The dangers of energy drinks

Posted by Nikoletta Ventseslavova

Read if: you want to know more about the effects of excessive caffeine and sugar intake

Energy drinks have been getting a lot of attention lately. They are used by students during exam sessions, tired drivers, visitors of night clubs, fitness maniacs, etc. The one and only reason for their intake is exhaustion. The manufacturers of energy drinks claim that they are useful and bring joy, by “lending wings” to consumers. But behind the promises of lasting energy, there are hidden dangers to health.

The ingredients that pump us up

  • Caffeine – the major component of all energy drinks. It stimulates our mental activity and cardiovascular endurance.
  • Taurine – an amino acid that accumulates in our muscle tissue. It supports neurological development and regulates the levels of water and mineral salts in blood.
  • Carnitine – a component of human cells that contributes to a rapid oxidation of fatty acids, increases metabolism and reduces muscle fatigue.
  • Herbs – like Echinacea, Ginkgo biloba and ginseng help for pain reduction during physical exertion and improve memory; Guarana – its major component is caffeine , which is associated with increased energy, enhancement of physical performance, and suppressed appetite.
  • Vitamins – they are necessary for the normal functioning of our nervous system and brain.
  • Mateinat – a substance included in the composition of the South American green tea mate. It helps to deal with hunger and promotes weight reduction.
  • Fructose and sugar – carbohydrates which energize our body and stimulate our brain
  • Nicotine – increases the levels of brain neurotransmitters; thus, it stimulates our mental ability, suppresses appetite and causes muscle relaxation, increasing dopamine’s levels in the brain. Nicotine is highly addictive and dangerous for our health.
  • Other artificial stimulants, depending on the brand:  phosphate, riboflavin, dextrose, sodium benzoate, potassium chloride, sodium citrate, gum Arabic, inositol, etc.

Face the facts

The majority of energy beverages are a blend of herbal and nutrition stimulants listed above. If we look at them separately (excluding Nicotine), probably we won’t find anything worrisome. But, if these supplements are combined and in high dosages, these same energy boosters may have pretty nasty effects on out body’s systems and even on our short-term memory.

Dr. Ann Slattery, a clinical toxicologist with Children’s Hospital in Birmingham says that one of the problems, related to energy drinks is that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the amount of caffeine in “herbal supplements,” the category under which these energy drinks fall. Moreover, “the manufacturers of these products don’t always list caffeine by name on the nutritional label. Instead, they will use “herbal” names, like guarana or taurine, among a host of others” she adds. For example, if we look the label of one 24-oz (700 ml) energy drink, we will see that it contains 1,000 mg taurine and 2,500 mg of caffeine and guarana per a single serving. In comparison with the daily maximum recommended dose of caffeine which is 300 mg, those figures are astounding, aren’t they?

In moderate levels (about 100mg per serving) caffeine is not harmful. In fact, it could be beneficial, stimulating the nervous system. In high quantities, it affects our sleep, causing insomnia and nervousness. Moreover, caffeine is known to have laxative and diuretic effects. When over-dosed, it provokes dehydration. It increases heart rate and body temperature which may cause excess sweating and irregular heartbeat. The Daily Telegraph reported that high-caffeine consumption is linked to adverse effects, “including confusion, stroke, seizures and even death”. The report says that after a scientific study funded by the US National Institute of Health, the researchers identified that when caffeine is combined with other ingredients such as L-carnitine and ginseng, possible adverse effects include: seizures, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) and altered blood pressure.

A main ingredient of energy drinks is sugar. High levels of refined sugar are also a health concern, especially over the long-term. Sugar affects the absorption of nutrients, and can cause huge spikes and drops in blood sugar levels. Typical energy drinks contain 100 to 180 g of sugars per serving. The recommended Total Daily Intake (TDI) according to health organizations is 90g.  Energy drinks spike blood glucose levels and this boosts our power. But, when those levels drop, they come crashing down, and our bodies tell us to seek out more sugar. In fact, relying on sugar and caffeine sends our body into a vicious cycle of dependency that can seriously harm our health and can lead to ageing. Furthermore, they make our body fat and mushy.  Experts form Mayo Clinic worn that excess sugar in diet has been linked to :

diabetes, obesity, teeth cavities;
premature aging;
low levels of serotonin, which leads to depressions
disbalance of microflora (good bacteria), which causes infections and gastrointestinal problems;

Bad combinations

My friends have the habit of mixing alcohol with energy drinks and this is dangerous as well.  Both alcohol and caffeine dehydrate. As an energy drink energizes, and alcohol depresses, the two combined become a risky combination, one raising blood pressure, and the other acting as a toxin in the body. Also, a mixed cocktail can have the effect of making an individual feel more awake. This leads to more heavy drinking and blurred perceptions.

Another scenario where energy drinks become a hazardous is when physical activity is involved. Exercise, whether dancing, or playing basketball elevates the heart rate and blood pressure, and causes fluid losses. This strains the cardiovascular system. The effect of energy drinks make us feel that we can push our body harder than normal, instead of understanding that when heavy amounts of caffeine are responsible for this feeling, intense activity is unwise.

Poor diet,drugs, chronic stress and environmental toxins sap our energy. However, energy drinks are harmful and they are not the answer to fatigue. It is important to take care of our adrenal and thyroid glands which are our natural sources of energy. Thus, instead of reaching for energy drinks, it’s better to use probiotic liquids and natural antioxidants found in normal healthy foods. They are full of healthy micro flora. They help us digest and boost our immune system, giving us long term energy.

If you liked this article, continue reading: Detoxing via fasting.

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