Energy Drinks – Are they really good for you?

How energetic do we really need to be?

The popularity of energy drinks has introduced a whole world of problems for those of us in Occupational Health and Safety.  When we have a client come to us for physicals, PFT’s and fit tests and they have an elevated blood pressure or irregular heart rate our first question no longer is, “Do you have a history of heart disease?”  Our first question now is, “Have you had an energy drink today?”

In general energy drinks are considered safe for most people.  When used in moderation they do what they advertise.  They give a boost in stamina and energy.  A good night sleep will do the same thing and you don’t need to drink it out of a can and ingest things that can potentially harm some people.

As it turns out most of the “energy” from these drinks come s from two main ingredients: Sugar and caffeine.  A typical energy drink contains up to 80 milligrams of caffeine (About the same as a cup of coffee).  The amount of sugar varies from brand to brand but in general there is more sugar than a 12 oz can of soda.

Other than caffeine levels, how do these energy drinks differ from sodas or sports drinks?  Soft drinks are mainly water, sugar and flavoring.  They don’t do anything for you; their main function is to taste good.  Sports drinks are designed to replenish fluids lost during activity.  They contain water, sugar, and electrolytes. Energy drink manufacturers have gone a step further and added additional items to help “boost” stamina and energy.

Here are some of the ingredients you may find in popular energy drinks and what they do in the body:

  • Caffeine-Both a stimulant and a diuretic. As a diuretic caffeine stimulates your kidneys to remove extra fluid from your body.  If you consume energy drinks while sweating these effects can be extremely dangerous because you can become severely dehydrated quickly.  Energy drinks should be avoided in situations such as work or strenuous activities where dehydration could be an issue.
  • Ephedrine-A stimulant that works on the central nervous system.  It is common in weight-loss products and decongestants.  There are many concerns about its effect on the heart.
  • Taurine-A natural amino acid produced by the body that helps regulate heart beat and muscle contractions.  It is now produced synthetically. Studies have now linked it to a variety of illnesses from high blood pressure to strokes and other types of heart disease.
  • Ginseng-A root believed by some to have many medicinal qualities including reducing stress and boosting energy levels.
  • B-Vitamins-A group of vitamins that can convert sugar to energy and improve muscle tone.  Eating a well balanced diet can do the same thing safely.
  • Guarana Seed-A central nervous system stimulant that comes from a small shrub native to Venezuela and Brazil.
  • Carnitine-An amino acid that plays a role in fatty acid metabolism.
  • Creatine-An organic acid that helps supply energy for muscle contractions.  Some experts feel that this creates a feeling of alertness in people.  In reality it makes most people feel tense and unable to stay still.
  • Inositol-A member of the vitamin-B complex (not a vitamin itself, because the body can synthesize it) that helps relay messages within cells in the body.
  • Ginkgo biloba-Made from the seeds of the ginkgo biloba tree, thought to enhance memory.

Energy drinks come in variety of formulas.  An occasional energy drink may be safe for most people.  Most of them contain the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee and the same amount of sugar as a soda.  But some contain very high levels of caffeine, sugar and other herbal stimulants that can have a variety of serious effects.  They may cause markedly faster heart rates, elevated blood pressure, irritability, nervousness, insomnia and increased blood sugar levels. 

By itself large amounts of caffeine can increase your blood pressure and impair blood flow to the heart.  It can also trigger abnormal heart rhythms, which in some people can be life threatening.  It is very important to educate yourself about what goes into your body and how it can affect you.  It is important to read the labels on these drinks.  If you any conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes avoid them.  At the very least check with your physician to make sure they are safe for you.

The problems caused by energy drinks becomes very real when we cannot  complete pre-employment testing on  one of our clients because their blood pressure or heart rate are so elevated that it would not be safe to do a pulmonary function test.  There are times that we have to turn a client away to return the next day due to the effect of these drinks.  This can cause costly delays for employers who may be waiting for that individual to complete testing prior to starting a job.

Lou Ann Enis, Registered Nurse and Occupational Health Supervisor


2 Responses to “Energy Drinks – Are they really good for you?”

  1. 1 Energy Shot August 23, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Quite an informative post, i was looking to include a new energy drink to my diet, thanks for the info

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