Did you know that next to multivitamins, energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement consumed by American teens and young adults? According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, men between the ages of 18 and 34 years consume the most energy drinks, and almost one-third of teens between 12 and 17 years drink them regularly. In 2017, the energy drink market was valued at around $13.5 billion.
What are energy drinks?
These soft drinks marketed with the intention of providing the consumer with a burst of energy, come in two forms regular soft-drink-size bottles or cans, or so-called “energy shots.” The primary ingredients touted to provide a stimulating effect in the majority of energy drinks on the market today are caffeine, glucose, taurine, ginseng and various vitamins and minerals. While the major brands of energy drink, such as Monster, Red Bull and Rockstar are subject to FDA regulation and thus carry the Nutrition Facts label, knowing exactly the amounts of certain ingredients in the drink, and what those ingredients may or may not do, can be an issue.
The tried-and-true energy booster, caffeine, is typically the main stimulant in energy drinks. According to the Mayo Clinic, experts believe that it is safe for most healthy adults to consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. A 12-ounce can of Red Bull contains 111 milligrams of caffeine, according to the label, and a 16-ounce can of Monster contains 160 milligrams of caffeine. But the label is misleading as many of these beverages also contain guarana and other ingredients that contain additional caffeine which is not listed. With current labeling laws being what they are, there is no way to know exactly how much caffeine an individual is consuming.
Know the risks
So, what’s the worst that can happen from consuming these energy drinks?
A growing body of scientific evidence shows that energy drinks can have serious health effects, particularly in children, teenagers, and young adults. 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.
The energy drink health risks are associated with the following:
- High levels of caffeine — It’s hard to determine exactly how much caffeine energy drinks contain, but we do know it’s a lot. Large amounts of caffeine can cause serious problems such as heart rhythm disturbances and increases in heart rate and blood pressure. It also may harm children’s still-developing cardiovascular and nervous systems. Taurine, another popular ingredient in most energy drinks, intensifies caffeine’s effect, and could potentially lead to calcium buildup in the heart cells, which in turn can cause vessels to constrict.
- Sugar content – A 16-ounce container of an energy drink may contain 54 to 62 grams of added sugar; this exceeds the maximum amount of added sugars recommended for an entire day. Regularly consuming too much sugar is associated with all kinds of health risks ranging from weight gain and heart disease to depression.
- The tendency to mix energy drinks with alcohol – Energy drink cocktails are very popular among college students and studies show those who combine alcohol and energy drinks are significantly more likely to binge drink than those who don’t. Caffeine can make people feel less intoxicated than they really are. This leads to people drinking more and also engaging in risky behaviors such as driving while impaired.
Although much is still being learned about the effects of energy drinks, experts agree that a safe bet is to limit consumption to one beverage per day, maximum. Safer methods of getting more energy include simply getting a good night’s sleep, exercising, and eating snacks with high levels of protein and complex carbohydrates.