Walk into any convenience store, and you’ll see a wide variety of energy drinks to choose from. In recent years, news reports have brought attention to some of the consequences of their overuse. Some of these reports document emergency room visits related to mixing energy drinks and alcohol or teens having heart palpitations and dizziness. Some high schools around the nation have banned these products because so many students were “wired” on caffeine and many becoming ill. Are energy drinks as popular and as dangerous as the media portrays them to be? A factsheet from the University of California Cooperative Extension service explores the facts behind these popular products.
- The term energy drink refers to beverages that contain caffeine in combination with other ingredients such as taurine, guarana, and B vitamins purported to supply consumers with extra energy.
- Limited research suggests that energy drinks can improve physical and mental performance, improve driving ability when tired, and decrease mental fatigue after long periods of concentration. However, researchers do not know if these improvements are due to caffeine, herbal ingredients, or a combination of both.
- An 8 ounce serving of energy drink can contain anywhere from 80 to 150 mg of caffeine. The caffeine content is more than that of sodas (22-46 mg per 8 oz serving) but more comparable to tea (48 to 175 mg per 8 oz serving) and brewed coffee (134-240 mg per 8 oz serving). The problem is that most cans contain 2-3 servings, often raising the caffeine intake to over 300 mg per can! Assuming that an adolescent consumes 3 cans per day, caffeine intake can easily exceed over 900 mg (comparable to 9 cups of coffee!)
- Research has suggested that 400 mg or more of caffeine per day can result in nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, increased urination, abnormal heart rhythms, decreased bone levels, and upset stomach.
- Herbs such as guarana and ginseng can enhance the effects of caffeine. Guarana actually contains caffeine and adds to the total amount. Many of the herbs added to the energy drinks do not have the research based evidence to back up their functional claims.
- Mixing alcohol and energy drinks can be a dangerous combination. Individuals on this mix are more alert but just as intoxicated. In addition, caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics, increasing the likelihood of dehydration and cardiovascular problems.
- A study in the Journal of College Health suggests that energy drink consumption is associated with risk taking behavior such as unprotected sex, substance abuse and violence. Researchers point out that the findings don’t mean the drinks cause the behaviors, rather over consumption should be a red flag for parents that their children might be more likely to take risks.
- A study of 78 youth (11-18 years) found that 42.3% of participants consumed energy drinks.
- Although some beverages are sugar-free, in many the sugar content is comparable to soft drinks (30 g per 8 oz serving). However, since cans often contain 2-3 servings, sugar content could be as high as 90 g per can (equivalent to about 22.5 teaspoons of sugar)! Considering the high rates of obesity, this is another reason to moderate consumption.
Source: Nutrition and Health Info Sheet, produced by Karrie Heneman, and Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, Nutrition Science Specialist, Cooperative Extension, University of California- Davis at http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8265.pdf
Writer: Dan Remley, Assistant Professor, Field Specialist, Food, Nutrition, and Wellness
Reviewer: Susan Zies, Assistant Professor, Extension Educator