In today’s high-demand, fast-paced world, energy drinks have become the trendy beverage of choice for many people. Their popularity is clearly evident by a visit to any convenience store: rows and rows of flashy cans sporting names like “Rock Star”, “Monster” and “Spike”. Young people especially have bought into the lively image, with many kids downing them like sodas. Is this just a harmless fad, or are there real health concerns with energy drinks?
Basically, an energy drink is simply a glorified can of soda. Both are carbonated beverages containing caffeine and sugar, the difference being that the energy drink contains a lot more. The average soda holds 25-40 milligrams of caffeine, whereas most energy drinks have double that. One new energy drink advertises a whopping 280 milligrams of caffeine per can! When the caffeine from an energy drink lingers in our system too long, insomnia may follow. Of course, this is a risk with any caffeinated beverage, but the risk is greater with energy boosters because of the massive amounts of caffeine.
The main health risk associated with consuming these quantities of caffeine is the effect it has on heart rate and blood pressure. With large doses of caffeine, the heart rate can become so accelerated that it may lead to an irregular or quickened heart beat. This can last long after the initial effects of the drink. For people with heart conditions, this can be very dangerous. There have been several reported cases of people dying after drinking energy drinks and exercising heavily, but there is no proof that the drinks were the primary cause.
In addition, energy drinks can lead to dehydration. Caffeine and sugar may provide an energy boost to help perform a task, but they do not provide the necessary hydration. As a result, people drinking energy drinks will feel fine for a while without realizing they are becoming dehydrated. Even worse, they may sweat more burning off all the extra energy. Once the drink wears off, the effects of dehydration can be felt acutely. In extreme cases, dehydration can be fatal.
The sugar in an energy drink is a large part of the “buzz” that hits once it’s consumed. Sugar over stimulates the nervous system, causing people to feel a burst of energy. However, as anyone who has been on a sugar high knows, a crash always follows. The individual then feels worse than before and sometimes has a craving for more sugar. This is a very unhealthy pattern for the body to get into, and it can weaken the immune system.
Mixing energy drinks, especially the brand Red Bull, with alcohol has become popular recently. The caffeine is supposed to counteract the depressant effect of alcohol. However, mixing the two is more dehydrating than either beverage alone, and some studies suggest it can also be harmful to the heart.