Energy drinks are very popular - in fact, their consumption was reported to have risen sharply to 35% of all US teens and athletes by 2008. One study found that 50% of American students drank at least 1-4 of these drinks in a typical month. A simultaneous sharp increase in energy drink-related emergency room visits has led to demands that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigate the effects of energy drinks on health.
Currently, there are 3 pressing problems - the amounts of caffeine and other biologically active ingredients in energy drinks is not regulated by the FDA, so labeled amounts are often inaccurate or missing. Second, manufacturers' claims about the ability of these drinks to maintain energy levels are not proven. Finally, it is unclear how regular consumption of such drinks interacts with alcohol, medications and medical conditions such as depression.
Levels of caffeine, the main ingredient, vary widely between brands - and energy drinks may contain higher levels of caffeine than indicated. For instance, a typical cup of coffee contains 80-120 milligrams of caffeine, while tea has 50 mg and cola roughly 65 mg. On the other hand, a typical energy drink can contain anywhere from 150-500 mg of caffeine. Excessive caffeine consumption has been linked to high BP, premature birth and even possibly sudden death.
Another "'invisible' ingredient in energy drinks is a caffeine-like compound called guaranine. One gram of guarana is equal to 40 mg of caffeine. In spite of this, guarana is usually not included in the total caffeine tally. And since the FDA has not tested guarana for human consumption, the risks of consuming it are almost completely unknown.
Sugar in the form of sucrose, glucose or high fructose corn syrup ranges from 21-34 grams in every 8 ounces of a typical energy drink. Teens who consume 2-3 drinks are consuming 180 mg of sugar daily, or 4-6 times the maximum recommended daily intake - placing them at risk for dental problems, obesity, metabolic syndrome and heart disease.
The real problem is that it is never clear how much of these ingredients are present in an energy drink because the quantities are masked behind the term 'proprietary blend' or 'energy blend.' Adolescents assume that because they can buy energy drinks off the shelf, they must be safe for them. In reality, very little is known about the risks and benefits of various additives in energy drinks and how they affect health when consumed over the long term.
A great alternative to energy drinks is "green smoothies" or other types of green drinks and juices. These are typically made at home in a blender and people can boost the nutritional content by adding a green supplement to the drink.
Concerns over the potentially harmful effects of energy drinks, especially when they're combined with alcohol, have been growing in recent years - especially since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received reports of several deaths linked to an energy drink known as 5-Hour Energy, which contains about 215 milligrams of caffeine, or the equivalent of about two cups of coffee.
Here are five health problems believed to be associated with energy drink consumption:
Heart Problems - the company that markets 5-Hour Energy has filed several reports with the FDA regarding serious injuries associated with the use of its products, including heart attacks. Caffeine can boost heart rate and blood pressure. It can also cause heart cells to release calcium, affecting heartbeat and leading to arrhythmia. Energy drinks may also disrupt normal salt balance, which has also been linked to arrhythmia. However, there is not yet enough direct evidence that energy drinks directly cause heart problems - more research is needed.
Risk of Miscarriage - a 2006 study of more than 1,000 pregnant women found that those who consumed more than 200 mg of caffeine per day were about twice as likely to have a miscarriage compared with pregnant women who did not drink caffeine. However, another 2008 study found no link between caffeine consumption regardless of the amount and risk of miscarriage at 20 weeks of pregnancy. Because study findings have not been conclusive, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises that pregnant women limit caffeine consumption to 200 mg or less per day.
Increased Risk of Alcohol Injury and Dependence - many studies suggest that combining alcohol with energy drinks can be dangerous because although caffeine is a stimulant, it does not counteract the sedating effects of alcohol. Mixing alcohol and energy drinks may keep people awake longer, allowing them to consume more alcohol than they normally would. A 2011 study of about 1,100 college students found that those who frequently drank energy drinks were about 2.5 times more likely to be alcohol-dependent than average. This may be directly related to mixing alcohol with energy drinks, drinking caffeine to recover from a hangover - or caffeine's may even play a direct role in addiction.
Drug Abuse Risk - another study of 1,060 students found that energy drink consumption was associated with an increased risk of prescription drug abuse. This may be because energy drinks, like prescription drugs, are regarded by some students as safer or more socially acceptable to consume than using illicit 'street' drugs.
Impaired Cognition - excessive levels of caffeine in the drinks can impair cognition. A 2010 study found that drinking moderate amounts of caffeine improved performance on a test of reaction time, but drinking higher amounts - equivalent to levels found in a can of Red Bull - worsened performance on the reaction test.
Clearly, parents and physicians need to be better aware of how energy drink consumption among teens can affect their health. In other words, steps should be taken to educate not only teens and youth, but also their parents on the potential negative health consequences of energy drink consumption.
Adults should do everything in their power to eliminate energy drinks from their diet. Instead, try drinking healthy green drinks daily. They can provide just as much energy and MUCH more nutritional value than the mainstream energy drinks in the stores today.
*BEFORE YOU TAKE ANY SUPPLEMENT, PLEASE CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR OTHER LICENSED HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL TO DETERMINE IF IT'S APPROPRIATE FOR YOU. *These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.