Potential Dangers of Energy Drinks
Written by Faith Anderson on February 4, 2013
Energy Drinks Ingredients and Potential Hazards
Because the amount of caffeine included in energy drinks is not currently regulated by the FDA, the amounts listed on the beverages are often inaccurate, if they are listed at all. In addition, studies don’t support all of the claims made by energy drink makers regarding the ability of their ingredients to maintain energy. In an effort to understand the potential risks posed by energy drinks, researchers involved in the latest study broke down the most common ingredients found in the beverages – caffeine, ginseng, guarana, sugars and B vitamins – and discussed why they may be problematic.
Caffeine is the primary ingredient in energy drinks, but these beverages are not regulated in the same way as sodas, and they often have higher levels of the stimulant than indicated on the label. Consider this: a 6.5-ounce cup of coffee contains 80 to 120 mg of caffeine, tea has about 50 mg, and a 12-ounce soda can’t have more than 65 mg of caffeine. Energy drinks, however, have considerably higher amounts, with the beverages containing anywhere from 154 mg in a 16-ounce Red Bull to 505 mg in a 24-ounce Wired X505. While there is no official maximum recommended limit of caffeine, excessive caffeine consumption has been linked to a number of adverse effects, including premature birth, high blood pressure and possibly even sudden death.
Although some claim that ginseng improves athletic performance, boosts mood and strengthens the immune system, the researchers say there is little proof of this, and there isn’t enough ginseng in energy drinks to offer any benefit anyway. Meanwhile, ginseng has actually been linked to an increased risk of headache, insomnia and hypertension. As the American Cancer Society notes, “Ginseng should be used cautiously, as it can cause undesirable side effects in high doses and may even be dangerous when taken with certain medications or if the patient is undergoing surgery.”
Guarana is a South American plant that contains a caffeine compound called guaranine. One gram of guarana is equal to 40 mg of caffeine, but the ingredient is typically not included in the total amount of caffeine listed on energy drinks. “In reality, when a drink is said to contain caffeine plus guarana, it contains caffeine plus more caffeine,” the study authors warned.
In popular energy drinks, sugar can come in the form of glucose, sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, and sugar content typically ranges from 21g to 34g per 8 ounces. “Users who consume two or three energy drinks could be taking in 120mg to 180mg of sugar, which is 4 to 6 times the maximum recommended daily intake,” the researchers wrote, noting that teens who drink a lot of energy drinks could be at risk for dental problems and obesity.
Although research suggests that B vitamins can improve mood and even fight cancer and heart disease, the amount contained in each energy drink isn’t enough to have any meaningful effect. There are also a number of other additives contained in energy drinks that the researchers said required further study. “I was surprised by the profound lack of science supporting the benefit of ingesting some of these ingredients such as carnitine, Yohimbe, and bitter orange,” said study author Dr. Kwabena Blankson. “Adolescent consumers have no idea what these ingredients do. They assume that because they can easily buy it off the shelf that it must be safe for them.” In truth, there is little to no scientific data concerning the benefits or risks of these additives, and there is little known about the potential hazards of long-term energy drink consumption.