Energy drinks more harmful than helpful

HANCOCK – Everyone needs a pick-me-up every now and then. But some beverages are healthier than others when it comes to getting energy. One popular way of getting instant energy is through so-called energy drinks. But the cons may outweigh the pros when it comes to using them.

Portage Health Registered Dietitian Kelsae Eliszewski said that most energy drinks are registered with the Food and Drug Administration as a dietary supplement, which means they’re not considered a beverage.

“Therefore, all these manufacturers don’t need to follow the federal regulations for the sugar and caffeine content,” Eliszewski said.

According to Eliszewski, the FDA limits the level of caffeine in 12 oz cans of soda to no more than 71 mg. of caffeine.

For most energy drinks, for every eight to ten ounces there’s about 75 milligrams of caffeine, but most energy drinks come in much larger cans, sometimes up to 24 ounces.

“An average Monster energy drink contains about 240 milligrams of caffeine,” Eliszewski said.

The average cup of coffee contains about 100 milligrams of caffeine.

Aside from caffeine and sugar, there are other ingredients that may be harmful. Taurine, ginseng, guarana and carnitine are just a few of the other ingredients found in energy drinks.

“A lot of them claim to improve endurance, increase metabolism, protect against cancer, increase physical performance, promote weight loss, lower risk of diabetes – those are what all those kind of claim to be, but there’s little to no scientific evidence that these ingredients actually promote the claims that they’re meant to be,” Eliszewski said.

However, there are two ingredients that are recognized as safe by the FDA. Those two are guarana and inositol.

“Those ones are the ones the FDA does approve to be in the drinks and aren’t negatively affecting it,” Eliszewski said.

While some may brush off the dangers of energy drinks, the fact remains that these drinks are not only sending its drinkers to the hospital, some are also dying from it.

According to an article from The New York Times, between the years of 2008 and 2012, there have been 13 deaths where energy drinks, such as 5-Hour Energy, were believed to have been responsible.

Eliszewski said that between 2007 and 2011 emergency room visits related to energy drinks have doubled.

“In 2007 there were about 10,000 cases and in 2011 there’s about 21,000 cases and that’s in the U.S.,” Eliszewski said. “To be honest, they’re linking it back to the high amounts of caffeine.”

Just like any other chemical, too much caffeine can be toxic and dangerous.

“Caffeine releases calcium in your heart cells and that regulates your heart beat,” Eliszewski said. “That can cause abnormal heart rates and cardiac arrests. In a lot of these cases, people are getting arrhythmia and going into cardiac arrest.”

Other effects of ingesting too much caffeine over a short period include restlessness, irritability, upset stomach, rapid heart beat, increased urination and insomnia.

One of Eliszewski’s concerns is that children are consuming energy drinks.

“Children should not be getting more than 100 mg of caffeine a day. That’s adolescence and young children shouldn’t be getting any. So that’s a concern. And they obviously can’t handle it as much as adults can.”

One method of consuming energy drinks is by mixing it with alcohol. Premixed drinks called Four Loko were popular with students, but in 2010 Michigan became the first state to ban the sale of them.

Eliszewski does not recommend mixing alcohol with energy drinks as it can make the drinker feel as if he or she is not intoxicated and may end up drinking more.

“Caffeine and alcohol both act as diuretics so that can increase dehydration and increase those adverse cardiovascular effects,” Eliszewski said. “It makes it seem as if you’re not as bad as you are because you’re so hyper, but your body is really going through some bad things.”

However, energy drinks don’t need to be thrown in the garbage straight away. They can be enjoyed as long as it’s done using one key action: moderation.

“It is something that can be consumed in moderation,” Eliszewski said. “I wouldn’t make it a daily thing, but if it’s something that is weekly and you’re only having 8 to 12 ounces versus a whole can, you’d definitely be safer doing that.”

But Eliszewski is still concerned over the lack of research and evidence to say that it’s completely safe.

“It’s definitely something I would still be cautious of,” she said.

While caffeine can promote alertness, Eliszewski is doubtful about any positive benefits that can be obtained through energy drinks.

“I won’t really recommend them,” she said. “There’s other ways to get some energy, like eating a healthy diet. …It’s amazing how much energy you can get from that.”

Like most healthy eating suggestions, fruits and vegetables are one way to get energy without having to guzzle down hundreds of milligrams of caffeine.

Eliszewski also suggests limiting processed and canned foods, as well as foods that are frozen. Getting more exercise is also another option.