Energy Dinks: Are the Benefits Worth the Risks?

In recent years, energy drinks have become increasingly popular. In fact, energy drink sales in America have more than doubled in the last five years. However, many people are unaware of the health risks associated with energy drinks, which are largely attribute to large quantities of caffeine and sugar.

Do Energy Drinks Work?

Most energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine and sugar. Both are stimulants, which increase heart rate, glucose levels and alertness in order to provide a quick, but short-lived, boost in energy []. However, when heart rate and blood sugar levels return to normal, what is known as a "crash" soon follows. This can leave an individual feeling tired and sluggish, both mentally and physically.
Other "energy-boosting" ingredients of energy drinks include the following:

  • Taurine
    Taurine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the human body, and can be found in breast milk, meat and fish. While taurine is essential for neurological and skeletal development and function, its use in energy drinks is often debated. Although no serious side effects have been linked to taurine, findings related to improved mental and athletic performance are extremely controversial and inconclusive.
  • Guarana
    Guarana comes from a plant indigenous to South America, and has long been used as a mental and physical stimulant, as well as in aiding weight loss. Guarana is found in most energy drinks and supplements, and has similar energy-boosting effects as those of caffeine. Likewise, guarana is associated with some of the same negative effects as caffeine, including irritability, increased heart rate and blood pressure, insomnia and anxiety. In addition, since most energy drinks combine caffeine, guarana and other stimulants, negative effects can be more intense, unpleasant and even dangerous.
  • Ginseng
    Ginseng is an herb that has been used for centuries for increased energy and improved mental performance. Although ginseng is generally considered safe, common side effects include upset stomach, headache and insomnia. Ginseng has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels, especially in those who have diabetes. Because of this, individuals with diabetes, especially those taking insulin or other medications, should use extreme caution when it comes to ginseng.

What Are the Risks?

Energy drinks are associated with several health risks, and can intensify symptoms of other conditions and illnesses. A few of the more serious health risks include the following:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased risk for type 2 diabetes
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Rapid heartbeat or heart arrhythmia
  • Seizure
  • increased risk for stroke and heart attack

Some of the less dangerous side effects of energy drink consumption include:

  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Trouble concentrating

Dangers for Children and Young Adults

Energy drinks have become increasingly popular among teens and young adults. In fact, studies suggest that anywhere from thirty to fifty percent of children and adolescents consume energy drinks, including children as young as five years of age []. Use of energy drinks in children and young adults could be due to a number of factors, including advertizing and marketing strategies, peer pressure and adult influence. Alarmingly, energy drinks pose enormous health risks for children and teens, including the following:

  • Stunted growth
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Childhood obesity
  • Hyperactivity
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Emotional disturbances

Why Are Energy Drinks So Popular?

In addition to marketing tactics, many people use energy drinks simply to receive the boost in energy they provide. Today's fast-paced society can cause many people to experience decreased energy levels due to lack of sleep, stress and anxiety. When an individual doesn't get enough sleep, energy drinks seem like a smart way to get the energy required to get them through the day; however, because of the stimulants in these beverages, energy drinks make getting to sleep even more difficult. This can lead to repeated consumption of energy drinks, as well as the need for larger amounts to produce the desired effects. In addition, energy drinks contain addictive ingredients, such as caffeine and sugar. With repeated use, the body can crave these substances, and can go into withdrawal without them. Caffeine and sugar withdrawal can cause headaches, irritability, fatigue and other unpleasant symptoms.

Safer Alternatives

Although moderate consumption of energy drinks is considered safe, there are preferable methods of increasing energy. Getting a good night's sleep is a surefire way to boost energy and alertness, as are regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet. Lean protein, nuts, beans and leafy greens all help improve energy levels and can lend to better overall health and wellness.

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