How Bad Can Energy Drinks Hurt
You? ---Pretty Bad
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Americans Are Dangerously Sleep Deprived

July 31, 2016

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

It’s Monday morning and you’re feeling rundown. Or it’s
Sunday afternoon and you’ve got an important paper due
tomorrow. What are you going to do? Take a refreshing nap?
No chance with your schedule. Miss the deadline? Or drink
something that promises five hours or more of pure energy?
Millions of us choose the latter. Quick, easy, effective energy –
it’s what we all crave.

So we reach for the energy drink. How bad can it be? After all,
energy drinks are freely available and unregulated, on any
convenience store shelf. But research shows that your energy
drink could be more dangerous that you imagine.

Drinking a single energy drink has been linked to an increased
heart disease risk. Energy drinks may even raise your risk for
head injury.

It’s enough to make you think – what’s
in that energy drink?
Do you really understand the health costs of a quick boost of
energy these drinks supposedly deliver?

Official Warnings Over Energy Drinks

Energy drinks have been on the market for over 40 years and
include high profile brands like Red Bull, Rockstar, Monster
Energy and 5-hour Energy.  Red Bull alone sold 3.5 billion cans
in 2007, according to a Harvard report in 2016. The annual per
capita consumption of these drinks in the US was 5 liters in

In 2012 the Food and Drug Administration stated they had
received reports of 13 deaths since 2009 which involved the
energy drink "5-Hour Energy". The Administration also
received five reports of deaths associated with "Monster

Moreover, 5-Hour Energy was also included in over 90 filings
that involved injuries and illness like heart attack and

But energy drinks are freely available and heavily marketed.

Government agencies have not defined what an "energy drink"
is.  The term “energy drink” is a creation of the marketing
departments of beverage companies.

And despite reports of deaths linked to the drinks, neither the
FDA nor the USDA regulates energy drinks which contain
caffeine combined with other ingredients such as guarana, B
vitamins, and taurine. What is the truth about the health
dangers of energy drinks? Are they really that bad?

Did You Know Energy Drinks Were Once Banned in France?

Other countries around the world have heavier regulation of
energy drinks. In France, Red Bull was banned for 12 years
following concerns about the ingredient taurine.

In Austria, cans of Red Bull carry warnings of the high levels of
caffeine which are linked to possible harmful effects for
children and pregnant women.

In the past, Norway, Uruguay, Iceland and Denmark enforced
energy drink bans.

And in New Zealand the drinks are regulated as dietary
supplements and therefore must have labels indicating the
levels of caffeine and the possible health dangers associated
with them.

Why Can Energy Drinks Be Dangerous?

The main concern over energy drinks is the levels of caffeine
they contain.

Caffeine in regular doses is not considered a health risk by
experts. But energy drinks often contain more caffeine than a
regular coffee or tea. In fact, there is no upper limit to the
amount of caffeine an energy drink can contain. The US does
not regulate that.  

And there are certain people for whom lots of caffeine is a bad

For example, these drinks are heavily marketed towards teens
and are linked with a lifestyle featuring fun, parties, extreme
sports and concerts.

But thousands of teens and children have gotten sick after
drinking energy drinks.  In the case of children, many did not
know what they were drinking.

A 2014 study from the Children's Hospital of Michigan reported
over 5,000 cases of sickness from energy drinks reported to
the US poison control centers between 2010 and 2013, over
half of which were children, many of which were under the age
of 6.

Pregnant women are advised to stick to safe caffeine limits,
which many energy drinks exceed.

Other problems associated with energy drinks are the high
levels of sugar and calories, and the presence of ingredients
like taurine – effects of which are relatively unknown.  

Here are the Top 7 dangers:

Just How Much Caffeine is in Energy Drinks? --You Never

Caffeine may be fine in small doses but do you know how much
you’re getting in a can of Monster or Red Bull? Not really.

The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the
amount of caffeine in drinks as caffeine is not a nutrient. If it is
added to a food it must be listed on the label but not the
amount. The FDA regulates stimulants bought in pharmacies
where caffeine is the main active ingredient because these are
classified as "drugs". But there is a gray area over energy
drinks. Simply because they are sold as supplements and not as
"drugs", the FDA doesn't touch them much.

Not knowing how much caffeine is in an energy drink is a big
problem. The amount varies between each product, according
to a 2016 Harvard study.

For example, an 8-ounce can of Monster Energy Assault
contains 160mg of caffeine, while an 8-ounce can of Wired 294
Caffeine contains 294mg. The Harvard report states that some
energy drinks even contain as much caffeine as 14 cans of coca

Wrap your mid around that. One can of energy drink can pack
as much caffeine as 14 cans of Coca-Cola.

Just How Bad Can Caffeine  in Energy Drinks Be?

But is a lot of caffeine really a problem? First things first, let's
acknowledge that caffeine is a drug. As studies such as a 1992
report from France put it  "caffeine is the most widely
consumed central nervous stimulant [drug] in the world".  

Caffeine belongs to a class of drugs called "methylxanthines".
Methylxanthines are powerful stimulants which affect all
contractions in your body, including heart muscle contractions,
and can throw off the natural rhythm of your heart (cardiac
arrhythmia).  Methylxanthines also affect your airways, acting
as natural bronchodilators, which is why drinking caffeinated
drinks sometimes help those who struggle with

Also, like any other drug that stimulates you, caffeine intake
can lead to dependence,
overdose and, if you stop after you
become dependent, you will experience withdrawal symptoms.

Caffeine does two things to your body at once-- it raises your
energy metabolism while at the same time, it reduces blood
flow to your brain, according to the 1992 study from INSERM U
272 Université de Nancy I, France.

Caffeine activates the neurons of your cells to release
dopamine, the feel good hormone. It also activates locomotion,
alertness, vigilance.  So far, so good.

The America Dietetics Association says that up to 300mg of
caffeine a day is not a problem.

You probably won’t experience any physical danger if you drink
a couple of coffees a day.

But since a 24-ounce can of Rockstar contains as much caffeine
as three espressos, if you only have two cans you are drinking
the equivalent of 6 espressos and you are already over the safe
limit.  You're driving in the fast lane with your hands off the

Drinking a coffee for breakfast, a Coke in the afternoon and a
couple of energy drinks at night will lead to excessive caffeine
intake. In fact, it can act like a poison or a drug overdose.

The link between excessive caffeine and health problems is
uncertain but it has been linked to cardiac problems, kidney
failure, and seizures.

Cases have been reported where otherwise healthy individuals  
have died following energy drink consumption .

An Irish man died in 2001 after drinking four cans of Red Bull
and playing basketball.  A UK student died in a club following
excessive consumption of energy drinks.  

The fact is, caffeine in large doses is just not safe for everyone,
experts say.

Taurine in Energy Drinks is Linked to Health Problems?

Taurine is an amino acid found in most energy drinks and in
other foods.

While taurine is not specifically associated with health risks,
there is insufficient scientific data to rule it completely safe.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says it
“considered it possible that the health problems mentioned
could be due to the well-known side effects of high caffeine
intake, while the assumption of a causal relationship with
taurine intake [was] lacking scientific evidence.”

Put simply, experts simply do not know the effects of taurine
on the body and the brain.

Energy Drinks Contain Un-needed, "Empty" Calories

A Harvard Health Publications report in 2012 says that one
concern with energy drinks and sports drinks is the amount of
calories they contain.

Some energy drinks have 150 calories, the amount in 10
teaspoons of sugar. The Harvard report authors say that rather
than reaching for energy or sport drinks, amateur athletes and
others should reach for the water as “if they avoided the
sports drinks they would get thinner and run faster.”

Energy Drinks Raise Your Risk for Heart Problems

Just one energy drink may be one drink too many.  Just one
energy drink can cause significant short term changes in the
body that over time can increase a healthy adult’s risk of heart
disease, a 2015 study from the Mayo Clinic says.

In the study 25 participants drank one 16-ounce can o
Rockstar energy drink.  After the drink, they were found to
higher blood pressure and higher levels of the hormone
norepinephrine, which is released by the adrenal glands and
raises blood pressure.

These changes may predispose people to heart disease in the
future, if energy drink consumption is maintained.

Drinking Energy Drinks Raises Your Risk for  Head Injury By

A 2015 study from St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto shows that
teens drinking a lot of energy drinks are more likely to suffer
from head injuries than those who don’t.

The researchers looked at information from more than 10,000
students in Ontario, Canada about their experience of energy
drinks and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The odds of having a traumatic brain injury when consuming
energy drinks in the past week was five times greater than for
teens who did not consume energy drinks.

However, it is not clear if energy drinks directly raise the risk,
or if other factors come into play for example teens personality
type which may predispose them to risk taking and also to
energy drink use.  

Energy Drinks Are Linked with Alcohol Dependence

Combining energy drinks and alcohol – a popular combination
– is dangerous as it raises the risk of alcohol dependence, a
2011 study from the University of Maryland School of Public
Health shows.

Normally, if you drink too much alcohol, you get drowsy and
eventually pass out which is not great but at least it limits the
amount of alcohol you can consume. Passing out turns off the

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol allows people to stay awake
longer, raising consumption of alcohol, which could lead to
greater dependence.

The study looked at 1,110 college students and discovered that
those who drank energy drinks frequently were 2.5 times as
likely to be classed as alcohol dependent.

[The author thanks her colleague, Susan Callahan, for the
discussion of the effects of caffeine as a drug.]

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