Filed under: Energy drinks
If you’re feeling stressed, don’t rely on liquid relaxation products to relieve your tension. While energy drinks are promoted to give you an extra boost, relaxation drinks* are marketed to do just the opposite and help you, well, relax. These products commonly contain the amino acid theanine, as well as several different plant-based ingredients. But the science doesn’t support the use of relaxation drinks to decrease stress or anxiety, and consumers should be cautious of two ingredients: kava and melatonin. Bottom line, if you’re feeling stressed, try to identify the cause, and then use stress management strategies backed by scientific evidence. Read more here.
Most energy drinks are now labeled with Nutrition Facts instead of Supplement Facts, but that doesn’t automatically make them safe. The most popular energy drinks contain about 80–120 mg of caffeine per serving (8 oz.)—about the same amount of caffeine in an 8-ounce coffee. Caffeine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When used appropriately, caffeine can boost mental and physical performance. But each energy drink can or bottle often contains more than one serving, making it easier to consume larger amounts of caffeine, especially if you drink more than one per day. Too much caffeine (>400 mg) can cause nervousness, shakiness, rapid heart rate, and trouble sleeping.
In addition to caffeine, energy drinks commonly contain amino acids, vitamins, and plant-based ingredients such as guarana (which also contains caffeine) and ginseng. Although these ingredients are generally safe, there still isn’t enough reliable information about their long-term safety or how combinations of these ingredients might interact in the body.
If you drink energy drinks, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Be aware of how much caffeine (from all sources) is in each can or bottle, and limit the number you drink each day.
- Avoid caffeinated foods, beverages, and medications while using energy drinks. You may be consuming more caffeine than you realize.
- Don’t mistake energy drinks for sports drinks. Unlike energy drinks, sports drinks are designed to fuel and hydrate you during long workouts.
- Don’t mix energy drinks with alcohol. Energy drinks can mask the feeling of intoxication but still leave you impaired.
- Find other ways to energize yourself. It’s best to get the sleep your body needs, but you can try other ways to stay alert, such as exercising or listening to upbeat music.
Stimulants can be dangerous to your health, especially in large quantities, but they’re what give energy drinks their “punch.” You may already know caffeine is a major stimulant found in energy drinks. But do you know that energy drinks often contain other stimulants? These can include “hidden sources” of caffeine (such as guarana, green coffee bean, green tea, and yerba mate), yohimbe, and synephrine (bitter orange).
Many energy drinks, however, aren’t labeled with the amounts of caffeine or other stimulants in them. Some or all of these ingredients are often part of “proprietary blends,” so it’s impossible to determine from the label the exact amount of each ingredient you would be taking. Furthermore, energy drinks might be mislabeled or marketed as sports drinks, causing even more confusion.
Remember, stimulants come in many different forms, so Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) put together a list of stimulants found in dietary supplements to help you identify these potentially harmful ingredients. And to help you understand what’s in your energy drink, check out the OPSS infosheet on energy drink labels, which includes helpful notes about ingredients.
Sports drinks that contain electrolytes and carbohydrates can be essential to performance by replenishing what is lost during activity, mostly through sweat. For activities less than 60 minutes, water is the best drink to replace lost fluids. If your exercise session or mission exceeds 60 minutes, then sports drinks can be helpful. Follow HPRC’s guidelines for maintaining important nutrients such as fluid, carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium during activity to keep well hydrated and on top of your game. Read more here.
HPRC has written several articles about energy drinks, their ingredients, and their potential harmful effects, especially for adolescents. They continue to be the topic of news articles, with another recent death of a teen who apparently consumed several energy drinks while on vacation and then died from cardiac arrest. The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) urges the public to use caution when consuming energy drinks and lists many potential harmful reactions. Read more on this AAPCC web page, including statistics on reports of “exposures” to energy drinks.
HPRC has an Infosheet on energy drinks, highlighting the ingredients you may find on labels,and their potential stimulant effects. Be aware of the potential dangers, especially for children and teens, as outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
A new Air Force guidance, which will be go into effect in a few months, directs all downrange DFACS (dining facilities) to stop buying energy drinks, nutritional shakes, and energy bars. Air Force DFACs in the U.S. do not buy these products either. The new guidance is a result of health concerns from consuming energy drinks and these other products. Read the article in the Air Force Times for more information.
Energy drinks have been in the news lately, mostly due to media reporting on a group (doctors, researchers, scientists, and politicians) writing to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to express concern over the use of these drinks by adolescents. Much of the concern has to do with the amounts of caffeine in these drinks, among other issues. Energy drinks also may contain large amounts of other stimulants, including guarana, yohimbe, yerba mate, kola nut, methylsynephrine, Citrus aurantium (Bitter Orange), and Ma Huang (ephedra). Although listing the total amount of caffeine on the label would help, consumers should be aware that there are often other stimulants in energy drinks.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has written several articles over the last year about the potential risks associated with the adolescent population using energy drinks. One very recent article outlines the harmful effects of energy drinks on adolescents, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, anxiety, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, and dehydration. The withdrawal effects after habitually consuming energy drinks is also an issue, as it can lead to headaches and attention problems. Also, the ingestion of energy drinks by adolescents who take prescription drugs for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or who have eating disorders or diabetes is another topic of concern.
The amount of caffeine contained in energy drinks is not regulated, as the FDA does not regulate caffeine in foods or beverages, except that the maximum concentration for caffeine in cola beverages is 71 mg per 12 oz. The amount of caffeine in energy drinks ranges from 50 to more than 500 mg per can or bottle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens drink no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day. To put that in perspective, an eight-ounce cup of coffee typically contains about 100 mg of caffeine (or more), and the most popular caffeine-containing sodas contain around 30 to 55 mg in a 12 oz. can. Not knowing how much caffeine and other stimulants are contained in energy drinks is a potential health threat.
Furthermore, the caffeine and other stimulants contained in the energy drinks, when combined with alcohol, can mask the symptoms of alcohol intoxication, potentially leading to risky behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents and doctors to talk to children about the dangers of mixing alcohol and energy drinks, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a fact sheet on the potential risks.
Parents, educators, and healthcare professionals need to focus on educating adolescents about potential problems associated with consuming these high-stimulant products. Companies are heavily marketing their products by featuring athletic superstars, which causes children and adolescents to confuse energy drinks with sports drinks. Generally speaking, adolescents don’t need energy drinks, and they should be made aware of the potential dangers. It’s definitely a case of “buyer beware.”
Visit HPRC’s Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) to access resources on the informed use of dietary supplements.