Though energy drinks may seem like the perfect remedy to the 3pm slump, the quick hit they provide comes at an unhealthy cost.
Not only have energy drink-related emergency department visits shot up in recent years, but several deaths have been linked to the beverages. In fact, researchers warn that just one of these drinks can lead to hospitalisation.
Their high levels of sugar, caffeine, artificial colours, flavours, and calories lead to a myriad of health problems – especially when blended with ingredients like taurine, glucaronolactone and guarana, as the compounded effects cannot always be predicted and adverse reactions have been reported.
The FDA even cautions consumers about using energy shots or drinks as an alternative to rest, stating that ‘if you are thinking about taking one of these products, please consult your health care provider to ensure that you don’t have an underlying or undiagnosed medical condition that could worsen as a result of using them’.
Here are some of the dangers associated with energy drink consumption:
Some energy drinks contain more than 20 teaspoons of sugar – a shocking figure when you consider the American Heart Association recommends that men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar a day, and women no more than 6.
These high levels of sugar lead to rapidly rising and falling blood glucose levels, which translate to energy peaks and crashes for you. If consumed regularly, this can lead to blood glucose intolerances and eventually to type 2 diabetes.
2. Anxiety and Low Mood
Once the effects of the caffeine wear off, and you experience a sugar crash, you will most likely endure episodes of low mood or anxiety.
A 2013 study published in the official journal of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that drinking one 250ml can or more a day of energy drinks is associated with increased anxiety in young men. The association gets stronger as energy drink consumption increases.
This research supports previous studies that identify energy drinks as a potential risk factor for mental health problems.
3. Reactions to Artificial Ingredients
The unnatural hues of many energy drinks are achieved by the addition of artificial colouring – some of which have been linked to potential health concerns such as hyperactivity (especially in children), anxiety, migraines and more.
And, in a bid to clean up their image, some energy drinks offer ‘sugar-free’ varieties, which are made using artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame. These are linked to even more side effects than artificial colours!
So far, over 90 side effects – ranging from cancer and seizures to rashes and nausea – have been connected to aspartame; while the newer zero-calorie sweetener sucralose may reduce the number of good bacteria in the gut by 50%, increase the pH level of the gut and contribute to weight gain!
4. Stress and Blood Pressure
In addition to increasing anxiety and negatively affecting mood, these drinks have been found to release stress hormones and raise blood pressure.
For example, Mayo Clinic research discovered that a 240 mg version of Rockstar Energy Drink caused a 74% increase in norepinephrine levels, while the placebo drink caused a 31% increase. It also led to a 6.4% increase in average blood pressure. Caffeine is also known to increase the stress hormone cortisol.
Over-consumption can also raise blood pressure levels in young adults, as demonstrated by a recent case study on a 16-year-old boy who used energy drinks as a study aid.
5. Headaches and Migraines
Headaches and migraines can be triggered or exacerbated by some of the ingredients in energy drinks – including sugar, caffeine, artificial sweeteners and colours, and more.
Too much caffeine affects sleep, and has been linked in studies to both disrupted sleep and even daytime sleepiness– the very thing you are trying to avoid by consuming energy drinks!
Even athletes aren’t immune to the sleep destroying properties of these beverages. In a study on energy drink consumption among athletes, it was found that although their sports performance improved by between 3% and 7%, they also experienced an increase in the frequency of insomnia and nervousness.
7. Risky Behaviours
When mixed with drugs and/or alcohol, these energy drinks are associated with an increase in behaviours such as unprotected sex, substance abuse and violence – especially among young adults, according to research. There is also an increased risk of injury and a need for medical intervention.
Those mixing energy drinks and alcohol are more likely to be victims or perpetrators of aggressive sexual behaviour; and are four times more likely to intend to drive while intoxicated.
A lethal cocktail of cocaine, energy drinks and alcohol is known to have caused strokes, heart attacks and even sudden death.