energy drinks & health risks

What are the Effects of Energy Drinks on the Body?

Do you love the caffeine buzz of energy drinks? They’re cold, tasty, and provide you with a quick boost of energy when you need it! Whether you’re on a long-haul flight, an interstate road trip, or burning the midnight oil at the office, an energy drink can often feel like the quickest and easiest fix to help you keep going.

Are they really the best choice for sustained energy? We take a look at the effects of energy drinks on the body and possible energy drink health risks you should consider before guzzling your favorite one.

The Benefits of Energy Drinks

If there were no “good” attributes to energy drinks, people wouldn’t drink them in the first place. Of course there are many reasons why people love the quick kick that comes from their favorite energy drink! Here are a few of the things that make them popular:

  • Provides energy — Thanks to the carbs and sugar content of your average energy drink, you get a small boost of actual energy. Remember that carbs/sugar are turned into glucose, which your body burns during exercise or periods of activity. By providing more glucose, you give your body more energy to work with. The glucose provided by energy drinks may boost exercise performance during short term and high intensity activities.
  • Reduce tiredness –– Both caffeine and taurine block adenosine receptors in your brain. Adenosine is the chemical that your body produces when you are tired. By blocking these receptors, you basically trick your body into feeling more awake. You’re “numbing” your body to the feeling of tiredness. (Of course, when the tiredness hits after the energy drinks have worn off, it’s more pronounced.)
  • Reduce fatigue and pain during intense exercise-– Caffeine can increase blood flow to your muscles, which means that they will have more energy available during your exercise routine. At the same time, it floods your body with chemicals that dampen the pain receptors in your body. This is why you can usually work out harder and longer after a cup of coffee or an energy drink.
  • Improve blood flow and circulation, in certain situations — According to one study, energy drinks (containing caffeine and taurine) can help to increase heart rate, blood pressure, and ventricular function. All this leads to a faster-beating heart, which means more blood flow through your body. This can be important when working on improving athletic performance

As you can see, there are benefits that come from energy drinks. Why else do you think they’re so popular around the world? But, what if there was more bad than good…

Energy Drink Health Risks

While energy drinks, when used in moderation, may enhance physical performance during exercise, the list of downsides to energy drinks is a good deal longer than the list of benefits. The health effects of energy drinks on the body trend more toward the negative than the positive.

Here is a list of some of the main drawbacks of drinking energy drinks:

  • Damage to teeth — According to a 2012 study, energy drinks contain a surprising amount of acid and phosphorus, which wears away at the enamel covering your teeth and binds or pulls their calcium out. This exposes the softer inner tooth to bacteria, increasing your risk of cavities and tooth decay.
  • Harmful to children -­- Energy drinks, if given to children, can be dangerous thanks to the high caffeine/taurine content. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children or teens do not consume energy drinks, as they are too high in sugar and caffeine. An increased intake of sugar puts children at risk for obesity, while too much caffeine can cause significant heart problems.
  • Cardiovascular effects of energy drinks One of the biggest issues for your health is the effect of energy drinks on cardiovascular health. Energy drinks raise your blood pressure, which can be dangerous for those with hypertension and pre-existing heart conditions. Those with hypertension would do well to avoid energy drinks. In addition, energy drinks have been linked to cardiac events, arrhythmias, and other heart issues, even for those without pre-existing heart conditions.
  • Can lead to caffeine overdose — Did you know that energy drinks aren’t required to disclose how much caffeine/taurine they contain? While many of the more popular drinks do, the less-known energy drinks will often obscure the content of their drinks. This can lead to caffeine overdose if you’re not careful. The FDA recommends no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day. While most drinks contain less than that, if you drink more than one per day or pair it with other sources of caffeine, you could easily exceed this amount.
  • Interferes with sleep — Caffeine has a half-life of 5 hours, meaning the effects can last in your system for up to 10 hours. If you drink energy drinks any time after 2 PM, there is a risk that it can affect your sleep. Not getting enough sleep will leave you feeling groggy and fatigued the next day, which can feed into a self-propelling cycle where you become dependent on quick fix solutions like energy drinks to function throughout the day. If you are having trouble sleeping, consider not drinking any energy drinks after noon.
  • Headaches — The risk of headaches is very high when consuming energy drinks. Thanks to the increase in blood pressure and heart rate, headaches are a common side effect of energy drinks.
  • Increased consumption of empty calories – The nutritional value that comes from your typical energy drink is close to zero. Energy drinks are packed with sugar and artificial chemicals that put more strain on your body and metabolism. The standard energy drink will contain between 130 to 260 calories per container which adds up to a range of 47,450 – 94,900 calories per year (If consumed daily). That is the equivalent of 14- 27 pounds that you will need to burn off if you want to maintain your current weight.

As you can see, energy drinks carry plenty of risks along with some benefits. In moderation (one or two per week), energy drinks won’t cause a lot of harm, but if you consume them too often, they can lead to some serious damage.

The Real Secret to More Energy

Want to have more energy but don’t want to put your health at risk? Good for you! There are a few simple ways you can increase your daily energy without artificially boosting it with energy drinks:

Sleep more. Sleeping 7 to 8 hours per night is a healthy minimum. Sleeping more is like giving your body a regular tune-up. Sleep is the most important health habit, yet one we neglect regularly. Your day and your body will run more smoothly thanks to the fact that you have more time to make repairs overnight. More sleep might be necessary during healing, recovery, growth, and pregnancy, so listen to your body for signs and symptoms that you may not be getting enough sleep.

Eat healthy. This means getting a healthy balance of fats, proteins, and carbs, along with plenty of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and water. When you have the nutrients you need, your body can use those nutrients to make energy. Healthy eating will give you a steady stream of energy that will keep your body working at optimum function all day long.

Exercise more. This is a very simple solution. When you exercise more, you signal to your body that you need more energy to keep up with your daily energy expenditure. In turn, you end up with more energy, which allows you to burn more energy in your workout. You also sleep much better, boosting your energy even more. Adding regular exercise to your routine will keep your body humming along and give you plenty of energy for the day.

Take whey protein. Whey protein provides your body with the amino acids it needs to build muscles, but it can also help your body cope with stress, boost your immune system, and give you more energy throughout the day. Whey protein will boost your metabolism, ensuring that your body burns more calories every day to keep up with your increased energy output needs.

Well Wisdom’s Vital Whey is a top-quality whey protein made from grass-fed cow’s milk, and it is the ideal alternative to those caffeine/taurine-rich energy drinks. Best of all, there are NO side effects!

If you want to keep your heart healthy and your energy up, energy drinks are not the best solution. While a little bit of caffeine is beneficial if you are going to do an intense workout, using energy drinks to sustain energy throughout your day is not the best path to health. Instead focus on eating a balanced diet, with adequate protein, and getting enough sleep every night. Healthy habits are the secret to lasting energy.

References:

  1. Menci D, Righini FM, Cameli M, et al. Acute effects of an energy drink on myocardial function assessed by conventional echo-Doppler analysis and by speckle tracking echocardiography on young healthy subjects. J Amino Acids. 2013;2013:646703.
  2. Jain P, Hall-May E, Golabek K, Agustin MZ. A comparison of sports and energy drinks–Physiochemical properties and enamel dissolution. Gen Dent. 2012;60(3):190-197; quiz 198-199.
  3. Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: are they appropriate? Pediatrics. 2011;127(6):1182-1189.
  4. American Heart Association. Energy Drinks May Pose Risks For People With High Blood Pressure, Heart Disease. Science Daily. Published online November 6, 2007. Accessed August 9, 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071106092009.htm
  5. Office of the Commissioner. Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? Accessed August 9, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much
Jaime Rangel, RD

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