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Dangers of Energy Drinks + Healthy Alternatives to Boost Alertness

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Energy drinks - Dr. Axe

If you often feel like you could use a quick boost in energy, it might be tempting to grab an energy drink in order to help you get through your day. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “next to multivitamins, energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement consumed by American teens and young adults.”

Today, there are lots of different types of energy drinks available, including many that are high in added sugar and caffeine, as well as healthy energy drinks, such as coffee and teas.

Rather than making high-calorie, potentially dangerous drinks a regular habit, it’s a much better idea to first tackle the underlying issues that are causing you to always feel tired. Then, you might consider giving yourself an extra boost by having moderate amounts of drinks like green tea, yerba mate or organic coffee.

What Are Energy Drinks?

Energy drinks are defined as “beverages that contain high levels of stimulant ingredients, usually caffeine, as well as sugar and often supplements, such as vitamins or carnitine, that are promoted as products capable of enhancing mental alertness and physical performance.”

Some energy drinks are marketed as beverages while others are considered dietary supplements. Examples of popular types of energy drinks include Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, NOS and Amp. In addition to beverages, “energy snacks,” such as shots, chews and gummies, are also now available.

What are some ingredients commonly found in these beverages? These include:

  • Sugar (A typical 16-ounce energy drink contains between 54 and 62 grams of added sugar, which exceeds the maximum amount of daly added sugars recommended by most health authorities.)
  • Caffeine
  • Vitamin B6 and B12
  • Amino acids, including taurine
  • Guarana/Brazilian cocoa
  • Ginseng
  • Glucuronolactone
  • Yohimbe
  • L-carnitine
  • Bitter orange
  • Yerba mate
  • Ginkgo
  • St. John’s wort

While many of the vitamins, minerals and herbs listed above may be beneficial on their own when used in appropriate amounts, the addition of high amounts of sugar and caffeine make most energy beverages a bad choice.

Most manufacturers distinguish energy drinks from “sports drinks,” which are usually free of caffeine and contain electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, which help to keep you hydrated. While sports drinks might sound like a better alternative, since they can help replace water and electrolytes lost during vigorous exercise, they are usually still sugary drinks that contain dyes, artificial flavors and other ingredients that you want to avoid.

Dangers of Commercial Energy Drinks

Most people consume energy drinks to increase mental alertness and physical performance, but are energy drinks bad for you? Ultimately it depends on the specific type — however most that are bottled and sold in convenience stores are far from healthy choices.

While some energy drinks contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other compounds that are intended to make you feel alert, research suggests that the stimulant effects of energy drinks are primarily due to their caffeine content. A moderate amount of caffeine may not be a bad thing for most adults, but some are sensitive to caffeine’s effects, including teens, children and older adults.

Here are some potential dangers and side effects associated with energy drinks:

  • Caffeine overdose: Most types have between 70 to 240 milligrams of caffeine per drink, compared to about 35 mg of caffeine in a soda and 100 mg in an eight-ounce cup of coffee. Drinking multiple energy drinks each day can really cause caffeine intake to skyrocket, which can lead to a number of symptoms.
  • Anxiety, jitters and nervousness
  • Heart palpitations, heart rhythm disturbances, and increases in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Sleep issues and insomnia
  • Digestive upset, including nausea, diarrhea and loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Chest pains
  • Dizziness
  • Dependence on caffeine and sugar, and fatigue and headaches as a result
  • Weight gain due to high sugar and calorie intake: A typical energy drink has a similar amount of calories and sugar as a soda, which is linked to an increased risk for problems including obesity and diabetes.
  • Cravings
  • Dental issues

It’s estimated that one-third of teens under the age of 17 drink energy drinks regularly. Roughly 25 percent of college students consume alcohol with energy drinks, and 42 percent of all energy drink-related emergency department visits involve combining these beverages with alcohol or drugs (such as marijuana or prescription medicines).

Consumption of these drinks, particularly the types that contain lots of caffeine (especially when mixed with alcohol), has been shown to have harmful effects on young people’s developing brains and cardiovascular systems. Sugary, caffeinated drinks can also worsen symptoms among people with asthma, high blood pressure, anxiety, seizures and irritable bowel syndrome.

Healthy Natural Alternatives

Which energy drink is the best for you? Examples of natural energy drinks that offer actual health perks, and that are less risky than most commercial energy drinks, include:

  • Green tea, the energy drink that’s probably associated with the most metabolic-boosting effects, such as increasing energy, fat burning and reducing fat storage. Green tea naturally contains some caffeine but less than coffee. It’s also high in antioxidants, such as catechins, that have free-radical-fighting effects.
  • Matcha green tea is exceptionally high in the compound called EGCG, which has uplifting effects.
  • Regular coffee, which contains antioxidants and caffeine but can usually be consumed safely in moderate amounts. For the most benefits, consume unsweetened, organic coffee.
  • Black tea, which is also rich in tannins and antioxidants and contains some caffeine (less than coffee).
  • Yerba mate, a type of tea from South America that has a greenish color and an earthy, herbal aroma. It contains polyphenols and other antioxidants and has both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer capabilities.

What is the cheapest energy drink that is also good for you? Look no further than coffee and tea (preferably those that are organic).

How many energy drinks can you drink in a day? To be safe, stick to several cups per day of coffee or tea, such as three to five max.

Other Ways to Boost Energy Levels

Aside from opting for healthy energy drinks over sugary, processed ones, here are other tips for boosting your energy levels:

  • Get enough sleep — Adults should aim for seven to nine hours on average to avoid sleep deprivation and feel most alert and productive.
  • Exercise — Regular physical activity can improve your mood and motivation and also help you sleep better.
  • Try herbs, such as ginseng — Certain herbs, including ginseng and ginkgo biloba, tend to make people feel more alert, usually without any serious side effects when taken in recommended doses.
  • Manage stress — Chronic stress can zap your energy, contribute to brain fog and mess with your sleep. Try stress-relieving activities to help you relax, such as meditation, reading, journaling, aromatherapy, yoga, etc.
  • Eat brain-boosting foods — Anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods provide you with the nutrients you need to feel your best. Emphasize foods like leafy greens and other veggies, high-quality meats and protein, eggs, wild-caught fish, nuts, seeds, berries, cocoa, coffee, tea, herbs, and spices.

Conclusion

  • Energy drinks are beverages that contain high levels of stimulant ingredients, usually caffeine and sugar, and are promoted as being capable of enhancing mental alertness and physical performance.
  • While some ingredients found in these drinks can be beneficial, such as some herbs, amino acids and B vitamins, they tend to be high in added sugar, calories and caffeine that can cause side effects.
  • Types of energy drinks include Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, NOS and Amp. As an alternative, try healthy energy drinks that can lift your mood and improve your focus without contributing lots of sugar to your diet, such as green tea, matcha tea, black tea, yerba mate and coffee.
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