Are Energy Drinks Healthy?

What Are Energy Drinks?

Energy drinks are carbonated beverages with large doses of caffeine and other legal stimulants such as guarana and ginseng, guaranteed to give a pick me up to the tired and sleep deprived. These beverages such as Red Bull, Rock Star or Wired, are all the rage with young people who are often consuming several of these in one day.

Demystifying Energy Drink Ingredients

While energy drinks are not necessarily harmful when consumed on their own and in limited quantity, it is hard to tell if they pose any additional health benefits. Most of the ingredients on the label are scientific jargon and leave very few informed over their beverage choice. Below we have demystified the most common ingredients in energy drinks for you to decide whether they are worthwhile or not.

Caffeine – Most energy drinks contain caffeine, often about 80 mg per can (about the same as one cup of brewed coffee and more than the amount in two cans of Coke). But these beverages can range between 70 and 300+ milligrams depending on the energy drink of choice; although you would never know because the FDA doesn’t require it to be listed on the drink’s label. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system making the body feel awake and alert. In large doses coffee causes side effects such as increased heart rate, jitters, headaches and sleeplessness.

  • Red Bull 120mg of caffeine per 12oz serving
  • Rock Star 135mg of caffeine per 12oz serving
  • Full Throttle 110mg of caffeine per 12oz serving
  • Tab Energy 105mg of caffeine per 12oz serving
  • Wired 252mg of caffeine per 12oz serving

Taurine – This is a nonessential amino acid that the body produces naturally. It helps regulate the central nervous system, skeletal muscle and heartbeat, among its other uses. At first glance the use of taurine in energy drinks seems harmless but, it’s when it is coupled with caffeine that this amino acid poses some concern. While there have not been enough studies done to determine for certain the long-term effects of caffeinated taurine drinks, there is enough concern that warnings have been placed on the labels due to increased risk of central nervous system effects.

Guarana – This is a legal stimulant used widely throughout South America to increase energy and alertness. Although it has similar effects as caffeine, it has a different name, as this plant based stimulant has a few additional ingredients: theobromine and theophylline. Some energy drinks may disguise their use of caffeine type stimulants by putting down the widely unknown guarana as the ingredient on the label.

B Vitamins – These vitamins help convert the high levels of sugar found in these drinks into energy. Common B vitamins found in energy drinks include: Insotol, Niacin, Ribflavin, Cyanocobalamin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride. But don’t be mislead, most Americans already have all the B vitamins they need in their systems, so this added intake in the energy drink won’t add to your energy rush.

Ginseng – This is a well-studied, seemingly healthy herb that has been used for treating stress, increasing levels of alertness and mental clarity, reducing fatigue and fighting off colds. It seems like a win/win situation with this herb and there is almost no such thing as too much. You can safely take up to 2700mg daily, while the average person usually only consumes about 200mg/day.

Ginkgo Biloba – This is an herb with many healthy attributes. It is a circulatory aid that helps to increase blood flow to the brain helping to combat depression, headaches, memory loss and even helps with concentration. Furthermore, it offers antioxidant effects as well, helping to protect the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system from the negative effects of aging. But while this is an especially helpful herb, it is thought that most energy drinks do have sufficient amounts of this herb in them to reap its benefits.

L-Carnitine – This is an amino acid produced naturally by the liver and kidneys. Its function is to increase your metabolism and energy levels; and as such helps with weight loss. It is usually not necessary to take this amino acid as a supplement in energy drinks as the amount produced by your body is more than sufficient. That being said, it will have no adverse effect on you when consumed in moderation.

Glucose – Glucose is just another way of saying sugar and is the first fuel that your body burns. Energy drinks have a ton of sugar, giving you that sugar high for short term energy jolts. Too much sugar, however, has been linked to diabetes.

Anti-oxidants – These are largely vitamins that are obtained in the foods that we eat and help to prevent illness and cellular damage. The most common anti-oxidant additives are Vitamins C, E and A. While they are healthy additives to these energy drinks, they are unessential and quite honestly are not worth the pricy cost of the energy drinks, as we receive these nutrients in a variety of other daily forms.

Dangerous Duos: Combining Energy Drinks with Exercise or Alcohol

Most worrisome and potentially risky is the combination of this legal stimulant with exercise or alcohol.
Energy drinks should not be confused with sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade and should not be used while performing any physical exercise. Energy drinks are highly caffeinated and act as a diuretic. While sports drinks restore electrolytes to the body and prevent dehydration, energy drinks do the opposite, dehydrating it. Combined with sweating, energy drinks can quickly leave your body dehydrated, and your heart racing.

When combined with alcohol, energy drinks pose even more dangers. Unfortunately the drink of choice for many young people these days is the ever popular Vodka and Red Bull; but just what health risks does using energy drinks as mixers present?

  • Well both energy drinks and alcohol are very dehydrating. Dehydration can lessen your body’s ability to metabolize alcohol and will increase the toxicity, making the alcohol slower to leave your body.
  • Energy drinks are stimulants, while alcohol is a depressant. This combination can be a deadly one. The stimulating effect can prevent you from realizing just how intoxicated you are, and quite likely lead to over consumption.

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