What are energy drinks?
The consumption of energy drinks is a common trend which is increasing globally at a constant rate. The global Energy Drinks Market is expected to reach $86.01 Billion by 2026. Energy drinks are widely promoted as products that increase energy and enhance mental alertness and physical performance. Next to multivitamins, energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement consumed by American teens and young adults.
Energy drinks are sold at many different stores including gas stations, grocery and convenience stores.
Energy drinks have been associated with unwanted side effects such as headache, jitteriness, stomach upset, trouble sleeping, chest pain and even death.
There are two kinds of energy drink products. One is sold in containers similar in size to those of ordinary soft drinks, such as a 16-ounces. Some brands even have a 24-oz. size can or bottle. The other type is called “energy shots,” which are sold in small containers holding 2 to 2½ oz. of concentrated liquid.
Most energy drinks contain high amounts of pharmaceutical grade caffeine in addition to caffeine from natural sources. The most popular energy drinks contain anywhere between 114 mg to 400 mg of caffeine per container. Too much caffeine can cause headaches, nervousness, shakiness, and sleep problems.
*Be aware the amount of caffeine in energy drinks is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) , however there are limits placed on soft drinks which can not exceed 71 mg for a 12 ounce beverage.
Energy drinks also usually contain large amounts of sugar ranging from 21mg to 34 mg per oz. The sugar content is mainly in the form of sucrose, glucose or high fructose corn syrup. Therefore, high energy drink intake may increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The high caffeine and sugar content in energy drinks are only part of the concern. Energy drinks are often
“stacked” with dietary supplements, especially ones containing other stimulants. Many energy drink labels refer to these ingredients as proprietary blends. The high caffeine content combined with many brands proprietary blends pose a potential risk for serious side effects.
Many manufacturers of energy drinks like those that produce pre-workouts, vitamins, fat burners and diet pills, are largely unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As such, they are not burdened by the rigorous research standards required of pharmaceutical drug manufacturers.
*It's important to note these products are not required to be tested for safety and efficacy.
What are proprietary blends?
A proprietary blend is a collection of ingredients often unique to a particular product and sometimes given a special name on a product’s Supplement Facts panel. A proprietary blend might be listed as a “blend,” “complex,” “matrix” or “proprietary formulation.” The specific amount of each individual ingredient in a proprietary blend does not have to be listed; only the total combined amount in the blend must be given. Ingredients in a proprietary blend should, however, be listed in descending order by weight.
The lack of amount for each ingredient is especially important when a proprietary blend contains stimulant (or stimulant-like) ingredients.
Commonly found ingredients in energy drinks
Is currently the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world and is the primary ingredient in energy drinks. Caffeine content typically ranges from 50 to 500 milligrams, compared to 100 milligrams in a regular cup of coffee. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system giving the body a sense of alertness. It also raises heart rate, raises blood pressure and dehydrates the body.
This is a plant from Brazil. Guarana seeds contain more caffeine than any other plant in the world with levels ranging from 2%-8%. In fact, 1 gram of Guarana is equivalent to 40 milligrams of caffeine.
Taurine is an amino acid that is naturally produced by the human body. It helps regulate heartbeat, muscle contractions, and energy levels, however, the Taurine found in energy drinks is synthetically manufactured.
Usually, the body makes enough taurine so there is no need to supplement. The amount of taurine in energy drinks is much higher than that found in foods such as meat, seafood and milk. There is no evidence to support that higher levels of taurine have any beneficial effect on our bodies.
B vitamins are found naturally in the foods we eat and are the most widely used in energy supplement ingredient.
These minerals typically obtained in adequate amounts in a normal diet. Some energy drinks contain extremely high levels of B3 (niacin) and B6, which in excess are known to cause issues like skin conditions, gastrointestinal problems, liver toxicity, blurred vision and nerve damage. One popular energy drink in particular contains 200% of the Daily Value, or recommended daily limit, of niacin.
Other names for B vitamins:
folic acid (B9)
pyridoxine hydrochloride (B6)
pantothenic acid (B5)
Energy drinks contain anywhere from 21 to 34 grams of sugar per 8 ounces, and this can be sucrose, glucose or high fructose corn syrup – which is known to be associated with obesity. Children and adolescents who consume energy drinks are at high risk for obesity and dental problems. If you drink two energy drinks per day, you could be consuming nearly six times the maximum daily recommended amount of sugar.
This energy drink additive is derived from the ginseng root. It has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb and is believed to increase energy, have some anti-fatigue properties, relieve stress, and promote memory. Ginseng has been linked to insomnia, high blood pressure and headaches. There is no scientific evidence that ginseng can enhance athletic performance, improve mood or stimulate the immune system, as many energy drink makers claim.
The chemicals in ginseng are nothing that’s naturally created by the human body, so having this in a drink could possibly be risky for some who could be sensitive to these chemicals.
Is a naturally occurring amino acid made predominantly by the liver and kidneys. This amino acid helps speed up the metabolism and increase energy levels.
It may act as a thermogenic to help increase endurance during exercise. In high doses, L-carnitine has been shown to have a side effect of nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea; in addition, it has been associated with seizures in patients with no known disease and to increase seizure frequency in patients with seizure disorder.
Are molecules that help the body gracefully recover and prevent damage from free radicals.
Vitamins C, Vitamin E, Vitamin A (aka retinol, beta-carotene), and selenium are all antioxidants with Vitamin C probably being the most popular in energy drinks.
Antioxidants help fend off illness and prevent cellular damage. However, a person wouldn’t want to depend on energy drinks for a healthy dose as they usually contain just small amounts.
Most are flushed from the body when taken in excess, but Vitamin A can build up in body tissues and cause liver damage when too much is consumed.
Is a substance found naturally in many foods such as fruits, beans, grains, and nuts.
Inositol is often referred to as vitamin B8, but is not actually a vitamin. It's a type of sugar that influences the insulin response and several hormones associated with mood and cognition.
Glucuronolactone (DGL) occurs naturally in the human body when glucose is broken down by the liver.
All connective tissue contains this compound. DGL is believed to aid in detoxification, freeing hormones and other chemicals, and the biosynthesis of vitamin C.
It is placed in energy drinks because it is believed to help prevent glycogen depletion by preventing other substances from depleting glycogen supplies in the muscles.
Is derived from leaves of a shrub in the Holly family.
It is a natural source of caffeine and is becoming more popular in energy drinks.
Yerba mate has the same dangers as caffeine.
Is naturally created by the body but can also be obtained by eating meat.
Creatine helps with supplying energy to the muscles and is usually found in energy drinks that are marketed to bodybuilders.
Too much creatine could possibly lead to kidney damage.
Is an amino acid that according to some studies has been shown to calm the brain to enhance concentration.
This amino acid comes from tea leaves and Green tea has the highest concentrations.
Tea has been known for centuries for its ability to relax its drinkers and many tea cultures have a tea before bed every night.
Manufacturers have begun putting it into energy drinks to counteract some of the side effects of caffeine. They claim that it works well with caffeine because it eases the jitteriness that caffeine can cause, but with added concentration enhancement.
Most energy drinks have sugar-free versions that contain artificial sweeteners.
Even energy drinks that contain high amounts of sugar will also include artificial sweeteners to help cover the medicinal taste of the other energy drink ingredients.
The debate rages on concerning the safety of artificial sweeteners and some studies have shown that those that consume sugar-free drinks, on average, have bigger waistlines than those who don’t.
Common sweeteners used are Aspartame, Sucralose, Ace-K, as well as some alcohol sugars. There seems to be anecdotal evidence showing that artificial sweeteners cause a whole range of health problems, including cancer. However, scientific-based studies have shown them to be safe in the amounts typically found in beverages.
What isn’t clear is the long-term dangers of artificial sweeteners since most studies only have looked at short-term dangers.
Energy drink side effects
There are a number of side effects associated with energy drinks, including:
Palpitations / tachycardia
Tremor / shaking
Agitation / restlessness
Paresthesia (tingling or numbing of the skin)
There are a number of health risks associated with energy drinks, including:
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms, including headaches
Caffeine overdose, which can be life-threatening
Raised blood pressure
Increased postprandial hyperglycemia, particularly concerning for people with diabetes
Potential drug/supplement interactions
Sudden cardiac arrest
Why are energy drinks dangerous?
Energy drinks have not been tested for safety or efficacy. Manufacturers have placed their desire for profits before consumer safety by aggressively marketing energy drinks without disclosing the health risks.
While manufacturers often attempt to compare energy drinks with the amount of caffeine sold in a large coffee which is typically sold at coffeehouses, energy drinks are packaged in soda like cans, and placed alongside sodas and soft drinks in every convenience store. In most cases, energy drinks actually contain 10 times the amount of caffeine as a normal soda, which can lead to unexpected injury.
Emergency room visits involving energy drinks have increased dramatically in the last two decades. In the United States 1,495 adverse effects related to energy drinks were reported in emergency rooms and hospitals in 2005. That number skyrocketed to 20,793 in 2011.
Medical professionals in the US are not required to report adverse effects the the FDA. It is estimated for every 1 adverse effect case reported, there are 100 cases that go unreported.
60% of Military Physicians encountered adverse effects and than 1% reported them to the FDA
71% of Civilian Sports Medicine physicians encountered adverse effects and less than 4% reported them to the FDA
81% of Civilian Emergency Physicians encountered adverse effects and again less than 1% reported these cases to the FDA.
Energy drinks change the heart's electrical activity. Just one can of energy drink has shown to affect endothelial function by causing a narrowing of the blood vessels and restricted blood flow by 50%. This can create a flow-demand imbalance which is the classic setup for ischemia in the heart muscle, which can lead to ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation and sudden cardiac arrest. Another study which used MRI examinations, found that energy drinks can result in more forceful heart contractions. This can cause more stress on the heart, potentially leading to increased blood pressure, according to some reports.
A recent study found an association between consuming energy drinks and changes in QT intervals and blood pressure in a way caffeine-only drinks do not. Participants who drank the energy drinks had a higher QT interval at four hours compared to the placebo drinkers as well as had increased blood pressure.
QT intervals that are too short or too long can cause life-threatening heart arrhythmias, and increased blood pressure can lead to heart failure, stroke and aneurysms by damaging the arteries and the heart.
Researchers have also found that the norepinephrine (stress hormone) levels of study participants increased by more than twice after consuming one 16 oz. energy drink compared to when they drank a placebo drink. Specifically, they found that mean blood pressure increased 6.4% after drinking the energy drink compared to the 1.0% increase seen with the placebo. Norepinephrine levels increased 73.6% after drinking the energy drink compared to 30.9% after drinking the placebo beverage.
Several reports have suggested a link between energy drinks and strokes. Individuals consuming energy drinks may also face an increased risk of an aneurysm, intracranial hemorrhage or a hemorrhagic stroke, caused by a brain bleed. Numerous cases of seizures have been reported and Pontine Myelinolysis.
Alcohol mixed with energy drinks (AmED)
Alcohol mixed with energy drinks can be a dangerous combination. Recent research has found that mixing energy drinks with alcohol could be more risky than drinking alcohol on its own, or with a more traditional mixer.
While people seem to enjoy the party-all-night stamina they get from combining energy drinks with alcohol, experts say the mixture creates a different and dangerous type of intoxication. Drinking energy drinks with alcohol can trick your brain and lead to a state researchers have referred to as “wide awake drunk.”
Energy drinks can mask the effects of alcohol, so you may underestimate how you’re feeling and end up drinking more alcohol than you normally would.
Though you might feel alert when you combine the drinks, your body is still experiencing the effects of alcohol, that means you can end up drinking more without realizing that your judgement, balance and coordination are being affected. So, you’re more likely to risk doing things that you wouldn’t normally do.
In a study of college-aged adults exiting bars, patrons who consumed energy drinks mixed with alcohol had a threefold increased risk of leaving a bar highly intoxicated and were four times more likely to intend to drive after drinking than bar patrons who drank alcohol only.
Drinkers between the ages of 15 and 23 who combine alcohol and energy drinks are four times more likely to binge drink at a high intensity than those who don’t mix alcohol and energy drinks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New research suggests that college students who regularly consume energy drinks are at a greater risk for future alcohol use disorder, cocaine use or nonmedical use (misuse) of prescription stimulants.
Mixing energy drinks and alcohol is also linked to risky sexual behavior, drunk driving and riding as the passenger of an intoxicated driver, studies show. Researchers at the University of Florida found that college-aged people who consume energy drink cocktails are four times more likely to drive drunk than those who don’t.
Some research even suggests that mixing energy drinks and alcohol can trigger changes in the adolescent brain that mimic the effects of taking cocaine.
The bottom line
Energy drinks can be very dangerous and even deadly! Numerous medical professionals and health organizations worldwide have warned about the dangers of energy drink products. They have led to many adverse events and deaths worldwide the public does not hear about.
Numerous wrongful death and product liability lawsuits have been brought against energy drink manufacturers. All most all of these cases are settled out of court with plaintiffs required to sign strict non-disclosure agreements as part of their settlements. This allows drink manufacturers to control and maintain the damaging evidence against them that comes to light in the discovery phase in civil litigation.
Numerous Dr's have gone on record saying "drinking energy drinks is like playing Russian Roulette with your life." There is no way to tell if today is the day your body will be affected by a cardiac arrhythmia that your body simply can't recover from. Nobody ever thinks it will happen top them.... until it DOES!
Most people would not risk their lives by playing Russian Roulette with a gun, why play it with energy drinks?
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter"
- Martin Luther King Jr