The Health Risks of Energy Drinks
What motivated you to buy your first energy drink? Was it the commercials, athlete endorsements, or the newness of another category of “sports” drinks? Regardless of what got you to drink up, the misconceptions of energy drinks abound while the health risks are largely ignored. New research is shedding light on just how energy drinks affect our health.
Not a Sports Drink
Energy drinks are not sports drinks. A more appropriate name for them would be stimulant drinks as they usually have at least one stimulant on their ingredient list. The main stimulant is usually caffeine although it could also have others such as guarana, yerba mate, and taurine for example. Energy drinks, like sports drinks may also be fortified with vitamins and minerals and may also contain a blend of herbs and other additives. While sports drinks generally have electrolytes added to them such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, energy drinks may typically have a similar sodium content, but usually do not contain the potassium and magnesium that aids in hydration. Sugar wise, energy drinks tend to have twice the amount than sports drinks, with an 8 oz. serving of Red Bull at 28 grams vs. 14 grams in a Gatorade.
No More Caffeine Please
While caffeine is known to be in coffee, tea, and some sodas, its content is considerably high in energy drinks. In fact, according to a report in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the caffeine content in energy drinks is "three to five times the concentration of cola." While caffeine is known to improve alertness and mood, the "energy" the drinks are to provide has not been scientifically confirmed aside from the effects of the infusion of sugar in the blood stream which causes a crash 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion. While a separate study has confirmed an energy drink can slightly increase maximal muscle power, the amount needed to improve performance is 3 mg per kilogram or about 210 mg for a 150 pound athlete. Any lesser amount did not show an effect. However, any more caffeine could be harmful.
Real Health Risks
The current moderate dose of caffeine is between 200 and 300 mg a day. That means just one 8 oz. energy drink a day could cap safe levels. More than 500 mg a day is not advised as it's associated with irritability, nervousness, and fast heartbeat. A report by the American Heart Association found energy drinks can raise blood pressure as well as irregular heartbeats. In revealing her findings at the European Society of Hypertension annual meeting, lead researcher Dr Magdalena Szotowska urged doctors to inform patients with "hypertension, heart problems, and diabetes not to drink these." That would put about 40% of adults in America, accounting for those with diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes, heart disease and hypertension at risk. Children are also at risk. Between 30% and 50% of children report consuming energy drinks. An article in Pediatrics warns of the potentially serious adverse effects of energy drinks for children as no more than 100 mg caffeine per day is recommended for children.
Yet another study reveals energy drinks may contribute to tooth decay. The enamel weight loss after exposure to energy drinks was significantly higher when compared to sports drinks due to higher levels of titratable acidity or how long it takes for saliva to neutralize acid in the mouth. The effect was two times more than with sports drinks. The loss of enamel can lead to tooth decay and cavities. While both sports drinks and energy drinks showed enamel loss, a statement by the American Beverage Association does point out the fact that "individual susceptibility to both dental cavities and tooth erosion varies depending on a person's dental hygiene behavior, lifestyle, total diet and genetic make-up." Either way, the study's results are alarming when added to the other health risks associated with energy drinks.
Are you an energy drink fan? Why or why not?