What Are Energy Drinks?
Energy drinks are beverages that contain ingredients marketed to increase energy and mental performance. Red Bull, 5-Hour Energy, Monster, AMP, Rockstar, NOS, and Full Throttle. Nearly all energy drinks contain the ingredient caffeine to stimulate brain function, increase alertness, and concentration.
15 Possible Dangers of Consuming Energy Drinks
- Cardiac Arrest: While caffeine can show people how many energy drinks at one time would be lethal, this formula doesn’t apply to everyone. Those with underlying heart conditions have gone into cardiac arrest after just a few energy drinks. Before drinking energy drinks or caffeine, be sure to know your heart’s health. A new study showed that energy drinks cause more forceful heart contractions, which could be harmful to some with certain heart conditions.- One study showed that between 2009 and 2011 there were 4854 calls to poison control centers regarding energy drinks. 51% of these calls were involving children. Another study shows the link between energy drinks and cardiac events among teens. This study recommends that teens consume no more than one 250 ml energy drink per day and not before or during sports or exercise.
- A 2016 study showed that 18-40-year-olds who drank energy drinks had a significant increase in their QTc interval, which is a marker of abnormal heart rhythm risk. Research in 2018 showed that just 90 minutes after consuming a 24-oz energy drink, the inner diameter of the arteries was halved. It’s thought that the high level of sugar and caffeine were to blame. A 2019 study found that 32 fluid ounces (about a liter) of an energy drink consumed within 60 minutes changed heart rhythm and increased blood pressure significantly in study participants. This was independent of the caffeine in the beverage. A 2019 study showed that even in healthy young adults, Red Bull significantly increased atrial electromechanical conduction times among study participants. The quantity of Red Bull consumed was just 330 ml.
- Headaches and Migraines: Too many energy drinks can lead to severe headaches from the caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Changing the amount of caffeine you ingest daily can cause more frequent headaches.
- Increased Anxiety: Those with 2 different genetic variations in their adenosine receptors are prone to feeling increased anxiety when consuming caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks. Larger doses of caffeine can even spur on full-blown panic attacks.
- Insomnia: Energy drinks do a good job of keeping people awake, but when abused, they can cause some people to miss sleep altogether. This lack of sleep causes impaired functioning and can be dangerous to drive or perform other concentration heavy tasks.
- Type 2 Diabetes: Because many energy drinks are also very high in sugar, they can eventually wear out the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, which leads to type 2 diabetes.
- Drug Interaction: Some of the ingredients in energy drinks can interact with prescription medications especially medications taken for depression.
- Addiction: People can become addicted to caffeine and energy drinks. This can lead to a lack of functioning when unable to have the energy drink or financial stress from having to buy several energy drinks daily.
- Risky behavior: There was a study published in The Journal of American College Health which showed that teens are more likely to take dangerous risks when high on caffeine. This could result in injury or legal trouble.
- Jitters and Nervousness: Too much caffeine from energy drinks causes some people to shake and be anxious. This can interfere with performing needed tasks or cause emotional issues.
- Vomiting: Too many energy drinks can lead to vomiting. This causes dehydration and acid erosion of teeth and esophagus if frequent.
- Allergic Reactions: Because of the many ingredients in energy drinks reactions could occur, from minor itching to airway constriction.
- High Blood Pressure: Caffeinated products like energy drinks can elevate a person’s blood pressure. For those with normal blood pressure, this isn’t concerning, but those with already elevated blood pressure could be placing themselves at risk of stroke and other health problems related to hypertension if they consume too many energy drinks in a short period of time. A more recent study conducted by The Mayo Clinic found that Rockstar Energy Drink (240 mg version) significantly raised the blood pressure of study participants compared to the placebo drink. Overall, there was a 6.4% increase in average blood pressure. A newer study published by the American Heart Association showed that energy drinks have a greater negative effect on blood pressure than drinks that contain caffeine alone as an active ingredient. They believe the combination of ingredients in energy drinks are why these beverages pose a greater risk of heart-related problems than drinks like coffee or tea.
- Niacin Overdose: Niacin (Vitamin B3) is placed in most energy drinks at levels that cause no harm and can even be therapeutic. However, if a person is taking additional supplements containing Niacin, overdosing on the vitamin is possible when consuming energy drinks in addition to those supplements. Symptoms include; Skin flushing, dizziness, rapid heart rate, vomiting, itching, gout, and diarrhea. The British Journal of Medicine recently published a case study of a man who experienced nonviral hepatitis from B3 toxicity believed to have been from consuming too many energy drinks during a period of three weeks.
- Stress Hormone Release: A study conducted by The Mayo Clinic found that a 240 mg version of Rockstar Energy Drink caused an increase in stress hormone release. The average norepinephrine level of the participants increased by 74% while the placebo only caused a 31% increase.
- Mental Health Problems, Aggression, and Fatigue. A recent study conducted by the US Military found that soldiers who drink 2+ energy drinks a day are more likely to exhibit mental health issues, aggression, and fatigue.
Despite these serious dangers, quitting caffeine is often easier said than done.
Due to the addictive nature of caffeine exacerbated by anxiety and lack of sleep, actually quitting caffeine can be a nightmare.
World Health Organization’s Warning
The World Health Organization (WHO) just released a warning letter concerning the dangers energy drinks pose to young people, especially since they found 68% of adolescents consume them.
To reduce energy drink dangers, the recommend the following to government agencies:
- Establish an upper caffeine limit on all products.
- Enforce labeling requirements and sales restrictions to minors.
- Enforce regulation of the industry to responsibly market their products.
- Train health care workers to recognize and treat overdose from energy drinks.
- Screen patients with a history of substance abuse for heavy consumption of energy drinks.
- Educate the public about the dangers of mixing energy drinks with alcohol.
- Continue researching the negative side effects energy drinks have on young people.
Moderation is Key
Too much of anything can potentially be dangerous, so moderation is recommended when consuming energy drinks. Caffeine and other ingredients in these beverages are drugs and should be respected and used in accordance with established recommended daily allowances.
Some stores are helping with this effort. Recently, supermarkets in the UK have banned sales of Energy Drinks to those under 16. Any drink with more than 150 mg per liter of caffeine must require proof of age before purchase (BBC). Other similar measures are being considered in other jurisdictions.
Anything in excess may result in dangerous health complications. Energy drinks do become addictive and because of the caffeine in them, it may lead to withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit.
Major Energy Drinks:
Product size Caffeine content
Red Bull 8.4 oz (250 ml) 80 mg
AMP 16 oz (473 ml) 142 mg
Monster 16 oz (473 ml) 160 mg
Rockstar 16 oz (473 ml) 160 mg
NOS 16 oz (473 ml) 160 mg
Full Throttle 16 oz (473 ml) 160 mg
5-Hour Energy 1.93 oz (57 ml) 200 mg
According to the above chart, there is nothing wrong with drinking any of these energy drinks. If you drink anything with caffeine 400 milligrams per day is well within normal standards.
“Too much caffeine can cause your heart to beat faster. It can increase your blood pressure. Caffeine can also cause you to become dehydrated because caffeine is a diuretic, which means it increases the amount of urine you put out,” says Sotiria Everett RD, CDN, a clinical nutritionist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
Although it’s completely legal, caffeine found naturally in coffee and other common drinks is really a stimulant drug. It’s a chemical that affects the central nervous system (CNS) and considered a stimulant of the methylxanthine class of psychoactive drugs. It elevates your heart rate, increases alertness, and changes the way your brain and bodywork in a number of different ways — some that are beneficial but others that might be dangerous.
Next, we have to look at the sugar content. For example, one 8.4-ounce (250-ml) can of Red Bull contains 27 grams (about 7 teaspoons) of sugar, while a 16-ounce (473-ml) can of Monster contains about 54 grams (about 14 teaspoons) of sugar.
I would consider an excessive amount of sugar to consume with each energy drink.
Added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet. It provides calories with no added nutrients and can damage your metabolism in the long run. Eating too much sugar is linked to weight gain and various diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
But how much is too much? Can you eat a little bit of sugar each day without harm, or should you avoid it as much as possible?
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are:
- Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons)
- Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons)
If you enjoy even the occasional can of Monster, you need to be aware of the dangers of too many energy drinks. The high concentration of caffeine and other stimulants can cause a host of health problems.
Negative Effects of Energy Drinks
The American College of Cardiology warns of the following effects of energy drinks on the body in the short term:
- Increased blood pressure
- Elevated heart rate
- Irregular heartbeats
- Aortic dissection
- Sudden cardiac death
The long term side effects of energy drinks on the cardiac system include hypertensive heart disease, coronary artery disease, and atherosclerosis. In addition to the problems with the heart, the ones with high sugar content may cause weight gain. While weight gain isn’t necessarily bad for your health, you may want to watch your intake if you are trying to lose or maintain your weight.
The Cleveland Clinic reports that the use of energy drinks can cause intense headaches as a result of reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS). The headaches that RCVS causes are often the worst a patient has ever had and they come on suddenly. These drinks may also cause strokes and brain hemorrhages, often in young adults.
In addition to caffeine, energy drinks sometimes contain stimulants such as guarana extract, taurine, sugar, and B vitamins. The additional stimulants in these drinks make it more dangerous to have too many energy drinks. If you consume Monsters several times a day or for too long, you may notice adverse effects.
Energy drinks are becoming very popular, but there are health risks to drinking too many of them. The risk of diabetes 2 and heart disease does rise with the consumption of energy drinks.
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