What Everybody Ought to Know About Today’s Energy Drinks

Monday, April 08, 2013

      Often promising a quick boost, an “energy drink” is defined as a type of beverage that contains ingredients claiming to boost mental and/or physical performance.  And in this day and age of bustling activity and technological advances such as the internet, cell phones and the like to keep us engaged—having an extra jolt of energy to keep us going is much desired!  But are energy drinks a good answer?

     It is no surprise that as Americans have gotten busier, the popularity of energy drinks has soared.  In fact, a 2010 study by the CDC revealed that 1 in 3 Americans have at least one a week.  You may be surprised to learn though, that one of the first energy drinks introduced in the U.S. was “Dr. Enuf” dating back to 1949! It was a soft drink fortified with B vitamins, caffeine and sugar. Today, energy drinks are still packaged like a soft drink and contain caffeine and a sweetener along with other varied ingredients. The caffeine is added directly or as part of an herb like guarana or yerba mate, and sometimes with the stimulant ephedrine as well.  There are sugar free varieties, but they usually also contain large amounts of sugar, along with a combination of vitamins, minerals and other herbs that manufacturers claim increase performance and stamina. Popular ingredients in today’s drinks include taurine, ginseng, carnitine, creatine, inositol and ginko biloba to name a few.

     The often promised “heightened mental awareness” from energy drinks comes almost entirely from the caffeine.  Caffeine can help perk you up by blocking a chemical in your brain that makes you feel tired.  When this chemical is blocked, adrenaline is released from the pituitary gland which increases heart rate and makes you feel more alert.  This also causes the brain chemical dopamine to increase in the brain which makes you feel more energetic. Energy drinks generally contain 80-200 mg of caffeine per serving, versus soda with ranges of 20-90 mg per serving and coffee and tea with 20-80 mg of caffeine per serving. It is thought that the combination of caffeine, along with other ingredients, interact to provide increased mental and physical clarity. However, there is very little strong evidence that ingredients other than caffeine and sugar achieve this desired effect.

     Consumption of caffeine in amounts greater than 400 mg may lead to negative physical effects such as irritability, nervousness, insomnia, rapid heartbeat and increased blood pressure. For some individuals, the combination of caffeine or other stimulants contained in an energy drink with prescribed medication from a physician, can enhance these negative physical symptoms. The combination of an energy drink and alcohol can also produce unwanted mental and physical effects. Because caffeine is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant, the feeling of intoxication may be impaired. This could prove very dangerous in some instances like feeling you can drive a car when you are really too inebriated.  

     Some other groups for which energy drinks are typically NOT recommended include those with heart disease or high blood pressure, pregnant women and those who are breast feeding.  Also, it should be noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and adolescents take in no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine daily.  This is less than a single serving of many energy drinks so parents take note!   

     However, for most individuals, consumption of a single serving (or up to 16 oz) of an energy drink will not lead to adverse affects. If you are consistently tired or rundown, it may prove beneficial to incorporate lifestyle changes that include adequate rest, regular exercise and the consumption of whole natural foods.  These things also contribute to increased mental and physical stamina and are essential for good health.  If this is an aspect of your life that you feel you need to get in order we would love to help.  Just give us a call at 706-278-WELL.  

Submitted by Erica Jones, Registered Dietitian, Bradley Wellness Center