Energy drinks boost your adrenaline, but not without health risks.
When we drink an energy drink (ED) we feel more alert and energetic, which is not so very different from how we feel when we drink a cup of sweetened coffee: we rapidly receive an energy boost and we confidently go back to our demanding chores, whether mental or physical.
Believed to improve mental and physical performances, EDs are very popular among adolescents and young adults. But do EDs really work? And what are the effects of EDs on the body?
If you really are a fan of EDs and think you need your daily dose, keep these 6 facts in mind to safely get the energy you crave.
1. EDs stimulate the nervous system
It’s proven that EDs stimulate the sympathetic nervous system releasing adrenaline and noradrenaline, and so they temporarily improve our cognitive functions (memory, verbal fluency, attention) and enhance wakefulness.
2. Not all ingredients are active
Common ED ingredients are caffeine, glucose, vitamins B, plant extracts (like guarana, ginseng, ginkgo), taurine, glucuronolactone. Many of these ingredients are advertised as energizing, but in fact do not have scientifically proven biological properties when ingested in the amounts present in EDs. This is true for taurine, glucuronolactone, and ginseng and ginkgo extracts.
On the other hand, caffeine and sugar are both abundant in EDs and are certainly responsible for at least part of the energizing effects of EDs. Interestingly, the stimulant properties of guarana are also due to caffeine because its seeds contain twice as much caffeine as coffee beans).
3. It’s not a sports drink
Contrary to sports drinks, EDs do not contain salts that are meant to replenish salt levels in the body after sweating. In reality, EDs even facilitate dehydration because of their high content of caffeine. So be sure not to drink EDs during exercise!
4. Drinking more than two cans is dangerous
If one or two daily cans of ED may enhance cognitive functions, more than that causes restlessness, anxiety and irritability because of an overstimulation of the nervous system.
More than two cans of ED per day will flood your body with over 200 mg of caffeine, which will significantly increase your blood pressure and heart and respiratory rates, and cause dehydration. Loss of body water will impair the regulation of body temperature, reduce plasma volume, and disturb the cardiovascular system.
With this in mind, be sure to follow Mayo Clinic’s recommendation:
“Try to limit yourself to about 16 ounces (500 ml, corresponding to 2 cans) a day”, but “if you have an underlying condition such as heart disease or high blood pressure, ask your doctor if EDs may cause complications”.
5. EDs are full of sugar
EDs are extremely rich in sugar: two cans (500 ml) contain an average of about 54 grams of sugar, which measures up to 13 teaspoons! Drinking too many EDs favors obesity, insulin resistance, and ultimately diabetes.
6. Don’t mix with alcohol
Mixing EDs with alcohol is very dangerous! By decreasing the feeling of fatigue, EDs blunt the depressant effects of alcohol, leading people to drink more. The hazardous combination will compromise cognitive functions (thinking and reasoning), thus encouraging risky behaviors and increasing the risk of accidents. Furthermore, it will facilitate the development of alcohol dependence and alcohol poisoning with very serious consequences.
In conclusion, the most recent research suggests that if you are healthy and limit your EDs to one or two cans per day, you can enjoy the (short-lived) energy boost while avoiding adverse health effects.
…But what about those thirteen teaspoons of sugar?!
Cavka A, Stupin M, Panduric A, Plazibat A, Cosic A, Rasic L, Debeljak Z, Martinovic G, & Drenjancevic I (2015). Adrenergic System Activation Mediates Changes in Cardiovascular and Psychomotoric Reactions in Young Individuals after Red Bull (©) Energy Drink Consumption. International journal of endocrinology, 2015 PMID: 26124829
Higgins, J., Tuttle, T., & Higgins, C. (2010). Energy Beverages: Content and Safety Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 85 (11), 1033-1041 DOI: 10.4065/mcp.2010.0381