Are energy drinks highly harmful or merely misunderstood?
I enjoy drinking energy drinks. There, I said it.
I unfortunately have a very high caffeine tolerance, so sometimes a cup of joe in the mornings just isn't enough to wake this guy up. Granted, a good night's sleep could solve that problem perfectly fine. But when that falls out of my control, a can of Monster, Nos or Rockstar energy drink does the trick. The crash isn't desirable, but every good thing isn't without its detriments.
Plus some of them even taste good. Go ahead and call me crazy, but try the Monster Rehab red or orange drink and I think you'll concur with me.
During the past week, news about caffeine-related deaths and subpoenas issued as a result of these deaths have been emerging along the media horizon. Monster Beverage Corp is getting sued by the parents of a 14-year-old who died of cardiac arrest following her consumption of two 24 oz. Monster energy drinks. The FDA is conducting an investigation into the effects of high amounts of caffeine on children.
As if energy drinks didn't have a bad rap before, now the floodgates of criticism have completely opened.
It's been said that too much of most things is bad — food, working, gambling, etc. Energy drinks qualify for that axiom as well. But it may behoove people to understand exactly what's contained in a standard can of Monster Energy and why exactly it's not the healthiest choice of drink. Let's take a gander at a nutrition label, cropped from the back of a can of Monster Energy Cuba Lima (Photo taken from BevNet.com):
If we move from top to bottom, right off the bat you can see that these nutrition facts could be quite misleading to the unfocused eye. There's 16 oz of drink in that can, yet the serving size is half of that. So go ahead and double every numerical amount you see on the label. Makes a huge difference, doesn't it?
Now there's a lot of calories, sugars and carbs in that can, but there do exist sugarless versions of energy drinks acrosds various brands. Weight Watchers, you're in the clear. But matters seem to get a little more dubious as you draw your eyes down to the amount of B-vitamins in the drink. You're getting twice as much of riboflavin, niacin, B6 and B12 as the FDA recommends you take on a daily basis. And that dosage is just in that one can— you'll be getting many more B vitamins that day from the rest of the food and drink you consume.
While there are few daily consequences of such consumption (besides perhaps your face turning red from too much niacin), there are bound to be problems associated with chronic and frequent consumptions of these drinks and receiving too many B vitamins as a result. I imagine processing the overload of vitamins can wear one's liver or pancreas down if consumed frequently enough. Thankfully, taurine is a compound that regulates water and mineral content in blood, fighting against dehydration.
But whew. take a look at those energy levels! That energy blend contains a peppy combo of herbs and compounds that contain (mostly) natural caffeine and other stimulants in them. The FDA recommends you drink only 300mg of caffeine per day (about 2-5 cups of coffee). But there's a whopping 5000mg of an energy blend in there, and that's not counting the 400mg of ginseng too. That's a gargantuan amount of energy for the average American.
I like the warning about pregnant women and people sensitive to caffeine. Thank you kindly, Captain Obvious.
Now, for those who have high caffeine tolerances, we may need more than 300mg to feel the effects of caffeine work for us. But even still, chronic frequent consumption of that much caffeine could not only lead to physical health problems, it could give us mental problems as well. Jitters, anxiety and dizzyness are but a few.
So as you can see, Anais Fournier (the aforementioned 14-year old who died in part from drinking Monster) drank the equivalent of three of these cans before she died. That's A LOT of caffeine and B vitamins. At that point, it's comparable to using cocaine.
My heart goes out to her family. But there are probably thousands like Fournier who drink energy drinks that much too. There's a lot who do cocaine too, but unlike the powder, these drinks are approved by the FDA and are available for anyone to buy at their nearest convenience store. The FDA doesn't need to pull these drinks off the market; they just need to educate the general populace about the health effects behind consuming them. They need to make those instructions at the bottom much more prominent on the can.
So the verdict, I believe is this — these products aren't the healthiest things in the drink aisle, but if consumed responsibly and sparingly, they don't pose too high of a threat.
I don't plan on disavowing energy drinks completely. I will, however make a concerted effort to consume them in great moderation. I'd love to only drink them every so often. Even if you're not a health nut, if you love caffeine like me, there are ways to obtain it by not jeopardizing your health. Rely on coffee and black tea. Try some ginseng, guarana, ginkgo or B complex supplements, found at your local apothecary/healthfood store. Get better sleep and exercise several times per week. Maybe even lay off and get your caffeine tolerance back to standard.
And hey, if the mood strikes, tear into a can of energy drink. Just do yourself a favor and don't down three of them at once or drink one every day for a few months straight.