15 Jan Energy Drinks, Not Worth the Risk
Energy Drinks – Common Questions and Information
Myth: Energy drinks are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) so they must be safe.
The makers of energy drinks market them as dietary supplements, allowing them to side step the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) beverage regulations. Because they have many vitamins and supplements in them, energy drinks appear healthy. However, there are no studies showing the safety or benefits of energy drinks, and there is clear evidence that some of the adverse reactions —sometimes causing people to go to the ER after drinking energy drinks are due to an overdose of B vitamins!
Myth: Energy drinks and gourmet coffee drinks are comparable in amounts of caffeine and sugar.
The common energy drinks have the equivalent of 5-10 times as much caffeine as a regular soda or cup of coffee. In addition to excessive caffeine, energy drinks are packed with sugar. The large amounts of sugar help the caffeine be absorbed into the blood stream extremely quickly, causing dangerous spikes of caffeine in the blood.
Myth: Energy drinks only cause a small response in my body.
Energy drinks stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which is commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. It is our body’s rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations. Each time it is triggered there a “flash flood” of hormones released that stimulate the body for action. The common symptoms of these hormones are restlessness, wakefulness, anxiety, and the jitters. When coupled with exercise or other substances, energy drinks can overstimulate the heart, leading to heart arrhythmias and even death.
Myth: Energy drinks are safe for my child to consume.
Children often drink energy drinks while participating in athletics. Vigorous physical activity also activates the sympathetic nervous system. The double activation that results can dangerously over stimulate the heart. In addition to the risk of arrhythmia and sudden death, parents should have real concern about the long term health effects of chronic overstimulation of sympathetic nervous system and hypervitaminosis (vitamin overdose) that can result from energy drink consumption.
Myth: It is safe to mix energy drinks with alcohol, because their effects cancel each other out.
Alcohol certainly depresses part of the central nervous system, and energy drinks definitely activate the sympathetic nervous system. However, this combination is surprisingly deadly, especially in children and adolescents. Caffeine activates the part of the brain that makes people charged and ready for action, while alcohol depresses the judgment part of the brain that warns people of danger. Everyone knows that people do stupid stuff when they are intoxicated. Combine the effects of caffeine and intoxication in the adolescent brain, and you have a potentially deadly combination. Truly.
Myth: My energy drink is healthier, as it is “All Natural.”
Energy drinks sell because of they are stimulants. The adverse reactions of over stimulation are just as harmful regardless of the source of stimulation. Plant-derived stimulants can harm just as easily as artificially derived stimulants.
Myth: Sugar-free energy drinks are healthier.
There has never been any evidence to show that artificial sweeteners are healthier than regular sugar. Actually, there is growing evidence that people who drink low calorie or sugar free soda actually gain more weight and develop diabetes faster than people who drink normal soda. Look for an upcoming article on artificial sweeteners.
In summary, energy drinks are at best unhealthy for you; at worst, they can be deadly. If you care about your health and the health of your family, your New Year’s resolution should be to get energy drinks out of your home and never bring them back. Your body has a tremendous ability to deliver the energy you need, if you give your body what it needs for health: sleep, good food, exercise, and community.
Dr. Jeffrey Wallhoff
Emergency Department; Forks Community Hospital
Disclaimer: This Column is not intended as a diagnosis or recommended treatment of a specific condition. Answers are not a replacement for an individual medical evaluation. Individual health concerns should be evaluated by a licensed clinician.