Disclaimer: The views stated in this blog are purely based upon research and do not represent the views of Mixer Direct Inc.
My first warning to not drink energy drinks was something in the same vein of "You'll shoot your eye out". Some said, "you shouldn't drink those, they cause organ failure", "you know those cause kidney stones", or "just wait 10 years when you find out that....". Others are pounding 3 to 4 20 ounce cans a day like they're going out of style. According to Men's Health Magazine, Americans spent around 4.2 Billion dollars on these beverages last year. One of the biggest reasons we consume energy drinks appears to be that we have an adamant dislike for the feeling of being tired and most of us are more than willing to try just about anything to curb that. Energy drinks are convenient, they seem to give a boost to tired people, and they occupy entire columns in the fridge at most gas stations. The truth is they are incredibly accessible to the public and reasonably affordable. Plus the business shows zero signs of slowing down. Now that we have easy access, it doesn't seem that the demand is disappearing anytime soon. Students will pull all nighters, Parents will be up all night with crying babies, and business men and women will still work late hours. After writing a recent blog on "How To Stay Awake At Work", energy drinks sparked our interest in this topic. There is one word to describe the big picture of energy drinks: controversial.
Miracle Cocktail Or Poser?
After a long night's work, a few rocket scientists sampled their creation and then let out a maniacal laugh when they realized they were not the slightest bit tired anymore. Perhaps they even said, "take that coffee!". Well, not exactly. According to some sources, the ingredients for an energy drink are about as easy to mix as baking a cake in an easy bake oven. Suzanne Farrell, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association stated, "There is scant scientific support for these ingredients to make the kind of claims manufacturers use in hyping their products," and "Most of the energy from these drinks comes from the sugar and caffeine, not from the unnecessary extras." The question is, do we have conclusive evidence to support this? This spotlights the fact that many people are either unaware, uneducated, or apathetic as to what these extras are. The most common ingredients included in these beverages are caffeine, ginseng, taurine, vitamin b, and guarana. The questions are, what are they, what do they really do, and are they safe?
Caffeine is a crystalline compound that stimulates the central nervous system.The wonders of science have show us that there is no doubt that caffeine is a stimulant and scientifically causes an increase in brain activity. Ironically, it is one of the few stimulants that is widely accepted in our culture. A good old regular cup of coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine in it. A can of soda usually has 35-38 milligrams. The majority of energy drink brands can have as much as 240 mg of caffeine; however, many bottles contain 2 and sometimes even 3 servings.
In their annual meeting, The Institute of Food and Technology stated, "a rich database of health evidence exists confirming the safety of caffeine for consumers at current levels of exposure." The FDA is currently on the case and looking into whether caffeine's exoneration back in the 80's is sufficient to squelch recent debates over safety. Some believe it may reveal that the previous decision was built on a foundation of bad science. The general consensus is that the FDA will soon release guidelines for caffeine in beverages. This should help alleviate fears and encourage people to make better decisions regarding caffeine intake. In 2007, research from doctors and scientists at University of California, Davis, stated that, "A recent literature review determined that consumption of up to 400 mg caffeine daily by healthy adults is not associated with adverse effects. However, groups that are at risk, such as women of reproductive age, should limit their daily consumption of caffeine to a maximum of 300 mg." Many sources state a sobering reminder that overindulging in caffeine can cause a potentially unsafe rise in blood pressure and increase in heartbeat.
Guarana is a seed extracted from a type of shrub located primarily in Brazil. It is believed to act as a stimulant to the nervous system. According to some researchers, it enhances physical performance and promotes weight loss. In 2012, a Doctor wrote an article for WebMD.com stating that, "guarana has among the highest concentrations of caffeine in any plant. It may contain up to 3.6% to 5.8% caffeine by weight." Our beloved coffee only has up to 2%. Their current amount of research is not enough to conclude all that guarana does. What we do know is that caffeine is a component of guarana and many researchers believe caffeine consumption causes increased energy, a decrease in appetite, and enhanced physical performance.
Ginseng is a perennial plant that is found in both North America and Eastern Asia. It primarily grows in cooler climates. Some studies have shown that it can act as both a stimulant and an immune system boost. Many people believe that it holds significant medicinal value. This is in large part why there are so many herbal remedies involving ginseng. Neuropathic Doctor, Jennifer Brett wrote a fascinating article on ginseng herbal remedies in which she describes the uses of ginseng,
"Asian ginseng is used as a general tonic by modern Western herbalists as well as by traditional Chinese practitioners. It is thought to gently stimulate and strengthen the central nervous system in cases of fatigue, physical exertion, weakness from disease and injury, and prolonged emotional stress. Ginseng's most widespread use is among the elderly. It is reported to help control diabetes, improve blood pressure and heart action, reduce cholesterol levels, and reduce mental confusion, headaches, and weakness among the elderly. Asian ginseng's affinity for the nervous system and its ability to promote relaxation makes it useful for stress-related conditions such as insomnia and anxiety."
The B vitamins are a group of eight individual vitamins: cyanocobalamin (B12), thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid, and biotin (we will award bonus points if you can pronounce all of these). Vitamin B basically breaks down carbs into glucose giving energy to the body. This appears to make sense of why many energy drinks contain higher amount carbs and vitamin b. Vitamin b also helps breakdown protein and fat. According to some sources, vitamin b is believed to be good for the skin, eyes, liver, hair, intestinal health, and stomach muscle tone.
Taurine is a amino acid that contains sulfur and helps metabolize fats. The interesting thing that distinguishes taurine from other amino acids is that it differs from a normal essential amino acid. In fact, it is a "conditional amino acid", which means it can be produced by the human body. Mayo Clinic Dietician, Katherine Zeratsky, weighed in on taurine back in 2012 stating,
"Taurine is an amino acid that supports neurological development and helps regulate the level of water and mineral salts in the blood. Taurine is also thought to have antioxidant properties. Taurine is found naturally in meat, fish and breast milk, and it's commonly available as a dietary supplement. Some studies suggest that taurine supplementation may improve athletic performance, which may explain why taurine is used in many energy drinks. Other studies suggest that taurine combined with caffeine improves mental performance, although this finding remains controversial. And in one study, people with congestive heart failure who took taurine supplements three times a day for two weeks showed improvement in their exercise capacity. Up to 3,000 milligrams a day of supplemental taurine is considered safe. Any excess taurine is simply excreted by the kidneys. Moderation is important, however. Little is known about the effects of heavy or long-term taurine use."
Addressing The Controversy
A study by Dr. Matteo Cameli of the University of Siena presented research at the European Society of Cardiology Congress suggesting that energy drinks are actually good for the heart. Interestingly, both left and right ventricular function improved after the energy drink was imbibed. Dr. Cameli suggests that the improvement of the myocardial function could be directly related to the taurine contained in energy drinks, which “stimulates the release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum,” which aids in muscle contraction and relaxation, something the ventricles tend to do.
There are also several other functional benefits to energy drinks. A national Sports Medicine Advisory Committee pointed out that most energy drinks contain around 36-50 grams of carbohydrates which in turn can be helpful to produce energy and increased physical performance. Another benefit comes from a recent livestrong.com article that stated, "When you sweat, your body doesn't just lose water -- it gets rid of electrolytes as well. Not replacing these electrolytes can lead to a drop in performance and dehydration. The Dietitians of Canada website advises looking for an energy drink that contains between 460 and 690 milligrams of sodium per liter." This article went on to suggest that some studies believe that loading up on the ample amount carbohydrates energy drinks can be helpful in athletic activities. The amount of carbs in energy drinks are largely due to its sugar content. This is supported by a document from the Australian Institute of Sports Nutrition that presented that the consumption of simple sugars in liquid form could be easily digested and useful. Lastly, lets point out the obvious: energy drinks contain a high amount of caffeine, which acts as a powerful aid in staying awake.
Now for the bad news. Energy drinks often carry a large amount of sugar and this adds up over time. Many energy drink companies heard this complaint from consumers and were quick to respond with the release of a variety of sugar free and low carb options. It appears that these have grown in popularity as well. It is widely understood that too much sugar is never a good problem to have.
The hight amount of caffeine in energy drinks also has a down side, it's considered to be highly addictive and without the proper water intake, it can come with a dehydrating effect. If you have ever tried to wean yourself off caffeine or forgot to grab your cup of coffee in the morning, you've probably gotten a headache that ruined a good portion of your day. Caffeine consumption and random cold turkey attempts to quit can cause mood swings, which are never categorized under fun.
Lets not forget that a sugar overload can also lead to obesity and create a bevy of other reoccurring problems. Overindulgence in energy drinks appears to be a gateway for bigger problems.
In some studies, it seems to show that regular energy drink consumption does increase blood pressure. We were unable to locate any conclusive information to ground this objection. Some sources included the possibility of over consumption of energy drinks leading to irregular heartbeats and increased blood pressure. In some extreme cases, over consuming these beverages can lead to heart failure.
Energy Drinks: Check Yes, No, Maybe?
At this point, it is tempting to submissively throw our hands up in confusion and frustration, followed by punting this ball over into the scientists court. After digging into the ingredients that make up energy drinks, the question is not, are the ingredients harmful individually, but rather are the combination of ingredients a problem when consumed together? Currently, no research has produced any conclusive evidence to make an objectively true statement regarding the long term effects of the consumption of energy drinks. Research has give the public a variety of knowledge on the ingredients individually, however the combination of ingredients and their regular consumption is rendering a verdict inconclusive.