What’s All The Hype About Energy Drinks?

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By Kristin Carlino, RD

It’s not surprising that energy drink companies entice us with promises of a “big bad buzz” or “wings when you need them.” Who wouldn’t want more energy? It’s hard to resist the allure of a pick-me-up to help you stay alert and energized.

Since their introduction less than 20 years ago, the marketing of energy drinks has been tied up in the idea of excitement and rebellion. With names like “Monster,” “Rockstar,” and “Cocaine,” these drinks are marketed to appeal to those with a taste for danger.

But these “functional beverages,” which supposedly provide increased vigor and concentration, can also be risky. Energy drinks are cited as a possible cause of thousands of emergency room visits each year, and there are reports of a growing number of deaths among adults and young people who consumed energy drinks.

A widely-cited report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network, a public health surveillance project of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, found that energy-drink-related ER visits doubled between 2007 and 2011, from 10,068 to 20,783, with complaints including stomach pain, vomiting, anxiety, abnormal heart rates, and other side effects associated with energy drinks.

There’s nothing mysterious about why energy drinks perk people up or why they can have side effects; it’s the caffeine. The American Beverage Association, a trade group that represents energy drink manufacturers, voluntarily cautions against the use of caffeinated product by children, pregnant women, and people with caffeine sensitivity.

But caffeine is not the only dangerous ingredient to look out for – energy drinks are also packed with megadoses of sweeteners, vitamins and herbal stimulants which, in large concentrations, can have a toxic effect on our bodies.

Marketers have also re-positioned what was originally a frat party staple, “pinking up” these fizzy, sweet beverages and purporting to promote health, vitality, and weight loss, especially to women.

Energy drinks are also in the spotlight because of the easy access those 18 and younger have to the sheer volume of energy stimulating products. Most energy drinks are heavily sweetened and easy to drink, which appeals to a younger demographic. Incidents of minors experiencing dangerous side effects, and even death, from consuming too many energy drinks at one time are on the rise.

Premixed alcoholic energy drinks have been banned by the Food and Drug Administration but that doesn’t stop individuals from mixing their own. People who consume energy drinks and alcohol don’t realize how drunk they are, and are more at risk of dangerous behaviors than people who are just drinking alcohol alone.

The bottom line is – energy drinks do not enhance performance, either on the playing field, at work or at social gatherings. Getting caffeine gradually from coffee or tea is a more healthful way to go. Of course, eating properly and getting more sleep are the best solutions to feeling more energized.

Kristin Carlino is a registered dietician and part of the Institute for Weight Loss at Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge, NJ. The Institute provides individualized medical and surgical solutions and support for individuals seeking weight loss, who have been unable to lose weight through conventional dieting, exercise or weight loss medication. To attend a seminar or make an appointment, call 1.855.TIME.4.ME.


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  • MaureenABA

    This story recommends drinking coffee or tea over energy drinks, but it’s important to note that most mainstream energy drinks have about half the amount of caffeine as a similarly sized cup of coffeehouse coffee. What’s more, many of the ingredients found in energy drinks occur naturally and in other foods that we enjoy regularly. For instance, taurine is an amino acid found naturally in the human body, as well as in common food items such as seafood, scallops and poultry.

    Bottom line: energy drinks have been safely enjoyed for nearly three decades around the globe. They are FDA-regulated and caffeine is considered a safe ingredient.