Hydration: Energy Drinks Pros and Cons
Energy drinks have quickly become the fastest growing sector in the beverage industry. Recently however, research into the effects of consuming energy drinks has raised questions about their health effects.
The energy drinks discussed here refer to non-alcoholic beverages, whose primary active ingredient is caffeine, but also features large amounts of sugar. Some energy drinks also contain herbal ingredients, such as ginseng, gingki biloba, taurine and guarana.
Pros of drinking energy drinks
Supporters of caffeine will argue that there’s lots of research supporting the benefits of caffeine intake, such as improved short term memory, improved concentration, reduced fatigue, and improved reaction times. Some studies have also suggested that caffeine can lower the risks of some diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and liver cancer.
However, most of the health benefits you get from energy drinks are due more too the natural herbal ingredients that have an energizing effect. For example, kava acts on the central nervous system to reduce feelings of stress and increase feelings of calmness. Ginseng acts on the adrenal glands, giving you energy and endurance. Other ingredients might include Gingko Biloba, which enhances memory and relieves stress, taurine, which controls heart rhythm, and guarana, which is a caffeine containing stimulant and is believed to prevent atheroschlerosis and remove lactic acid from your muscles.
While these herbal ingredients can be beneficial for your health, after the ingredients are commercially processed, these nutrients don’t always make it to the final product that you drink. Even if they did make it to the drink, sugar and caffeine both prevent the absorption of these nutrients. So when considering the health benefits, its important to consider that while energy drinks contain these beneficial ingredients, they might not even be absorbed by your body.
Cons of drinking energy drinks
The main reason energy drinks can be bad for you is the two main ingredients, caffeine and sugar. The amount of caffeine in one can of energy drink is about the same as a cup of coffee. While caffeine is safe in moderation, too much of it can be addictive. Regular caffeine intake can cause high blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, increased heart rate, and reduced bone density. As caffeine is a diuretic, when you take it during or before exercise it can lead to dehydration.
Energy drinks also have a lot of sugar, about the same as a can of coke, or as much as 8-10 teaspoons. While this sugar in combination with the caffeine will increase your blood sugar levels and give you an initial energy burst, this is usually followed by a sudden fall in blood sugar levels, causing a “crash” and you feel tired and lethargic again. Like caffeine, food and drink containing sugar is ok in moderation, but too much (more than two cans per day) can cause cavities in your teeth, and the instability they cause in your blood sugar levels will make the weight loss process very difficult.
In addition, energy drinks are very dangerous for children. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that doctors warn parents and teens the dangers of energy drinks.
Are energy drinks beneficial for exercise?
As caffeine is a diuretic, high doses will impair your exercise performance due to its dehydrating effects, so you should avoid energy drinks before, during and after exercise. A better option is sports drinks like Gatorade that are mainly water with some added sugar and electrolytes that will do a better job of replacing water and electrolytes lost through sweat.
The bottom line
Not all energy drinks have the same ingredients, so it is very important to read the nutrition label. While some might have a very high caffeine and sugar content and be dangerous for some people, others will have some herbal stimulants with less caffeine and sugar, making a greater potential for health benefits. Most are marketed as nutritional supplements, but for most energy drinks, sugar and caffeine are the main ingredients, and therefore any initial energy boost is quickly offset by a crash in energy levels.
While there has been research on the effects of energy drinks, as they are a relatively new product, their long term effects on organs like the liver, the effect they have on cardiovascular disease, and diabetes is unknown. As the potential harmful effects of excessive consumption of energy drinks far outweighs their benefits, it’s therefore best to limit your intake to only the occasional energy drink.