The Buzz About Energy Drinks



energy drinks
Photo credit: iStockPhoto

This morning my almost 21-month old surreptitiously crept over to the coffee table beside my husband’s unofficially assigned chair in the living room. With a quiet that can only mean trouble, he reached his tiny yet chubby fingers out towards one of the many drinking apparatuses inevitably left abandoned on the coffee table overnight. I figured he’d grab the half-empty glass of water. He loves drinking ice water from a glass, so long as the glass belongs to someone else. A moment too late, when I heard him sputtering and choking, I realized he’d zeroed in on the shiny oversized can that held that last few sips of super-charged energy drink. Seeing as we’d been up since 4:15 that morning, the toddler was most certainly not the one in need of caffeine. Myself on the other hand … pass it over (but in coffee form, please).

I don’t know if my husband could function without his energy drinks — he “needs” them for road trips, or when he travels, or when he’s tired in the afternoon, or before going out at night. He consistently earns himself an eye roll and “the look” when he offers me a sip in the car. “The Look” is where his dietitian-wife says with one stealthy glance, “How can you put that nasty, ridiculous load of straight-up chemicals and BS into your body?” You can see why “the look” is much more to the point than the actual reprimand. Regardless it still fails to stop his addiction to the ever popular and vague “energy drink.”

Despite my arguments, he’s convinced by the marketing hype and the wild claims on the cans. “But it’s full of vitamins!” he often protests. I often ask him if he recognizes any of the other ingredients on the label. I know the answer is no, but he usually finds a way to change the topic of conversation before he’s forced into answering. Most of the energy drinks contain some kind of “proprietary blend,” of which you can never be certain of the contents. (That’s the point it’s proprietary.) It’s typically stuff like guarana, ginseng, taurine, ginkgo biloba, and l-carnitine, among others. It’s suspected that either long-term use or using these ingredients in combination with each may be dangerous, although typically the doses found in energy drinks do not pose danger. Some of these ingredients, like ginseng, can interact with medications, something consumers may not be aware of. At best though, we know very little about them. Such ingredients do not seem to play a direct role in boosting your energy levels — that’s the caffeine.

The caffeine and sugar in energy drinks is a concern, as too much caffeine can have negative health effects like heart palpitations, trouble concentrating, insomnia, and headaches. The FDA notes that the amount of caffeine in a soda is capped at 71 mg per 12 oz, whereas there is no such regulation on energy drinks. Energy drinks can contain anywhere from 50 – 500 mg of caffeine. One of the biggest problems here is that many energy drinks don’t list the quantity of caffeine they contain — meaning the consumer has no way of knowing whether they’re drinking the equivalent of a cup of coffee or a venti double triple espresso. (Is it apparent I don’t know how to order espresso?)

So while energy drinks may not be as bad as I make them out to be to my husband, they very well could be to certain vulnerable populations — such as those taking certain medications, or those who are sensitive to caffeine, which includes pregnant women and children. Guess I better get those not-quite-empty cans out of reach of my curious toddler.