There sure are a lot of energy drinks out there now days. I went to the shop recently and counted 17 different energy drinks. And this is probably only of fraction of the total number of energy drinks on the market today.
And just the sound of the titles of these energy drinks is enough to wake up the most lethargic person: Venom, Amp, Red Bull, Full Throttle, Rush, Shark, Piranha, Fuse, Hype, Back Mamba, and Atomic X, just to name a few.
There also appears to be lots of controversy nowadays about the health effects of energy drinks.
So, out of curiosity I recently did a bit of research on the ingredients contained in these energy drinks and their health consequences.
Energy Drink Ingredients
The ingredients within the different brands of energy drinks are many. The ingredients common to the majority of energy drinks are taurine, glucuronolactone, inositol, B vitamins, sugar, caffeine, carbonated water, natural flavors, and organic ingredients.
Taurine is a derivative of the sulfer-containing amino acid cysteine. Taurine is often found in infant milk formulas. Taurine helps carry minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium throughout the cells. Additionally it is an antioxidant and is believed to steady irregular heartbeats.
Glucuronolactone is a naturally occurring carbohydrate produced by the human metabolic system. It is believed to improve memory and concentration. It can have stimulant and anti-depressant consequences.
Inositol is instrumental in how the brain uses serotonin, a chemical that’s the exact same that is boosted by the anti-depressant drugs prozac and zoloft.
B vitamins are necessary for an assortment of things. Vitamin B-3 (niacin) metabolizes energy from fat and carbohydrates and can help the body utilize energy by releasing it from food. Vitamin B-5 (pantothenic acid) enhances mood and promotes energy.
Natural ingredients found in energy drinks include ginseng extract, L-carnitine, guarana extract, milk thistle extract, green tea extract, ginkgo biloba leaf extract, L-trosine, fruit juices, and citric acid. The amount of these natural ingredients varies among energy drinks, and is usually a proprietary blend.
An individual could do a Ph.D. dissertation on the ingredients in energy drinks. Because of time limitations, this report focuses on the ingredients which receive the most attention regarding health effects: caffeine and sugar.
Caffeine is found in many products (coffee, soda, chocolate, etc.) including energy drinks.
Caffeine doesn’t provide true energy. It injects adrenaline in your system, which provides you a temporary increase but leads to a feeling of fatigue after it wears off.
Cortisol is great when needed, but may have damaging effects if high stress is continually present. Some of these damaging effects include a suppressed immune system, impaired cognitive performance, high blood pressure, and a reduction in bone density and muscle tissue. Increased levels of cortisol contribute to stronger cravings for fat and carbohydrates.
As with adrenaline, it makes you feel great after it gets into your system. But, like adrenaline, after dopamine wears off, feelings of having low power and even mild depression take over.
Caffeine does have some benefits. A small amount at the beginning of the day may give you good concentration and focus. A small amount before exercise may actually improve physical endurance and performance. It can help the body break down fat approximately 30% more efficiently if taken before exercise.
The typical energy drink contains approximately 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8.4 ounces. The average cup of black coffee also contains 80 milligrams of caffeine.
Sugar that is present in fruit is fructose; refined sugar (table sugar) is sucrose.
When sucrose is taken into the body, it’s broken down into equal amounts of fructose and glucose.
Glucose is the sugar that the body uses for both physical and psychological energy. Insulin from the pancreas allows the body to burn glucose to produce energy.
If there is too much sugar in the blood for the body to use as energy, then it is converted to glycogen and put in temporary storage. If the temporary storage capacity is exceeded, the remaining glucose will be converted into long term storage (fat).
Fructose is broken down by the body SLOWLY to glycogen, which is put into storage in the liver and muscles. When sugar levels get low in the blood, the liver can easily convert the stored glycogen to glucose. Insulin is then needed to burn the sugar. The requirement for insulin when it is needed to burn glucose is reasonable.
Conversely, a big dose of sucrose provided by candy, soda pop, or cake, puts a significant strain on the pancreas, especially on an empty stomach. The pancreas has to supply a lot of insulin FAST to stabilize the blood sugar level caused by the cake or candy.
If the pancreas does not offer enough insulin to manage a large influx of sucrose, a diabetic condition exists. If the pancreas provides too much insulin, a hypoglycemic conditions exists. Blood sugar levels either too high or too low can cause serious problems.
Fructose acquired by fruit is beneficial for diabetics because it doesn’t place a massive demand on the pancreas to get insulin in a small quantity of time. The pancreas can handle the insulin requirements imposed by fructose being converted SLOWLY into glycogen then sugar.
Excess fructose that maynot be used by the body is easily converted into fat. Many experts believe that fructose is the most important cause of Americans getting fatter. Fructose in concentrated types (e.g. high fructose corn syrup) is especially bad. Excess fructose may also raise the level of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).
Energy drinks have really created quite a stir, especially regarding health effects. Even a few countries (Denmark, Malaysia, and France) have banned the sale of Red Bull due to high caffeine levels. I wonder what the caffeine content is at the coffee sold in these countries.
As far as producing energy, energy drinks do provide at least some energy since they all have sugar and other energy producing ingredients. The “kick ” for which these drinks are famous comes not from the energy, but from the big doses of caffeine provided by consuming not one, but multiple energy drinks in a brief time period. You would get the same kick drinking 4 or 5 cups of coffee.
Too much caffeine and too much sugar consumed day after day over a long time period will increase the likelihood of some bad health effects. Common sense.
Too much caffeine increases the probability of dependence, which will cause the stress hormone cortisol to be always present in your body. Too much cortisol leads to increased chances for a suppressed immune system, higher blood pressure, and less bone mass.
Too much processed sugar day after day and year after year will put a big strain on your pancreas, which could increases your chances of getting diabetes. Your chances of getting fat will also be much greater.
I do not think energy drinks are harmful if you don’t just plain drink too many. I would suggest using them sparingly.
I’m also concerned about good health. It seems the older I get, the more I care about good health.
And so, I am a little more selective these days in regards to energy drinks. I now look for energy drinks that have little or no refined sugar. I look for one that tastes great and gives real lasting energy, the kind of energy that helps me focus and stay focused. I don’t need a “kick” provided by stimulants.
I’ve found an energy drink in particular that satisfies the above criteria. It’s made of all natural ingredients, one of which is the acai berry. It also contains other antioxidant-rich fruits, which also offer the sugar. This energy drink can also be lightly carbonated.