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Are Energy Drinks Bad For You?
Finally, we get to the bottom of the big question: Are Energy Drinks Bad For You? What are the dangers of energy drinks, the side effects of energy drinks on your health? We’ve done the research so you don’t have to.
There is no easy answer to that question because the answer is yes…and no. There are definitely drinks out there that are healthier – like a kale avocado smoothie – and that are worse – brownie, ice cream, and chicken nugget smoothie.
There is a broad spectrum of beverages but the essential idea is that anything in excess is bad for you. Our bodies, like nature, crave balance. Too much kale could block up your system for days and caffeine overdose is a very real thing. So, are energy drinks bad for you? We’ve gathered together our own research to try and address some of the misinformation. Here are the facts.
Typical Ingredients of an Energy Drink
Energy drinks, by definition, provide consumers with a boost of energy. They contain stimulants, most commonly caffeine, which provides mental and physical stimulation. They can contain sugar or other sweeteners, herbal extracts, amino acids and B-vitamins to increase their stimulative properties. Brands will also include different flavourings to create their own personal taste. Typical ingredients you’ll see in energy drinks are caffeine, taurine, ginseng and B-vitamins.
Taurine – The Wonder Molecule
Taurine is a naturally occurring amino acid. It is believed to be helpful in treating a variety of conditions from high blood pressure to depression. A typically healthy individual will naturally produce taurine on their own. However, a low protein diet, such as veganism or vegetarianism, would require supplementation in order to notice any natural effects.
Taurine is a natural neural inhibitor, meaning it is a natural anti-anxiety drug, or in layman’s terms a happy drug. In fact, it is often added to anti-depression and anti-anxiety medication. Happier people are more likely to engage in activities which prolong hormone highs, like exercising; which in turn helps to relieve stress. It’s a circle of happiness created by taurine. For this reason, taurine is referred to as a “wonder molecule” in Japan where it is a huge part of their diet.
The Bull Sperm Myth
There is some speculation around the source of taurine in energy drinks. Many animal rights groups claim that the taurine used in energy drinks and other products is sourced from bull sperm. Hence its name (Taurus the Latin for bull), and some brand names like Red Bull. However, I’m going to have to ask them to put aside their tin-foil hats. Taurine was first discovered in ox bile in 1827. That is the extent of the link between taurine and bulls. Taurine is typically synthesised in labs. No one is doing anything to any bulls for your energy kicks. Promise. It’s official. Taurine does NOT come from bull sperm.
Ginseng – All Healer
Ginseng is a powerful and widely used medicinal herb, which is understood to improve physical performance and mental focus. The medicinal herb is a member of the Panax family, literally meaning “All-Healer” in Greek. It grows in the Northern Hemisphere only, with the Asian variant being the most powerful. In fact, it has been used in Chinese medicine for over 5,000 years. As its original Greek name suggests, it has been used to help with every ailment. Including everything from mood disorders to diabetes, to mental and emotional stress. However, you like it, – chewing the root, brewed in tea – it has some potential benefits besides an energy boost.
B Vitamins – Couldn’t B Any Better
The B-group vitamins are made up of 8 water-soluble vitamins that are needed for optimum metabolic function. You are usually guaranteed to find at least four B vitamins listed on your energy drink’s nutritional facts. These may include vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B12 (cobalamin), or vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid).
Sugar & Sweeteners – Any Health Benefits?
Sugar isn’t always bad for you, in fact, there are many benefits to including it in your diet. However, like many substances, in high amounts, it can be very unhealthy. It is particularly dangerous in drink form, as your body does not recognise the sugar intake. Most energy drinks contain roughly 30g of sugar. However, there are many sugar-free versions which use artificial sweeteners instead – like REIZE!
The artificial sweeteners used as substitutes for sugar help deliver the same ingredients without the refined sugar effect, but there has been some controversy over how they may affect your body. Overall, there is no evidence that artificial sweeteners are associated with health risks in humans. They are among the most heavily studied ingredients on the market. Indeed, aspartame has been declared safe by over one hundred food safety regulatory agencies around the world.
Caffeine – The World’s Favourite Psychoactive Drug
Energy drinks in Australia are strongly regulated and must comply with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Some contain up to 80mg of caffeine per 250ml, the same as a cup of instant coffee. This means that the majority of energy drinks contain the same, or lower, levels of caffeine as a cup of instant coffee. And less than half the levels found in a standard espresso.
Most of the effects of energy drinks on cognitive performance, such as increased attention and reaction speed, are primarily due to the presence of caffeine. Caffeine is the most popular ingredient in any energy drink. Indeed, it is the most popular drug in the world. It has been the world’s drug of choice since it was discovered by cherry-loving dancing goats in Ethiopia centuries ago. Although caffeine sometimes has a bad reputation, if you have no underlying heart conditions or low tolerance to caffeine, it can actually be of great benefit to your standard of living.
Sides Effects of A Caffeine Overdose
Caffeine improves your motivation and focus, by increasing catecholamine signalling. When taken in substantial amounts, the semi-standard 100mg that comes from a strong eight-ounce coffee, for instance, it functions as an adenosine impersonator.
When you are awake, neurons are firing in your brains. As they fire, they produce adenosine as a by-product. Essentially, adenosine tells your brain when the body is tired. Your nervous system is actively monitoring adenosine levels through receptors. Normally when adenosine levels reached a certain point in your brain and spinal cord, your body will begin to fall asleep or start getting tired. Caffeine is almost identical to adenosine. After you’ve consumed and absorbed caffeine, your brain can’t tell the difference between the two. So caffeine effectively blocks the adenosine from doing its job and tricks the brain into staying awake. It starts to work after about 15 minutes and can last up to 6 hours, depending on your physical and chemical make-up
Not only does it make you more alert, it also aids in releasing the happy hormone dopamine. So you’re happy, alert and aware. However, it won’t refresh you, it can’t undo a week of long nights and early mornings. It can give you a boost in the moment when you need it most. But eventually, you will need a good night of sleep to properly recharge.
Typical Caffeine Levels Can Cause:
- Improved alertness
- Better reaction time
- Faster recall and memory retention
- Improved energy levels
- Increased physical performance
- Your heart beats faster
- You urinate more
- Your body temperature rises
- Decreased levels of depression
- A feeling of well-being
- Replenished muscle glycogen
- Helps ward off Alzheimer’s
- Increased stamina
- Reduced kidney stone formation
- Helps prevent weight gain
The effects will vary, in length and strength of the effect, from person to person, depending on genetics, other physiology factors, and tolerance. Many other factors can impact the effects of caffeine, meaning you should learn how it affects you personally, as what is right for you, may be wrong for your neighbour.
Excessive Levels of Caffeine Can Cause:
- Heart palpitations
- Becoming delirious (be confused, have hallucinations or be very excited)
- Can worsen cardiovascular disorders
Alcohol and Energy Drinks
Alcohol is a depressant drug that slows down the brain and nervous system. Mixing alcohol with any other drug can be risky. Mixing energy drinks with alcohol is particularly risky because the alcohol will slow you own while the energy drink speeds you up. While in this state you can easily lose track of the number of energy drinks (and caffeine) you consume. Which can lead to intoxication or caffeine overdose. The general recommended dose for energy drinks is two a day. The primary self-reported side-effects associated with drinking alcohol mixed with energy drinks include:
- dehydration and a worse hangover
- sleeping difficulties
- increased heart rate or palpitations
- gastrointestinal upset, vomiting and nausea
Mixing energy drinks with alcohol can also give a person the false sense of sobriety. This is because their brain is stimulated by the caffeine. However, although their mind might be more awake and aware, their body is still drunk. This can lead to car accidents and other risky behaviour. On the flip side, as they feel soberer they might be encouraged to drink more alcohol, which could lead to even more chance of risky behaviour, alcohol related accidents or alcohol poisoning.
While mixing caffeine with alcohol is common practice, scotch and cola and Irish coffee being two well-known examples, it is always good advice to limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine.
Energy drinks are often attributed with unfortunate and dangerous outcomes in the press. Often without fair and unbiased research into the topic. Numerous cases were documented in a study written by Adrian Rollins, for the Australian Medical Association. The study focuses on cases where people died or suffered serious cardiovascular problems after consuming energy drinks. Among those mentioned included “a 28-year-old man who collapsed while playing basketball after drinking three cans of energy drink five hours before the match. He was rushed to hospital suffering ventricular tachycardia and died three days later.”
A second case was “a 25-year-old woman with a pre-existing heart valve problem died from intractable ventricular fibrillation after drinking a 55-millilitre bottle of Race 2005 Energy Blast with Guarana and Ginseng.” As you can tell from these two cases alone, the people involved either had an underlying condition or drank energy drinks to excessive amounts. The energy drink labels may not have included the recommended dosage, or perhaps the patients were unaware of the caffeine contents. Either way, it was a tragic outcome resulting from an accidental overdose.
News reports from reputable and non-reputable sites began pummelling the masses with story after story of the negative effects of energy drinks. Which results in energy drinks having a bad public image. But, if used as per manufacturer’s instructions, they are no more harmful than a cup of coffee.
So, are energy drinks bad for you?
As I said before, yes and no. If you are a healthy person with no caffeine aversion or sensitivity, then no. Especially if you aren’t planning on drinking more than the recommended dose. And if you aren’t planning on washing it down with some Jägermeister. Energy drinks provide you with more energy and mental stimulation. As long as you don’t abuse their powers energy drinks can be a great addition to a healthy lifestyle.
Check out our comprehensive Guide for even more energy drinks facts.
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