How Do I Find Healthy Energy Drinks?
You may have heard about the recent news in Europe regarding the call to ban the sale of energy drinks to youth under the age of 16 following the death of a young energy drink consumer. If not, you can read about it here. This is not the first time health advocates have expressed the desperate need to change how we produce, regulate, market and sell energy drinks. Unfortunately, it often takes tragedies like the one in Europe for the conversation to start again. It makes you wonder how energy drinks are linked to consumer death.
Let’s gather and discuss a few statistics first.
We consume an average of 5.8 billion liters of energy drinks worldwide every year. If it rained energy drink liquid in this amount, the entire city of Atlanta, Georgia would be blanketed in a ¾-inch-thick sweet, pale-yellow fluid annually. The highest percentage of energy drinks was consumed by males between the ages of 18-34 and by adolescents aged 12-17, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
In the United States, the market for energy drinks exponentially grew after 2002 (dubbed as the “fastest growing beverage market” in the United States according to NASDAQ) and the estimated retail market value for energy drinks was over $12 billion in 2012, expected to almost double when 2017 statistics surface. At the same time, emergency visits involving energy drinks rose by 279 percent in middle-aged adults by the year 2006 and have remained steadily high.
What Are Energy Drinks & Energy Shots?
Energy drinks are “beverages” that consist of caffeine and other stimulant additives (i.e. guarana, ginseng, taurine, B-vitamins). Energy shots are sold in much smaller amounts (2-ounce servings) and contain concentrated amounts of caffeine and other stimulants. They are both marketed to increase physical and psychological performance, improve concentration and enhance alertness.
Here are some examples of the most popular energy drink brands:
|Energy Drinks||Energy Shots|
|Full Throttle||Rhino Rush|
How Are Energy Drinks & Energy Shots Regulated?
In January 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released clarification recommendations on the differences between liquid dietary supplements and beverages after multiple deaths were reported from the consumption of energy drinks. This release summarized that energy drinks can be classified as a dietary supplement or as a beverage (manufacturer-choice), depending upon factors such as product name, packaging, ingredients, serving size, and marketing practices. Dietary supplements and beverages are regulated differently by the FDA, with beverages aligning under conventional food requirements as opposed to dietary supplement requirements.
Synonymous with the relaxed regulations for most energy drinks, labels are not required to disclose the amount of caffeine that is found in the product. Most energy drinks contain ingredients that naturally contain caffeine or caffeine-enhancing substances like taurine, carnitine, B-vitamins, creatine, guarana and other herbal supplements in addition to caffeine itself.
The Science Backing Health Risks Associated with Energy Drinks & Shots
Many studies have focused over recent decades on the ingredients found in energy drinks, such as caffeine and ginseng, but it was not until recently that scientists began to study energy drinks and the safety and efficacy of the combination of ingredients found in them. However, it is widely accepted that caffeine causes many of the adverse side effects of energy drinks. I would like to see more research done on the additives found within energy drinks in conjunction and isolated from caffeine.
How much caffeine is considered safe?
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 400 milligrams of caffeine can be “a part of a healthy diet” for non-pregnant adults. This equates to approximately three to five 8-oz cups of coffee per day.
There is much debate surrounding whether caffeine displays the same characteristics when compared to addictive drugs. Keep in mind that caffeine is classified as a stimulant drug because it activates the central nervous system.
Energy drinks contain anywhere from 50 milligrams caffeine per 12 ounces to 357 milligrams per 16 ounces. With the large 24-oz serving of energy drinks that are readily available at your local gas station, you could consume upwards of 450 milligrams of caffeine. Energy shots contain up to 200 milligrams of caffeine in two ounces. If you consumed three energy shots, you are racking up 600 milligrams of caffeine in just a small six ounces of fluid.
This information is all fantastic, but energy drinks and shots are not required by law to state the amount of caffeine they contain. Some companies have opted to voluntarily share this information with the public in light of recent health concerns. Nonetheless, it is incredibly concerning that energy drink manufacturers have the authority to withhold information about caffeine content from consumers.
In recent studies, energy drinks have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular abnormalities due to caffeine, with the most popular occurrence involving arrhythmias. Other cardiovascular-related concerns include cardiomyopathy, acute coronary thrombosis and cardiac arrest. These effects appear to be magnified in youth.
Another study reporting the effects of caffeine in combination with guarana and taurine found that this mixture correlated with unwanted cell death (apoptosis) in a laboratory setting.
The connection between excessive energy drink consumption and mental disorders has been a topic of concern over the past decade. In a review study analyzing a variety of case studies, it was discovered that research has found a connection between symptomatic worsening of Cluster B personality disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Even more daunting, studies have also found that excessive consumption of energy drinks (greater than 250 mg caffeine per day) can lead to anxiety, manic attacks, and suicidality in participants who had no history of mental illness.
A positive relationship was found regarding perceived stress levels and energy drink consumption. This means that the higher the energy drink consumption, the higher reported stress levels of participants.
Seizures have also been a topic of concern, with some studies showing that energy drink consumption can increase your risk of seizures and hallucinations.
With the high levels of added sugars or artificial sweeteners in energy drinks, your gut is bound to experience issues with excessive and/or frequent consumption. It is fascinating that recent studies have shown that energy drinks could contribute to a decline in beneficial gut bacteria, and even affect the way that your bacteria digests foods. In turn, this contributes to obesity and a decline in metabolic health. To add to the risk of obesity, short-term caffeine intake has been linked to decreased insulin sensitivity when consuming 5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight (a 150-pound man/woman would be provided 341 milligrams of caffeine for the study).
With caffeine being the main component of energy drinks, your risk of dehydration skyrockets, due to the diuretic effect of caffeine (it makes you urinate more). Caffeine has also been found to increase the loss of sodium in your urine, which leads to cardiovascular problems.
It is important to note that, while there are some studies finding beneficial symptoms of energy drink consumption, like short-term athletic performance enhancement, these studies involve low amounts of energy drink consumption and do not study the long-term effects of chronic energy drink consumption.
Proven Alternatives to Energy Drinks (and caffeine in general)
There are many alternatives to energy drinks that provide you with a healthful boost of energy during your day. These tips may seem like your basic needs, which shows that you should not have to rely on caffeine to get you through the day if you are taking care of your health. Here are a few ideas to take those energy drinks straight to the dumpster and start anew.
- Fruit and Vegetable Smoothies: The carbohydrates found in fruit and the B-vitamins found in vegetables will give you the boost you’re looking for.
- Water: Although you do not want to replace water with food when you are hungry, dehydration is a major contributor to chronic fatigue. Make sure that you are meeting your water needs daily.
- Exercise: Try going for a light walk outside when you are tired.
- Sleep: Take a short nap and honor your tiredness.
- Food: Sometimes when we are fatigued, we have forgotten to eat or are significantly restricting our carbohydrate intake (carbohydrates give you energy)
- Try some Tea: If you insist on grabbing a pick-me-up on the go, try tea instead. Tea has significantly less caffeine in it then your average cup of coffee or energy drink at 25-30 milligrams per eight ounces.
- See your Doctor: If you are concerned about chronic fatigue that does not improve, I recommend checking-in with your doctor to make sure that all internal body processes are functioning appropriately.
If you are interested to hear more and receive personalized nutrition, check out STYR’s app, fitness tracker and suite of connected smart devices. Through the platform, you can track and log activity, food, hydration, sleep, nutrition, mood and more to personalize your nutrition needs based on data, science and access to registered dietitians, nutritionists and personal trainers.
Please note that this information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. We insist that you always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical/health condition or treatment and before initiating a new health care regime. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the STYR app or on www.MyNutritioniQ.com.