Energy Drinks – Are Those Shots Really Safe?

Beverages like Red Bull, Rockstar, Monster Energy, 5-Hour Energy, Mountain Dew Kickstart, and Full Throttle are touted to increase energy, improve mental alertness, and enhance physical endurance. Some of these products are marketed as beverages while others are marketed as dietary supplements.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2007 and 2011, the number of energy drink-associated emergency room visits doubled. In 2011, one in 10 of them resulted in a hospitalization. Some college students will unsafely consume energy drinks along with alcohol or other products/drugs (e.g., marijuana, OTC or prescription medications).

Ever looked at the nutrition label on the back of one of these products? They contain more than just caffeine and sugar, namely B vitamins, amino acids (taurine and carnitine), and other dietary supplements -> green tea extract, guarana, yohimbine, green coffee bean extract, bitter orange, glucuronolactone, ginkgo biloba, and ginseng. A single 16-oz bottle may contain up to 62 grams of added sugar, more than the maximum amount recommended in one day (15 teaspoonfuls – 250 calories).

In smaller quantities, caffeine may boost energy and alertness. In larger quantities, caffeine can negatively affect the cardiovascular system. Taurine may boost metabolism. In theory, extra carnitine may impact fat burn. The body is typically not deficient in endogenous carnitine, so it’s a waste of your money. Guarana contains caffeine. Green tea extract contains caffeine and the antioxidant EGCG. Green coffee bean extract contains caffeine. Yohimbine and bitter orange are central nervous system stimulants.

Ginseng does not impact energy and may lower blood sugar in diabetics – diabetics should be careful with its use. Ginkgo biloba has not been clinical proven to improve energy. Water soluble B vitamins protect nerves but may not improve energy. Thankfully, they will be eliminated by the kidney if taken in excess.

Glucuronolactone, a component of connective tissue, is metabolized into glucuronic acid and is touted to ‘detoxify’ (what?) in the body, a nebulous claim that is unproven in humans. It has no impact on energy.

Possible side effects from energy drinks include, but are not limited to, rapid heartbeat, heart palpitations, heart attack, and headaches. Caffeine and other stimulants may also be associated with anxiety, sleep problems, digestive problems, and dehydration.

If you feel you need to consume energy drinks, a good health rule is to consume them in moderation and remember that there may be negative outcomes. Talk it over with your primary care physician. Be healthy, eat whole foods, get ample restorative sleep, and stay safe.

REFERENCES:

Higgins. Energy beverages: content and safety. May Clin Proc 2010:85:1033-1941.
Sankararaman. Impact of energy drinks on health and well-being. Current Nutrition Reports 2018;7:121-130.
Uliah. Energy drinks and myocardial infarction. Cureus 2018;10;e2658

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Cathy Rosenbaum PharmD RPh MBA CHC 10/12/18©