Are Energy Drinks Really Bad For You?

energy_drinkChances are if you're a young person who regularly consumes energy drinks you have heard your share of criticism; whether from adults, doctors or your peers. But not every energy drink has the same ingredients. Some rely on natural or botanical extracts such as ginseng or acai berry while others include high quantities of caffeine and chemicals.

The most alarming statistic about energy drinks is how many teenagers and college students consume them on a daily basis. It is the long-term effects of energy drinks that have alarmed many members of the medical community. Some of the health problems include impaired cognition and an increased occurrence of drug abuse. When combined with alcohol, energy drinks can be particularly harmful.

One story recently published in the New York Times noted that the FDA has received 13 reports of deaths related to consumption of the Five-Hour Energy drink. But not all of these claims make sense, considering that one of these drinks contains 215 milligrams of caffeine, or the equivalent of two cups of coffee.

Based on an article published by Mother Nature Network, "5 health problems linked to energy drinks," here is a rundown of the five most worrisome health problems that are currently linked to stimulating beverages.

Heart problems – According to the New York Times story, the company that makes 5-Hour Energy drinks has filed about thirty reports with the Food and Drug Administration about serious injuries associated with its products, including heart attacks. A 28-year-old Australian man with no history of heart problems suffered cardiac arrest in 2007 after consuming 8 cans of the drink over a seven hour period.

Dr. John Higgins, a medical professor at the University of Texas Medical School says there's little doubt that caffeine and other ingredients in energy drinks can boost blood pressure and heart rates. Caffeine causes the heart to release calcium and disrupts the balance of salts in the body. This can affect the heartbeat and could lead to arrhythmia. Most doctors recommend bottled purified water or spring water over energy drinks for active people.

The risk of miscarriage – Some recent studies have shown that pregnant women who consumed more than 200 mg of caffeine per day were about twice as likely to miscarry as women who didn't drink caffeine. However, another study found no link between caffeine consumption and miscarriage after the fetus reached 20 weeks gestation. Since the results of these studies has been inconclusive, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises pregnant women to limit caffeine consumption to 200 mg per day.

An increased risk of alcohol injury and dependence: While caffeine is a stimulant, studies suggest the combination of alcohol and energy drinks can be dangerous. The stimulant properties of caffeine don't counteract the sedative effects of alcohol. As a result, the mixture of alcohol and energy drinks may keep people awake longer, thereby allowing them to drink more alcohol than they normally would.

In 2011, a study was done of 1,100 college students who found that those who frequently consumed energy drinks were more than twice as likely to be dependent on alcohol as those who didn't consume energy drinks.

Risk of drug abuse: In another study of college students who consumed energy drinks in their second year of college, the subsequent college years were associated with an increase in prescription drug use, particularly prescription painkillers and stimulants.

One explanation from the Journal of Addiction Medicine is that both the drinks and prescription drugs may be regarded as "safer," as or more socially acceptable than illicit or "street" drugs.

Impaired cognition: While much of the recent research points to impaired cognition among students who routinely rely on energy drinks to pull all-nighters, another small study in 2010 found that drinking moderate amounts of caffeine, about 40 mg, improved performance on reaction time.

One of the reasons energy drinks became so popular is people are trying to accomplish more in a day than is humanly possible. Not surprisingly, distractions from social media and smartphones make it even more difficult for students to remain focused for long periods of time. A healthier way to stay energized throughout the day is to get regular exercise and drink plenty of water.

Photo courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.com

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