Dangers of Energy Drinks and Healthier Natural Alternatives

Contents of a can of energy drink erupting from the can.

The verdict is out: energy drinks are dangerous for your health. The risk you are putting yourself in for those extra hours of wakefulness or that extra buzz is simply not worth the health risks. Especially when there are much healthier, natural alternatives.

Are Energy Drinks Dangerous?

Energy drinks are highly caffeinated sugar drinks. The most frequently found ingredients are vitamins B12, B6 and B3, taurine, guarana, and ginseng. The highest dangers of energy drinks come from the high caffeine and sugar contents.

The effects of energy drinks on the body are mainly derived from higher caffeine content. An energy drink contains between 70-200mg of this ingredient. An 8oz cup of drip coffee contains 110-150mg, a can of Coke 34mg. This alkaloid is a stimulant. It accelerates synaptic transmission (it makes neurons work faster) and gives a short period of euphoria. It also stimulates muscle contraction by prompting a surge of adrenaline production.

Adrenaline is the hormone responsible for the “fight or flight” reaction, for the way that the body reacts to danger. Because energy drinks contain too much caffeine, these responses are also exaggerated.

The word "caffeine" made up of coffee beans.

Insomnia and Energy Drinks

A lot of people use energy drinks to stay awake, so it is no surprise that insomnia is the first visible side effect. Sure, it is wonderful when the energy drink keeps you up before a test but what happens afterwards? Your neurons are not allowed to relax and sleep is impossible. This will create a “zombie” state because neurons need sleep to regenerate.

Less sleep means more of your brain dying. It also means a crankier version of you. Anxiety and nervousness are a consequence of sleep deprivation, but also of that initial euphoria. Too much excitement in the brain will create an “overboard” reaction towards the negative.

The Effects of Energy Drinks on Your Heart and Brain

Another danger of energy drinks, proven by several studies, is the strain on the heart muscle. Especially in people with preexistent heart conditions or who overdose on energy drinks, there is a high risk of death by cardiac arrest

Last but not least, caffeine is a drug. It keeps neurons firing for longer and makes you feel happy by releasing dopamine. It comes as no surprise that lack of caffeine in people who have a high intake of the substance will trigger withdrawal symptoms. The most common are headache, irritability, lethargy, constipation, depression, and flu-like symptoms.

A pile of sugar cubes.

Sugar in Energy Drinks

The second substance that generates dangers of energy drinks is sugar. An 8.3oz energy drink can contain as much as 7 sugar cubes. Sugar is also a stimulant. The brain is hyper and happy when it is infused with sugar. Unfortunately, a high intake of this sweet ingredient promotes diabetes, obesity and is also addictive.

Guarana is a plant of the maple family native to the Amazon basin. It is rich in caffeine, which makes most of South America to use it as a primary source for it. Energy drinks with added guarana basically have an extra infusion of caffeine.

Taurine is an amino acid, a building block for proteins. Taurine is essential for the functioning of muscles and the brain. Studies have found it beneficial for maintaining blood pressure and for preventing cirrhosis (liver decay).

A study published in 2008 showed that the amount of taurine found in energy drinks is not enough to provide adverse effects but neither positive ones. And if you think taking more energy drinks to supplement taurine levels is a good idea, think again.

The caffeine and sugar overdoses will take their toll way before the extra taurine has a chance to induce any positive effect. As a healthy alternative to energy drinks with added taurine, especially if you wish to grow your muscle mass, you can try a taurine supplement.

Bright yellow vitamin pills.

Vitamins in Energy Drinks

The vitamins present in energy drinks have no immediate effects in respect to wakefulness or awareness.
In theory, the vitamins present in energy drinks are helpful. They usually belong to the B complex, which encompasses a number of vitamins numbered from 1 to 12. The most frequent found in energy drinks are vitamin B3, B6, and B12.

Vitamin B3, also called niacin, is essential for metabolizing fat, glucose, and alcohol. Vitamin B3 deficiency, called pellagra, manifests itself through aggression, skin rash, insomnia, mental confusion and diarrhea.

Vitamin B6, pyridoxine, is involved in the metabolism of our genetic material, proteins, and glucose. It is used for synthesizing hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through the blood. The Deficiency will promote a lack of energy and oxygen to every cell. It also can lead to depression and hypertension.

Vitamin B12 or cobalamin, is essential for creating new genetic material (DNA). The tissues most sensitive to its absence are the brain and the blood. Anemia and memory loss are the most common symptoms of deficiency.

Normally, we obtain these vitamins through diet. Processed food, a lack of vegetables or turkey or liver in the diet can create a deficiency of the vitamins composing the B complex. But energy drinks are not the answer.

Energy drinks have high levels of the B complex vitamins which can be harmful if taken over long periods of time. The dangers of energy drinks are that they can promote vitamin toxicity. It can manifest in any number of ways, for example, flushing of the skin and vomiting (from an overdose of niacin), pain and numbness in the extremities (from B6 overdose) or allergies to any of the high concentrations of vitamins.

A cup of ginseng tea next to a ginseng root.

Alternatives to Energy Drinks

A healthy alternatives to energy drinks is obtaining these vitamins through a correct diet. If such a diet is difficult to achieve, you can use a vitamin B complex supplement. The advantage of a supplement is that you know exactly what levels of vitamins the capsules contain and you can easily avert an overdose.

Last but not least, another frequent ingredient in energy drinks is ginseng. Ginseng is a plant that favors cooler climates and is traditionally used as an infusion of the dried root. Ginseng has does not keep you awake. On the other hand, it has been proven that a regular intake of ginseng will boost brainpowe. The optimum dosage in order to obtain this effect is over 200mg and energy drinks do not contain that much ginseng. A much healthier option to energy drinks is taking either ginseng tea or a ginseng supplement.

But what about the main reason why we take energy drinks? The wakefulness, the buzz, the ability to stay long hours and work? The first and best answer is the good old cup of Joe. There are so many types of coffee out there, from areas of the world; with every type of flavor you can imagine. If you don’t have time to brew it, you can even use instant coffee. If you don’t like the taste of coffee or if you’re on the run, there is the alternative of coffee extracts. Coffee isn’t exactly a healthy drink and there are many alternatives to it, but it’s already much better than energy drinks.

As you can see, there are many healthy ways to avert the dangers of energy drinks. So the next time you want to pick a can which is a caffeine and sugar bomb mixed with weird levels of anything beneficial, think again and chose a healthier alternative! The test you can fail, your health you cannot!

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