Energy drinks have become increasingly popular in recent years as people rely on them for artificial energy for physical performance and even cognitive function. Manufacturers claim that these drinks improve physical endurance, reaction speed, and even concentration. But is this really true? The main ingredients of these energy drinks are caffeine, sugar, taurine, and glucuronolactone. Companies like Monster and Red Bull state that the stimulating effects of these drinks are due to the important reaction between the main ingredients. Consumption of energy drinks in the United States has more than doubled since 2008. It has been stated by the American Academy of Pediatrics that over one third of teens regularly consume energy drinks. US consumers now spend more than $12.5 billion a year on energy drinks, energy shots, and drink mixes. Unfortunately, as the production and consumption numbers have skyrocketed in the country, so has the number of health problems directly linked with energy drinks.
Energy drinks have been linked to cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, heart palpitations, cardiac arrest, and even death. There is also evidence that these drinks can cause cancer due to the large amounts of folic acid they contain. Energy drink related hospitalizations have seen a 10-fold increase since 2005, most of which are young people. In January 2013 the Drug Abuse Warning Network reported “a rising health problem due to excessive caffeine intake and that ER visits related to energy drinks doubled from 10,068 visits in 2007 to 20,738 visits in 2011”. The hospitalizations are generally due to heart problems related to a caffeine overdose. Other issues are dehydration and heat exhaustion. The Warning Network reported that more than 13,000 emergency room visits in 2009 were associated with energy drinks alone.
In recent years, the company that markets 5-Hour Energy has filed about 30 reports with the FDA of serious injuries associated with its products, including severe heart attacks. In 2007, a 28-year-old Australian man went into cardiac arrest after consuming eight cans of the energy drink, containing 80 mg of caffeine each, over a span of seven hours. The man did not have a history of heart problems but his body simply could not stand the excessive amounts of caffeine. Caffeine and other compounds in energy drinks can boost heart rate and blood pressure in just a matter of minutes, and when used in excess, can even prove fatal. Caffeine causes heart cells to release calcium, which may affect heartbeat, leading to an unhealthy and irregular heartbeat. The drinks may also disrupt the normal balance of salts in the body, which can also lead to similar symptoms.
The FDA has also received one report linking a miscarriage to consumption of 5 Hour Energy. A 2006 study of more than 1,000 pregnant women found that those who consumed more than 200 mg of caffeine per day were about twice as likely to have a miscarriage compared with pregnant women who did not drink caffeine. Due to the results of this study, the American College of Obstetricians strongly advise that pregnant women limit caffeine consumption to 200 mg per day at the absolute most.
Studies also suggest that combining alcohol and energy drinks can be dangerous.
Although caffeine is a stimulant, research suggests it does not “counteract” the sedating effects of alcohol. There is concern that mixing alcohol and energy drinks may keep people awake for a longer period of time, allowing them to consume more alcohol than they ordinarily would, causing permanent harm to their bodies. A 2011 study of about 1,100 college students found those who drank energy drinks frequently were about 2.5 times more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence than those who did not consume energy drinks. The link may be due to the practice of mixing alcohol and energy drinks, or drinking caffeine to recover from a hangover.