Energy Drinks

Definition

Energy drinks are drinks that are advertised as having the ability to increase energy, stamina, and alertness. They contain a variety of additives and usually contain large amounts of caffeine.

Description

Energy drinks are marketed as having the ability to increase alertness, sharpen attention, and increase stamina. They typically contain large amounts of caffeine, sugars, and a variety of herbal and other ingredients. This category of drink does not include performance-enhancing drinks such as Gatorade that include sugars and electrolytes but do not include caffeine or herbal supplements.

The first energy drink introduced in the United States was Red Bull, which entered the market in 1997. It quickly became popular with young adults, and other drink manufacturers soon entered the market. Recently, energy drinks were estimated to be more than a $12 billion market in the United States alone.

The amount of caffeine in energy drinks varies widely, from about 85 mg to more than 500 mg per can. It is important to note that although the label information on many larger cans of energy drinks contain more than one serving, it is typical to consume the entire can at one time. Therefore, when examining the labels of energy drinks, it is important to note the number of servings and multiply the information accordingly.

Energy drinks typically are sold as nutritional supplements and not as food products. This means that they receive less regulatory scrutiny and oversight from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) than many other food products. The FDA limits the amount of caffeine that can be in a 12-ounce serving of soda to 71 mg, and the average soft drink contains about 37 mg of caffeine. The FDA does not limit the amount of caffeine in energy drinks. Energy drinks are also not required to be labeled with the amount of caffeine they contain.

Purpose

The purpose of energy drinks is to provide a short-term boost in attention, alertness, and feelings of general well-being. Some energy drinks also advertise having additional benefits, such as increasing memory or containing vitamins that boost immunity.

Energy drinks are consumed for a wide variety of reasons. Athletes consume them to get a boost of energy before a game or workout. They are popular with students who believe that they help with attention while studying or with staying alert during late-night study sessions. Energy drinks are also consumed by individuals who need to remain alert on the job or while working overnight shifts. In many cases, energy drinks are consumed for their taste, or to provide daily caffeine for individuals who are addicted to caffeine.

Risks

There are a wide variety of risks associated with drinking energy drinks, especially for children, teenagers, and young adults. Serious long-term health consequences including seizures and stroke, and even sudden deaths, have been reported as directly linked to energy drink consumption.

KEY TERMS
Cholesterol—
A waxy substance made by the liver and also acquired through diet. High levels in the blood may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Obesity—
Excessive weight, defined as a body mass index of 30 or above.
Type 2 diabetes—
Formerly called adult-onset diabetes. In this form of diabetes, the pancreas either does not make enough insulin or cells become insulin resistant and do not use insulin efficiently.

Energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine. Caffeine in moderation generally is not considered dangerous, but in larger amounts it can cause health problems, especially in people with certain underlying medical conditions. For a healthy adult, the maximum recommended daily intake of caffeine is 400 mg. For children, the recommended maximum is 100 mg a day. Some energy drinks contain as many as 505 mg per can. Some of the risks associated with excessive caffeine consumption include:

Individuals with underlying medical conditions such as irregular heartbeat, diabetes, or high blood pressure are at higher risk for serious complications from consuming excessive caffeine. The more caffeine consumed during the day, the higher the risk of adverse consequences.

In addition to caffeine, energy drinks typically contain large amounts of sugar and are high in calories. Some energy drinks contain more than 400 calories per can. Calories consumed through beverages do not usually cause the body to feel full, increasing the likelihood of overconsuming during the day. Diets high in refined sugars can lead to weight gain and obesity. Obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol level, and possibly some cancers. Some energy drinks offer diet or sugar-free versions, but these contain artificial sweeteners that may have their own risks.

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol is popular among college students and young adults. One study found that 27% of college students reported that they had mixed alcohol and an energy drink at least once in the previous month. This especially dangerous practice has led to a number of deaths. The caffeine and other ingredients in energy drinks make the individual feel more alert, and they perceive themselves to be less inebriated than they actually are. The body's normal response to excessive alcohol consumption is to become sleepy, and eventually the individual typically falls asleep and thus stops drinking. Combining energy drinks with alcohol interrupts this process, so the individual does not become sleepy and continues to drink. This increases the likelihood of alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.

The combination of energy drinks and alcohol is so dangerous that in 2010, the FDA banned the sale of drinks that contained both alcohol and caffeine. Drinks such as Four Loco and Joose had been popular with young adults, and were often sold in supermarkets and convenience stores on the shelf right next to energy drinks not containing alcohol. In some cases, a single can of these premixed drinks contained more caffeine than three cups of coffee and more alcohol than three beers. The FDA stepped in and issued the ban after increasing numbers of reports of deaths caused by the drinks.

Benefits

Proponents of energy drinks suggest that energy drinks increase alertness, attention, stamina, and even improve cognitive abilities. Very few rigorous scientific studies have been done to investigate these claims. Energy drinks generally contain large amounts of sugar and caffeine. Sugar can temporarily increase alertness, although this increase is usually followed shortly by a “sugar crash,” which causes feelings of sleepiness and can cause difficulty paying attention.

Caffeine is a stimulant that can temporarily increase feelings of alertness and reduce feelings of fatigue. The amount of caffeine in energy drinks varies greatly, and individuals should consume with caution. While small amounts of caffeine can provide an energy boost, large amounts can lead to serious negative health consequences.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR

In addition to sugar and caffeine, most energy drinks contain a variety of other additives. Often these are herbal additives that are believed to have additional beneficial properties, such as increasing concentration, alertness, and boosting the immune system. Many of these additives actually contain additional caffeine or have effects similar to caffeine. This additional caffeine is not always included in the caffeine content listed on the label. Each additive should be researched because they have many different benefits and risks.

Preparation

There is no preparation required for drinking energy drinks. However, it is important to check the label carefully and look up the risks and benefits of any ingredients that are not familiar. Many ingredients in energy drinks can have harmful side effects, especially for people with certain diseases and conditions.

Aftercare

After drinking an energy drink, the individual should be alert to any changes that could indicate a serious health problem. Some signs of a serious problem include:

If any of these symptoms occur, a medical professional should be consulted immediately. These symptoms can be a sign that there is a serious health issue that if not treated immediately could lead to long-term health consequences and even death.

Resources

BOOKS

Peters, Tyler. Energy Drinks, the New Age Beverage. Monroe, WI: Mountain Crest Publishing, 2009.

PERIODICALS

Arria, Amelia, et al. “Energy Drink Consumption and Increased Risk for Alcohol Dependence.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 35, no. 2 (February 2011): 365–75.

Kaminer, Yifrah. “Problematic Use of Energy Drinks by Adolescents.” Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America 19, no. 3 (July 2010): 642–50.

Seifert, Sara M., et al. “Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults.” Pediatrics 127, no. 3 (March 2011): 511–28.

WEBSITES

Doheny, Kathleen. “Energy Drinks: Hazardous to Your Health?” WebMD. September 24, 2008. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20080924/energy-drinkshazardous-to-your-health#1 (accessed January 24, 2017).

Zeratsky, Katherine. “Can Energy Drinks Really Boost a Person's Energy?” Mayo Clinic. February 11, 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutritionand-healthy-eating/expert-answers/energy-drinks/faq20058349 (accessed January 24, 2017).

ORGANIZATIONS

American Dietetic Association, 120 S Riverside Plaza, Ste. 2190, Chicago, IL, 60606, (312) 899-0040, (800) 877-1600, http://www.eatright.org .

American Society for Nutrition, 9211 Corporate Blvd., Ste. 300, Rockville, MD, 20850, (240) 428-3650, Fax: (240) 404-6797, http://www.nutrition.org .

National Association of Sports Nutrition, 8898 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Ste. J, San Diego, CA, 92123, (858) 694-0317, http://nasnutrition.com .

Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, 6100 Executive Blvd., Rm. 3B01, MSC 7517, Bethesda, MD, 20892-7517, (301) 435-2920, ods@nih. gov, http://ods.od.nih.gov .

Tish Davidson, AM

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.