Like it or not, it’s a rat race out there. Our technology may be rapidly improving, but our social ethics are suffering as a result. Despite the fact that working ourselves ragged is clearly taking its toll, we continue to suffer through extended work weeks, a crippling compulsion to “be someone,” and a consequential feeling that if we’re not being productive, we’re doing something wrong. Relaxing is no longer an option, and as we avoid tackling the root of the issue, big industries have learned to supplement our new culture.
The sale of energy drinks today forms a multi-billion-dollar industry, despite their questionable products and lack of regulation. Among adolescents, energy drinks are the second-highest dietary supplement consumed, trailing only multivitamins. At the same time, there is more than sufficient evidence to prove that these drinks can be quite dangerous to all, including healthy adults. Effective as they are, they may even be perpetuating some of the very issues that cause consumers to pick them up in the first place.
In the current market, energy drinks vary in size and in their ingredients, with caffeine functioning as the common link. Caffeine is a stimulant that can be consumed safely in moderation, so it, alone, is not the sole issue at play. Factually speaking, some energy drinks have less of this common stimulant in them than a 5-ounce cup of coffee—but even then, there is no regulation when it comes to declaring the total amount of caffeine on an energy drink’s label.
Additional common ingredients, such as guarana (also known as Brazilian cocoa), ginseng (another plant-based stimulant), and ephedrine may add to the intensity of the energy drink’s effects. Caffeine ranges from 80-500mg in a single can or bottle of these various products, with 400mg being the highest end of what a person should consume in a single 24-hour period.
It’s important to reiterate that not all caffeine consumption is bad, but an excess of this stimulant has been shown to cause issues such as the following: irregular heartbeat, breathing troubles, fever, convulsions, diarrhea, and indigestion, anxiety, and dehydration. These risks are likely to be more prominent in younger folks but have even changed the heart functioning of otherwise healthy adults.
SUGAR & SPICE
Adding to the general unhealthy quality of energy drinks is the extreme amount of sugar-packed within them. Adult men should aim for about 37.5 grams of sugar in their daily diet, while women should cap out around 25 grams. Some energy drinks have up to 37 grams of sugar in a single serving can, with the average serving containing well over 20 grams! Just like with caffeine, not all sugar intake is bad, but an excess amount has been shown to cause obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
There are also a number of common ingredients added to energy drinks whose effects are not well-known enough to be deemed safe or dangerous at this point. Among these ingredients are inositol, Panax ginseng, taurine, carnitine, glucuronolactone, and citrimax. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find an energy drink without an insurance policy in the form of a verbal warning located on its can and/or in its advertising, leaving it to the consumer to decide whether or not the risk is worth the reward.
Upon learning how these energy drinks work, we can clearly see that they are effective when it comes to short-term boosts in alertness and concentration. The caffeine will enter a consumer’s bloodstream within the first 10 minutes of consumption, rising, and peaking within the hour. It is during this initial 60 minutes that the advantages of the energy boost can be utilized, after which point in time there is typically a sugar crash and a return to the groggy state we were trying to escape.
The caffeine stays busy intercepting a chemical in our brains that lets us know we’re tired and instead supplementing us with “feel good” chemicals. As a consequence of this rush, the liver takes even more sugar into the bloodstream, which will be in no short supply unless the energy drink is sugar-free. It may take up to 12 hours for all of the caffeine to leave the bloodstream, despite the fact that the positive effects will have disappeared long before this threshold.
A number of energy drinks are not outwardly dangerous in their caffeine content, alone, when consumed in moderation. Many popular coffee servings exceed some of the popular energy drinks in terms of caffeine per serving; however, energy drinks do often include added sugar, added stimulants, and a noteworthy calorie count. There is certainly more to consider when picking up an energy drink, and it seems abundantly clear that the largest demographic who can suffer from over-stimulation side effects is the one purchasing this product the most.
As adults, we often do things we’re advised against on a case-by-case basis after we weigh the risks for ourselves, but it is important to still be wary of these risks, especially for our children who may not be as well-educated on the potential severity. Learning to label-read nutrition facts is also critical, as some of these energy drinks contain more than one serving per can, and lots of individuals are unaware of how many nutrients our body needs per day from different sources.
BREAK THE CYCLE
Beyond all of the aforementioned bodily issues that energy drinks may cause, it’s also important to recognize the cycle that leads us towards wanting to drink one for our daily boost in the first place. Implementing healthy sleep habits along with a steady exercise routine will improve our mood and energy levels throughout the day without any chemical assistance. Drinking plenty of water and eating a diet rich in protein, carbs, and vitamins will also cause us to feel more alert and energized for longer each day.
There’s no denying that energy drinks get the job done, but they’re also a seriously bad idea for pregnant women, those consuming alcohol, sensitive individuals, and those already suffering from heart and health issues. These direct shots of caffeine and sugar can also cause insomnia and headaches, which is detrimental to long-term health and may create a feeling of needing an energy drink to make it through the day. Fixing the problem is always a better solution, but energy drinks do provide an excellent short-term boost in a pinch.