Energy drinks part 2 – Safety Concerns

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Sunday, 10 April 2022.
Tagged: Energy Drinks, health, healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, nutrition

Energy drinks part 2 – Safety Concerns

These days, energy drinks always seem to be in the headlines. Parents, teachers and coaches worry about their effects on young bodies, as do dietitians and doctors, who always caution people to avoid them. This is not without reason – they are sugary fizzy beverages whose job is not refreshment but to deliver caffeine to stimulate the brain, overcome fatigue and allow the drinker to “keep going” or stay awake, when otherwise they would have long been asleep.

If you haven’t already, please read “Energy drinks part 1 – sugar and caffeine combined” before reading this post.

Energy drinks with alcohol

In many nightclubs, energy drinks are consumed along with alcohol, such as in a Vodka Red Bull. The sedating effects of alcohol may counteract the stimulating effects of caffeine, which can prove dangerous to younger drinkers. 

Teens may be consuming energy drinks in place of more nutritious drinks such as milk, thereby compromising their calcium intake. With caffeine already being linked to low bone density, a low intake of dietary calcium may exacerbate the problem, further putting teens at risk of osteoporosis later in life. 

Post Energy Drinks Friends Bar Lspe

Caffeine safety

The biggest concern for energy drinks is the high level of caffeine they contain. At doses above 300 mg caffeine, many people experience the unpleasant side effects – insomnia, stomach upsets, headaches, irritability and rapid heartbeat. There have also been reports of death due to cardiac arrhythmia from high consumption of energy drinks.

Many energy drinks carry a suggested maximum intake on their labels, which is usually “2 cans daily”. This will land you with about 160 mg caffeine, which is equivalent to what you’d get from coffee. Except that one is hot, while the other is cold. We suggest you drink no more than two cans within a 24-hour period, so your total caffeine consumption from all sources stays under the suggested daily limit of 300 to 400 mg.

 Guarana safety

Don’t be fooled by guarana – it’s just another plant that happens to be high in caffeine. Yes, it’s natural – but so are coffee beans! Guarana (Paullinia cupana) may interact with certain medications, possibly causing adverse reactions. It is known to interfere with warfarin, for example, and may also decrease the effectiveness of anti-hypertensives.

Herbal safety

Some energy drinks contain herbal ingredients such as ginseng, ginkgo biloba and St John’s wort. Ginseng is claimed to increase vitality. Ginkgo biloba may support brain function, while St John’s wort is used to treat depression.

 The herbal ingredients contained in energy drinks are included purely for marketing hype, and any vague connection with energy, brain function or performance. These “look good” on the label, even though they lack any real evidence for their usefulness.

Chances are that these herbal ingredients will be of little benefit because they are present in very low levels. On the upside, therefore, there is little risk of harm.

However, some adverse side effects have been reported. In some people, ginseng may cause nosebleeds, high blood pressure, breast tenderness and vaginal bleeding. Ginkgo may cause upset stomachs and headaches, while St John’s Wort can reduce the effectiveness of nearly half of all medications, including those for depression, epilepsy and HIV.

Vitamin safety

While the concentrations of B vitamins in energy drinks are close to or above the recommended daily intake, overdosing on these vitamins is extremely unlikely. B vitamins are water-soluble so any excess will be excreted in the urine. It’s a bit like hangover remedies, which are also high in B vitamins.

Effectiveness of energy drinks

Do they really boost your energy? 

Energy drinks are targeted at people who are overworked and stressed by today’s fast-paced world. They claim to give people a boost and help their concentration levels, appealing to the tired and weary. Red Bull claims it is “especially developed for times of increased stress or strain”, while Dark Dog is “formulated to help you unleash yourself during times of fatigue or when energy is needed most”. Energy drinks create a “buzz” or a “high.”

 Despite the hype, energy drinks only work due to the caffeine – the other ingredients are present in quantities that are too low to give an effect and/or they act too slowly to generate any mood-enhancement within 30 minutes of drinking them. The caffeine effect is also short-lived, lasting for about 3–4 hours or until all the caffeine is eliminated from the body.

Ease of reading the labels

Ingredient lists on energy drinks are extremely difficult to read, often printed in a small font size in silver on a coloured background. This makes it impossible to read in the dim light found at a nightclubs.

 In addition:

  • Sugar is often disguised under its chemical name SUCROSE.
  • Other sugars are often disguised under their chemical names, e.g. DEXTROSE (glucose) and INVERT SUGAR (honey).
  • Overall, the ingredients lists are long and detailed, and appear to try to deliberately confuse, while presenting the drinks as “natural”.

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 Who should avoid these drinks?

Some people should avoid these drinks altogether, including:

  • pregnant women
  • anyone with a pre-existing heart condition
  • anyone with hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • anyone who can’t tolerate caffeine
  • children under 12 years of age.

The bottom line

 From the amount of caffeine to the herbal ingredients, there are numerous concerns about the safety of energy drinks, which can create a “buzz” or a “high”. When combined with alcohol, the sedating effects of alcohol may counteract the stimulating effects of caffeine. The biggest concern for energy drinks is the high level of caffeine they contain. Ingredient lists on energy drinks are also extremely difficult to read. Please be aware that you don’t really know what you’re drinking.

 Please read “Energy drinks part 1 – sugar and caffeine combined” if you haven’t already, to find out what’s really in your energy drink.