Energy Drinks — Not So Harmless
The popularity of energy drinks is unfortunately on the rise among adolescents and young adults who find themselves in need of higher energy levels to handle the demands of school, work, social life, and more. In 2014, energy drink sales reached nearly $50 billion worldwide according to BeverageDaily.com.
Energy drink users may notice increased cognitive performance, enhanced mood, more physical energy, and heightened wakefulness after consuming them, although these effects are temporary.
And then there’s the bad news. There is some evidence pointing to harmful physiological and psychological effects of energy drink consumption. Caffeine mixed with other ingredients may produce symptoms such as insomnia, hyperactivity, rebound anxiety, and risk-taking behaviors. A recent randomized controlled study in which subjects drank an energy drink or caffeinated control, both containing 320 mg of caffeine, found that ECG and blood pressure measurements were significantly worse in those consuming energy drinks.1
What Is an “Energy Drink”?
Energy drinks are non-alcoholic beverages containing B vitamins, caffeine in concentrations similar to strong coffee, a variety of herbal ingredients that can have both stimulant and anti-anxiety properties, and often large amounts of sugar. They often contain stimulants such as guarana, taurine and L-carnitine which can increase alertness, attention and energy, as well as increase blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing.
Are Energy Drinks Regulated?
In the United States, energy drink companies, at their discretion, label products as either “beverages” or “dietary supplements.” If they choose the “beverages” designation, they are required to abide by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) and label their drinks with conventional Nutrition Facts panels. However, if they designate their products as dietary supplements, they must follow the labeling requirements of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, and the requirements that go with this designation are significantly less stringent than for beverages.
As a result, most energy drink companies have classified their products as dietary supplements, which allows them to bypass the FDA’s maximum caffeine limit for beverages (51 mg per 12 ounces). This limit is less than half the amount of caffeine per ounce found in the 10 top-selling energy drinks.
What Are the Potential Problems with Energy Drinks?
Sometimes a quick boost of caffeine and sugar may seem helpful in getting through the day, but there are health risks. Adverse effects related to the intake of large amounts of caffeine include speeding heartbeat, arrhythmia, increased blood pressure, anxiety, headache, insomnia, and nausea. Some people may consider the risks of consuming energy drinks acceptable, but the likelihood of experiencing adverse consequences increases as the quantity and frequency of energy drink consumption increases.
What Can You Do?
Decide to make better choices for yourself and your family. There are many healthy options for increasing energy levels, such as eating a healthy diet that includes omega-3 fats and minimizes sugars; getting a sufficient amount of sleep; regular exercise, and reducing emotional stress.
What Informational Resources Are Available?
Need some info to share with a friend or family member who uses energy drinks?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides an information page on energy drinks: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/energy.htm
The Caffeine Informer website provides a list of the top 14 dangers of energy drinks: https://www.caffeineinformer.com/top-10-energy-drink-dangers.
- Fletcher EA, Lacey CS, Aaron M, et al. Randomized controlled trial of high-volume energy drink versus caffeine consumption on ECG and hemodynamic parameters. JAHA, 2017;6:e004448.