Need a Jolt? Energy Drinks Aren’t the Answer!

Energy Drinks photo

In continuing our discussion about energy, this week let’s talk about energy drinks. You can find energy drinks everywhere you turn now days. Grocery stores, drug stores, vitamin stores, even convenience stores, and gas stations will have at least a couple of types of energy drinks to choose from. They’re popular with teens and young adults especially. They claim to have natural ingredients that increase energy and mental alertness. Most of us, when we see the words “natural” or “herbal” or even “over the counter,” tend to think that means they’re good for us or are at least not harmful. This is a dangerous assumption to make. Herbs and other natural substances can be just as dangerous as any other type of substance.

About Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are highly caffeinated beverages. They contain as much, if not more, caffeine than one cup of coffee and up to three times as much as sodas. They also contain:

  • Sweeteners (often sugar)
  • B vitamins (which increase energy)
  • Amino Acids (such as taurine or l-carnitine)
  • Herbal Extracts (like gingko biloba, milk thistle, ginseng)
  • Bitter Orange
  • Guarana (“Brazilian caffeine)
  • Glucuronolactone
  • Yojimbe

Research has not definitively shown what the interactions among these substances are or their full effect on the body.

Energy drinks typically come in two kinds:

  • Drinks that come in a similar size to ordinary soft drinks (ie, the 16-oz. bottle)
  • Energy “shots” that are concentrated liquid and that come in smaller sizes (usually 2-2.5 oz.)

While these drinks have a wide market, they are usually most targeted to teens. This is a huge danger because teens typically do not research products before trying them. If it sounds good, it must be good. This is not always the case so teens are very vulnerable to sales pitches and marketing ploys.

They also are more likely to mix energy drinks with alcohol, a whole other level of risk. The presence of caffeine in the drink can mask the effects, and levels, of alcohol. You’re just as intoxicated but you may not be able to feel that intoxication. So the usual warning signs of having consumed too much alcohol are either ignored or simply not there. However, your reaction time, decision-making abilities, and motor coordination are just as affected by the alcohol as they would be without the caffeine. This means risky behavior can be the same as, or more than, it’d be if you were just drinking alcohol.

Some common energy drinks are:

  • Red Bull
  • Monster
  • Rockstar
  • NOS
  • Amp

The Research

Next to vitamins, energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement consumed by American teens and young adults. Research in this area is on-going.

One study addresses the relationship between the weekly consumption of energy drinks and health behavior problems in teens. Results show that among males, weekly consumption of energy drinks was associated with unhealthy behavior patterns such as higher TV use, and higher video game use.

Another study looks at the correlation between sugary drinks (including sodas and energy drinks) and adult deaths. Researchers found an estimated 184,000 adult deaths related to consuming these drinks. These deaths were a result of diabetes, heart disease, and various types of cancer. The drinks studied were:

  • Sodas
  • Fruit Drinks
  • Energy Drinks
  • Sweetened Iced Teas
  • Homemade Drinks (such as frescas)

The study shows that sugary drinks contributed to adult deaths, broken down as follows:

  • Diabetes (133,000)
  • Cardiovascular Disease (45,000)
  • Cancer (6,450)

Findings from RIA research (Research Institute on Addictions) show:

  • Risk-Taking behavior can be linked to the consumptions of energy drinks – unprotected sex, not using a seatbelt, participating in extreme sports, taking dangerous dares
  • Frequent consumption of energy drinks can be linked to alcohol consumption and problems
  • Frequent consumers of energy drinks also report an increased usage of marijuana
  • Men are more likely to consume energy drinks than women
  • Whites are more likely to consume energy drinks than blacks
  • ⅔ of college energy drink consumers mixed energy drinks with alcohol

NCCIH research findings have brought up the following information and concerns:

  • Between 2007 and 2011, the number of energy drink-related visits to emergency departments doubled. In 2011, 1 in 10 of these visits resulted in hospitalization.
  • About 25 percent of college students consume alcohol with energy drinks, and they binge-drink significantly more often than students who don’t mix them.
  • The CDC reports that drinkers aged 15 to 23 who mix alcohol with energy drinks are four times more likely to binge drink at high intensity (i.e., consume six or more drinks per binge episode) than drinkers who do not mix alcohol with energy drinks.
  • Drinkers who mix alcohol with energy drinks are more likely than drinkers who do not mix alcohol with energy drinks to report unwanted or unprotected sex, driving drunk or riding with a driver who was intoxicated, or sustaining alcohol-related injuries.
  • In 2011, 42 percent of all energy drink-related emergency department visits involved combining these beverages with alcohol or drugs (such as marijuana or over-the-counter or prescription medicines).

The Dangers

Some of the dangers associated with energy drinks are:

  • Risk-Seeking Behavior
  • Mental Health Problems
  • Increased Blood Pressure
  • Obesity
  • Kidney Damage
  • Dental Problems
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Dehydration
  • Digestion Problems
  • Cardiovascular Problems


While energy drinks are very easy to find, affordable, convenient, and trendy, it’s far more advisable to get and increase your energy in healthier ways: regular, challenging exercise, a healthy diet that includes protein, B vitamins (either in supplements or through your diet), consistent sleep habits, and taking care of your mental and emotional health.

The NCCIH provides the following research sources:

For Consumers

Energy Drinks: A Boost in the Wrong Direction?  (NIDA)
Serious Concerns Over Alcoholic Beverages With Added Caffeine  (FDA)
Medicines in my Home: Caffeine and Your Body  (FDA)  [40KB PDF]


Consumer Alerts and Advisories

FDA Consumer Advice on Powdered Pure Caffeine  (FDA; 12/23/14)
Energy “Drinks” and Supplements: Investigations of Adverse Event Reports  (FDA; 11/16/12)
Energy Drinks Information

For Health Professionals

Energy Drinks: What Teenagers (and Their Doctors) Should Know  (PubMed)
Risks of Energy Drinks Mixed With Alcohol

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Post by Andrea Rogers