Over the years energy drinks have gained in popularity, especially in the sporting industry. They claim to boost the immune system, as well as enhance performance and endurance. That’s why 30 to 50 percent of teens and young adults purchase these drinks. What effect do energy drinks have on the body when consumed on a regular basis?
Drinking energy drinks like Redbull, Monster, or Rockstar once in a while when you need a little boost to make it through a long drive is relatively harmless. However, once someone starts drinking them on a regular basis their body will develop a dependency. This causes a problem for your body’s overall health because excessive amounts of caffeine and sugar are consumed. This can lead to increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and weight, while causing insomnia, and dehydration. In the long run your body will feel worse.
The most common ingredients and their effects:
Caffeine is by far the most widely used stimulant in energy boosting products around the world. According to studies, 300 to 400 mg of caffeine a day, which varies by individual, will start causing initial symptoms such as increase in heartbeat, jitters, and/or insomnia. Caffeine dependency can already develop after only 5 to 7 days of regularly intake. Individuals may notice light withdrawal symptoms. For further side effects please read negative effects of caffeine from an earlier article. Currently caffeine is not required to be listed in ingredients. However, many companies list the substance voluntarily. This regulation may change in the near future due to the high amount found in energy drinks. FDA is trying to determine how to regulate the amount of caffeine listed.
Taurine is an amino acid, naturally produced in the body and used in many energy drinks. Taurine is said to support neurological developments and regulate the level of water and mineral salt in the blood. There are claims that it improves athletic performance and when mixed with caffeine increases mental performance.
Sugar is the basic nutrient used for energy production in the body. Even though the body needs sugar, too much of it can lead to various health problems. Energy drinks are loaded with sugar, often in large quantities and hidden behind healthy sounding names such as “natural cane sugar”. Some energy drinks contain up to 62 grams of sugar (15 1/2 teaspoons) worth—per 16-ounce. Some of the negative effects of sugar are:
- Tooth decay
Guarana is a substance from a South American plant. It’s a very popular ingredient for energy drinks because of its high caffeine content. Guarana contains more caffeine than any other plant in the world, including the coffee bean. There are some claims that Guarana promotes weight loss when combined with other ingredients. So if you read Guarana on the label of an energy drink already containing caffeine, it just means more caffeine.
Inositol is a naturally occurring vitamin that is produced from glucose. It’s considered a brain food because it is necessary for brain support. Studies suggest that it also aids in illnesses like depression or cancer.
Ginseng is an Asian herbal supplement used for different medical reasons. Only few of them have been researched more extensively. However there is no evidence that it boosts energy.
Glucuronolactone is a natural occurring substance in the body. There is not much research on it but claims have been made that it supports mental performance.
Art Sweeteners are sugar substitutes, often used in energy drinks to lower the amount of calories. There are a variety of different artificial sweeteners. It can also help control blood sugar in people with diabetes. Artificial sweeteners are chemically processed and there have been various debates on its health risks. Tests on rats run in the 70 have claimed certain sweeteners cause cancer. None of these claims have been proven to be true.
Ginkgo Biloba is extracted from the leaves of the Asian Ginkgo tree. The herb is used in various energy drinks like Rockstar. Recent studies by the US government have shown that the substance may have resulted in the development of liver and thyroid cancer in mice and rats.
L Carnitine is an amino acid produced by the body. Unless there is a deficiency the substance is relatively useless. Too much of it can cause stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, and even seizure.
L Theanine also an amino acid that is derived from tea. Preliminary studies claim that the substance may calm the brain and enhance concentration.
No one should rely on energy drinks for the regular energy boost but rather follow a healthy diet and lifestyle. However for most people it is ok to consume energy drinks occasionally, but coffee is still a better alternative source of caffeine. Energy drinks tend to have an effect of bringing the body’s capacity from 100% to 130%. If you are looking to recover your body from 70% to 100%, try Clarex, its completely stimulant free.
Just recently, presented at the Radiological Society of North America, German researchers were able to image increased cardiac motility 1 hour after test subjects consumed popular energy drinks. The drinks contained 400 mg taurine and as much as caffeine as up to two cups of coffee. The increased cardiac motility is not surprising, given that caffeine itself can lead to irregular heartbeats and palpitations. What this does confirm however, is that physically, the heart works harder, specifically 6% harder after drinking energy drinks, according to Dr. Jonas Doerner with the University of Bonn, Germany. Increased heart contractility in those with underlying cardiac issues would be more prone to potentially adverse effects. In recent years, there has been a series of deaths and emergency events associated with the consumption of these caffeine and taurine-based energy drinks. What is surprising from this study is that a control group, just utilizing caffeine at the same dose, did not show increased cardiac contractility. This potentially shows that the potential synergistic effects of caffeine, taurine, and potentially sugar can lead to amplified effects, which can affect heart function.
Here’s my advice on how to stay focused without energy drinks:
- First, minimize your sugar intake. Refine sugar can have a deleterious effect on your body.
- Second, stay up to date on the latest studies of what you eat or drink. Science and medicine have a certain truth to it. If more than a few research studies have shown certain things, it is starting to look like it may be real.
- Third, go stimulant-free. Caffeine acts on your neuroreceptors, which get saturated over time. That is why over time you need more of it for it to work. Going stimulant free and choosing a judicious supplement program allows you to go for the long haul.
Stay focused and be well.
By Eugene Y. Chan, M.D.
Recent news about tragic death of Anais Fournier hit the web. She was 14 and she died after consuming two 24-ounce Monster Energy drinks over a 24-hour period. She had an underlying heart arrhythmia that may have predisposed her to the adverse effects of caffeine.
Caffeine is a small molecule alkaloid that is found in many different types of plants. It has a receptor-based mechanism of action that antagonizes the action of adenosine. In clinical medicine, adenosine is sometimes utilized to treat certain irregular heartbeats, including some supraventricular tachycardias. Decreasing the action of adenosine can therefore lead to a faster heart rate and can also predispose the heart to irregular heartbeats. In the case of the very unfortunate 14-year old, she consumed caffeine which decreased action of the adenosine, thus increasing her likelihood of a fatal arrhythmia.
How much is too much? One may say, “Let us calculate the lethal dose.” The LD50, or lethal dose for killing 50% of tested animals, for rats is 192 mg/kg. Extrapolating this to a 14-year old weighing 50 kg, this LD50 is 9.6 grams of caffeine. Of course, these studies were not conducted in humans so this is only a ballpark estimate. In a typical energy drink, there is approximately 200 – 300 mg of caffeine, although in some energy drinks, the actual amount is unclear, based on how the products are labeled. We can assume that Anais probably consumed < 1 gram of caffeine from her two energy drinks, yet this was a fatal dose for her. What the LD50 calculation is missing is both an understanding of both statistics as well as pharmacogenomics. Statistics tells us that some individuals may very well have adverse events at a much lower dose of caffeine. Part of this is based on a genetic makeup and how we react to certain molecules. This is called pharmacogenomics. In the case of Anais, she likely had a genetic cause of her underlying cardiac arrhythmia. She may very well have been a slow metabolizer of caffeine, also based on her genetic makeup, leading this molecule to linger in her system much longer than that of her counterparts. Without a whole genome study, of course, we would never know.
Overall, the lesson here is that receptor-based molecules, such as caffeine, can be extremely dangerous, depending on the specifics of your medical and genetic background. For most people it may be fine, for others, it can unfortunately take push you over the threshold of safety.