your hunger and boost your energy with this coffee-based shake featuring banana, almond milk, oats, almond butter, dates, protein powder, cocoa and cinnamon.