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Health Effects of Energy Drinks, The Good and The Bad

Health Effects of Energy Drinks, The Good and The Bad

A lot of people like drinking energy drinks. They are most popular among adolescents. An energy drink is a beverage that usually has large amounts of caffeine, other additives, added sugars, and legal stimulants like guarana, taurine, and L-carnitine. These legal stimulants can build up our alertness, energy, and attention, as well as increase blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. These drinks are mostly consumed by students to get an extra boost of energy. However, the stimulants that are found in these drinks may harm our nervous system.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended for adolescents not consume energy drinks at all, and yet between 30% and 50% reported consuming energy drinks. The National Federation of State High School Associations has also recommended that young athletes do not use energy drinks for hydration, and information about the possible risks should be widely passed on to young athletes.

How do energy drinks affect adolescents?

Physical effects of high energy drink intakes

Physical effects caused by the overconsumption of energy drinks are often connected to caffeine. Rising caffeine use in adolescents and children can cause increased blood pressure, sleep disturbances, headaches, and stomach aches. Self-reported injuries caused by hyperactivity have also been reported.

Adolescence is additionally the time of maximized bone deposition (the process of forming new bones) and caffeine in energy drinks interferes with the absorption of calcium within the small intestine and so it can lead to minimized calcium deposition in the bones. This could also be a consequence of energy drinks being consumed in place of calcium-containing drinks like milk.

There have also been reported differences in ECG traces for adults after they consumed an energy drink. [Electrocardiography (ECG) is a test that records the heart’s electrical activity.] While caffeine was found to have no damaging effects on cardiac output, one study from the American Heart Association has found that consuming energy drinks proved a remarkable prolongation of the QTc interval in adults. The Qtc interval represents the amount of time it takes for the ventricles of the heart to contract and relax. The elongation of the QTc interval could potentially be a sign of enlarged risk for fatal arrhythmias, and for people who might have underlying cardiac problems, this can be harmful.

Mental effects of high energy drink intakes

In addition to physical effects, mental health effects caused by the consumption of energy drinks can also be sensation-seeking behavior, self-destructive behavior, insomnia, problems with behavioral regulation, and poor lifestyle behaviors, like poor diet and utilization of fast food. The consumption of energy drinks in teenagers may also be affecting future food and drink choices in adolescents because of the alterations within the developing reward and addiction center of the brain and the addiction because of the high caffeine content.

The use of energy drinks in young people is also connected with the consumption of alcohol because of their use as mixers for spirits. One study found that young people who used energy drinks as a ‘pick me up’ made parties more ‘fun’ for themselves and the people around them. The EFSA found that in adolescents, 53% of energy drinks are mixed with alcohol during consumption. Those who have had energy drinks mixed with alcohol were more likely to show binge drinking behaviors, illegal drug use, and drinking while driving.

Energy drinks are potentially playing a role in the obesity crisis as well and as a tool to aid keep weight low in adolescents with eating disorders. Sugar-sweetened drink consumption is connected with diabetes, dental decay, and increased BMI in adolescents and children. In addition, a connection between energy drink use and sedentary behavior like watching television or using a computer has been noted. Contrarily, for the eating disorder population, low sugar versions of energy drinks could form a way of uplifting energy through caffeine and stimulants plus encourage loose stools and subdue appetite. Younger people with eating disorders are at a greater risk of cardiac arrhythmias because of their low weight, so the utilization of these products might be especially concerning.

Could energy drinks have positive effects?

Boost Energy

A lot of energy drinks have large amounts of caffeine, which can provide you with a temporary energy boost. Certain energy drinks have sugar and other substances. The boost is short-lived but it works. In a short amount of time, a person gets a charge of vitality and energy. Vitamins in drinks like that can enhance vital processes within the human body, so glucose can enter the bloodstream faster and give energy to muscles and the brain.

Improve Brain Function

People take energy drinks for lots of different reasons. One of the most popular is to enhance mental alertness by improving brain function. A lot of studies have suggested that energy drinks can decrease mental fatigue and improve measures of brain function, like memory, reaction, and concentration time.

But can research truly prove that energy drinks can provide us with this benefit? Many studies certify that energy drinks can indeed refine measures of brain function such as memory, concentration, and reaction time, whilst also decreasing mental fatigue. One study, in particular, revealed that having just one 8.4-ounce (500-ml) can of Red Bull enhanced both concentration and memory by about 24%.

Lots of researchers consider truthful that this increase in brain function can only be attributed to caffeine, whilst others have speculated that the combining of caffeine and sugar in energy drinks is required to see the most benefit. 

Help in Tackling Fatigue

Another reason why people consume energy drinks is to help them function when they are sleep deprived or tired. 

Drivers on long, late-night road trips often buy themselves energy drinks to help them stay alert and awake whilst they are behind the wheel. A lot of studies using driving simulations have concluded that energy drinks can enlarge driving quality and decrease sleepiness, even in drivers who are already sleep deprived.

In like manner, many night shift workers utilize energy drinks to help them fulfill their job requirements in hours when most of the population is sound asleep. Even though energy drinks could also help these workers stay awake and alert, at least one study has implied that energy drink usage could negatively affect sleep quality after their shift. Energy drinks may help people function while they are exhausted, but people may see decreases in sleep quality after energy drink use and especially after they have been consuming it for long periods.

It is viable to select a drink with a high concentration of caffeine or containing a large number of vitamins and carbohydrates. The former aids in dealing with drowsiness, and the latter enlarges the level of endurance during physical exercise.

Alternatives to Energy Drinks

It is safe to have caffeine in moderate amounts, but if a cup of joe a day does not give you a big enough boost, it is safer for you to try some of these replacements:

  • Drink water: Remaining hydrated aids in keeping your body running, according to this study. It is advisable that you drink a glass of water once you wake up, accompanied by meals, and before, during, and after workouts.

  • Eat protein and carbohydrates: In accordance with the American Heart Association, they are great fuel for a workout. Carbohydrates supply your muscles with energy, whilst protein helps to build them. If you wish to give this a go, some foods to try are chocolate milk, fruit, a boiled egg, or peanut butter and banana smoothie.
  • Take vitamins: Naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, are used to aid your body in the production of energy. A vitamin or mineral deficiency could result in fatigue. If you feel like you need an energy boost at all times, you should have a conversation with your doctor about getting a nutritional assessment or mixing a vitamin supplement into your diet. You could also add more vitamin and mineral-rich foods to your diet, like fresh fruits, vegetables, yogurt, and nuts.
  • Be active: When we are exercising, our serotonin and endorphin levels are enlarged shortly after. This helps us feel better. Also, people who exercise on a daily or weekly basis often have more energy than those who do not.

Here are some healthier alternatives that are either free of or lower in caffeine, sugar, and artificial sweeteners:

  • coffee, ideally decaf
  • water, infused with your favorite fruits
  • sparkling water, ideally unsweetened
  • green tea, including bottled sparkling versions
  • herbal or fruit teas
  • kombucha, or fermented tea

Worst Case Scenario

  • Enormous amounts of caffeine can cause dangerous heart and blood vessel problems like heart rhythm disturbances and rises in heart rate and blood pressure. Caffeine can also harm children’s still developing nervous and cardiovascular systems.
  • Caffeine usage may also be associated with anxiety, sleep difficulties, digestive issues, and dehydration.
  • Guarana, usually included in energy drinks, is filled with caffeine. So, the addition of guarana enlarges the drink’s complete caffeine content.
  • Individuals who mix caffeinated drinks with alcohol could not be able to tell how intoxicated they are; they could feel less intoxicated than they would have if they had not drunk caffeine, but their motor coordination and reaction time might be just as impaired.
  • Too much energy drink consumption may disrupt teens’ and adults’ sleep patterns and could be associated with enlarged risk-taking behavior.
  • A single 16-oz. container of an energy drink could have fifty-four to sixty-two grams of added sugar; this amount exceeds the maximum amount of added sugars recommended by doctors for an entire day.

What is energy drink addiction?

An addiction is a psychological condition that represents a constant desire to use a substance or engage in a behavior, despite its unfavorable consequences.

Even though they might not seem as harmful as drug addictions, food addictions, like energy drink addiction, share lots of behavioral similarities. The thing that can make energy drinks addictive to some people is they are made of many potentially habit-forming substances, such as caffeine, as well as sugar, or artificial sweeteners. There is no official definition for an energy drink addiction. However, in this article, it is going to be defined as drinking needless amounts of energy drinks without being able to control the intake.

Signs of an addiction

An addiction to energy drinks can be uncovered through addictive symptoms that are concerning the brain and nervous system function, such as the following:

  • strong cravings
  • a mental image of drinking energy drinks
  • the inability to control your energy drink intake

Another sign is going through withdrawal symptoms when staying away from energy drinks, such as headaches, fatigue, irritability, and a depressed mood.

How to quit energy drinks?

While it might feel hard to quit energy drinks, there are many efficient ways to do so.

The two key ways to break an addiction are:

  1. Quitting cold turkey. This means quitting energy drinks all at once, but it might end in withdrawal symptoms. With that being said, it could help your body to recover from an energy drink addiction faster than narrowing your intake.
  2. Tapering your intake. This means decreasing your energy drink intake slowly and methodically until you can quit. Even though this route takes longer, it usually can help you avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, so it is best to choose the one that best suits your current lifestyle and personality.

What is even more interesting is, that there’s a huge mental component to quitting energy drinks. If you are struggling to quit, it can be worthwhile to look for professional help.

How to manage withdrawal symptoms?

Withdrawal symptoms will always be the key reason why it is so hard to stop using addictive substances.

They usually manifest when you are unable to obtain the substance, like energy drinks, and they are more likely to happen when you quit cold turkey.

Withdrawal symptoms that you could experience with an energy drink addiction are headaches, irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and a depressed mood.

More often than not, these withdrawal symptoms have a connection to quitting caffeine, and they can last from 2–9 days.

In case you are struggling to deal with these withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit, you should look for support from your healthcare professional.

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