Energy Drinks-What You Should Know

A reader in one of the leading newspaper here in our country asked an interesting ¬†question about energy drinks. It caught my attention since my husband likes drinking energy drink. ¬†Here’s the article from mb.com.ph

Q: What do energy drinks, which are very popular nowadays, contain? Do they really provide the body additional energy? Are they safe?

–Lina C., Quezon City

A: “Energy drinks” is a new category of beverages which came into being with the introduction of red bull energy drink into the market in the late 1980s. After red bull, many other “energy drinks” were developed, and at present, a wide array of these products is available in supermarkets and similar establishments. Energy drinks are preparations that are ostensively designed to increase stamina and improve physical performance not only by providing a lot of easily available calories in the form of sugar, but more importantly, by stimulating some vital organs of the body, notably the heart and the brain.

Energy drinks contain an assortment of substances in differing quantities, but most have sugar and stimulants (principally caffeine) in common. The other ingredients of these beverages include vitamins-mainly B vitamins (probably just to make the drink appear healthy because the amounts are usually much lower than the daily recommended doses), and herbal supplements such as guarana (which contains caffeine) and ginseng, which is also a central nervous system stimulant at low doses. Some energy drinks also contain protein-building amino acids such as taurine, which are probably there to replace naturally-occurring amino acids that the body loses in small amounts during times of stress and high physical activity.

Ads claim that energy drinks can increase physical endurance, improve reaction time, boost mental alertness and concentration, increase overall well-being, stimulate metabolism, and help eliminate waste from the body. But are these assertions true?

Studies show that intake of an energy drink improves mental and cognitive performances as well as increases subjective alertness. Not surprising, because the average energy drink contains between 50-80 mg of caffeine, an amount equal to what one gets from a cup of coffee; and, we know caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that speeds delivery of messages to and from the brain so that the person feels more aware and active. There is also no doubt that these preparations are handy sources of calories, after all they are loaded with sugar.

Energy drinks however, have their downside. Excess consumption can cause agitation, headache, palpitation, anxiety, irritability, insomnia and indigestion. These adverse effects, which are attributable primarily to coffee, are very common in energy drinks because of at least a couple of reasons. Firstly, unlike hot coffee that is sipped slowly, an energy drink is consumed rather quickly. Secondly, many ingredients in energy drinks are believed to work synergistically with caffeine, which greatly enhances not only the desired but also the adverse effects of the latter.

All told, an energy drink a day may be ok, but several would be unwise. So, go easy on them.

Incidentally, energy drinks should not be consumed while exercising or indulging in a sporting activity because caffeine is a diuretic (i.e., it causes one to urinate very often) which promotes dehydration. Energy drinks are different from, and should not be confused with, sports drinks as exemplified by gatorade that are formulated to keep people hydrated during intense physical activity.

Likewise, energy drinks should not be used as mixers for alcoholic beverages. Studies have shown that alcohol plus energy drink significantly reduces subjective alcohol-related symptoms such as headache, weakness, dry mouth, and impairment of motor coordination, which means, when alcohol and an energy drink are combined, one may inadvertently consume very large amounts of alcohol.

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