Energy Drinks: Good or Bad?
Here's everything you need to know before you crack open an energy drink.
Not to be confused with sports drinks, these trendy beverages are a dangerous mix of sugar, herbs, chemicals and stimulants. We won’t keep you in suspense: They’re no good!
Why They Look Good
The promise of popping open a can and slurping immediate energy sure is appealing. Too bad it’s too good to be true. With names like Rocktstar, Monster, Red Bull and Amp, they appeal to adolescents, college students and anyone else famously short on sleep. Celebrity endorsements and sponsorships by athletic teams also add to the appeal. Flashy packaging and the fact that you can buy them at any grocery store or gas station further leads consumers to believe they must be safe. Social media has taken this popularity to new heights, making brands like Celsius and Bang sensations on TikTok.
Why They’re Really Bad
The dangers of these drinks are real. Such as this tragic story where a 16-year-old boy died of a caffeine overdose after drinking a series of stimulant-containing beverages.
Many people fail to take inventory of the multiple sources of caffeine they ingest, and the consequences are incredibly dangerous. A review published in 2015 supports that the dangers of energy drinks are very real, citing several cardiovascular and neurological side effects.
Findings from a study published in 2017 also suggest that consumption of energy drinks can be particularly harmful to the developing brains of adolescents.
With a few exceptions, energy drinks are sold as dietary supplements, not conventional beverages. This means that these products are not subject to the same scrutinizing FDA safety standards as foods and beverages. To know for sure, check the label — if the can lists "supplement facts," it is a supplement and therefore not properly regulated and the label may be inaccurate. If the drink has a "nutrition facts" label, it has been classified as a beverage and was tested for accuracy before being sold. While this is an additional layer of protection, it doesn’t guarantee that the energy drink is a healthy choice or that the ingredients may not cause harm — all it actually means is that what is listed on the can is, in fact, in the can.
At best these drinks are too high in sugar, which is no good for your waistline. The calorie-free versions (full of artificial sweeteners) are also a joke — how can something with no calories give you energy? It’s easy to confuse a stimulant buzz with having true "energy." The major difference is that energy is real fuel, and stimulants only give you the illusion of energy by having a short-lived effect on your neurological system and heart rate. Side effects of drinking energy drinks also include increased anxiety and stomach upset.
Here are just a few of the potentially dangerous ingredients commonly found in energy drinks:
- Caffeine: Can cause increased heart rate, anxiety, sleep disturbances, upset stomach and dehydration. Many drinks have two to five times more caffeine than a cup of coffee.
- Guarana: A caffeine-like product that compounds the stimulant effect with limited evidence of safety. It has four to six times more caffeine than coffee beans.
- Taurine: Promoted to help with focus, taurine may actually have a sedative effect. It is used to treat high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. Very little is known about the safety of high-dose or long-term use.
- Vitamins: Excessive doses of several vitamins, including common energy drink additives niacin and vitamin B6, can be toxic in large doses. Toxicity symptoms of B6 can cause numbness and tingling in fingers and toes, and too much niacin can cause headaches, nausea and liver damage.
It has also become trendy to mix energy drinks with alcohol; this creates a dangerous combination of "uppers" and "downers" that may result in dangerous cardiovascular and neurological side effects.
Cracking open an energy drink isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Pay attention to product labeling and then avoid the drink altogether or proceed with extreme caution.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.