Energy Drinks – Real Energy Or Bad For Your Health?

There sure are a lot of energy drinks out there now days. I went to the store recently and counted 17 different energy drinks. And this is probably only of fraction of the total number of energy drinks on the market today.

And just the sound of the names of these energy drinks is enough to wake up the most lethargic person: Venom, Amp, Red Bull, Full Throttle, Rush, Shark, Piranha, Fuse, Hype, Back Mamba, and Atomic X, just to name a few.

There also seems to be a lot of controversy these days about the health effects of energy drinks.

So, out of curiosity I recently did a little research on the ingredients contained in these energy drinks and their health effects.

Energy Drink Ingredients

The ingredients contained in the different brands of energy drinks are many. The ingredients common to most energy drinks are taurine, glucuronolactone, inositol, B vitamins, caffeine, sugar, carbonated water, natural flavors, and natural ingredients.

Taurine is a derivative of the sulfer-containing amino acid cysteine. Taurine is often found in infant milk formulas. Taurine helps carry minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium throughout the cells. This helps generate nerve impulses. It is also an antioxidant and is believed to steady irregular heartbeats.

Glucuronolactone is a naturally occurring carbohydrate produced by the human metabolic system. It is believed to improve memory and concentration. It can have stimulant and anti-depressant effects.

Inositol is instrumental in how the brain uses serotonin, a chemical that is the same that is boosted by the anti-depressant drugs prozac and zoloft.

B vitamins are necessary for a variety of things. Vitamin B-3 (niacin) metabolizes energy from fat and carbohydrates and can help the body use energy by releasing it from food. Vitamin B-5 (pantothenic acid) improves mood and boosts energy. Vitamin B-6 helps in the formation of red blood cells, which provides better oxygen utilization. Vitamin B-12 also helps in the formation of red blood cells and helps break down sugar stored in the body to use as energy.

Natural ingredients found in energy drinks include ginseng extract, L-carnitine, guarana extract, milk thistle extract, green tea extract, ginkgo biloba leaf extract, L-trosine, fruit juices, and citric acid. The amount of these natural ingredients varies among energy drinks, and is usually a proprietary blend.

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One could do a Ph.D. dissertation on the ingredients contained in energy drinks. Because of time limitations, this article focuses on the ingredients that receive the most attention regarding health effects: caffeine and sugar.


Caffeine is a stimulate. The chemical name for caffeine is 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. Caffeine is found in many products (coffee, soda, chocolate, etc.) including energy drinks.

Caffeine does not provide true energy. It injects adrenaline into your system, which gives you a temporary boost but leads to a feeling of fatigue after it wears off.

Caffeine increases the body’s level of cortisol, a hormone released into the body during times of stress. Cortisol is good when needed, but can have damaging effects if high stress is continually present. Some of these damaging effects include a suppressed immune system, impaired cognitive performance, high blood pressure, and a decrease in bone density and muscle tissue. Increased levels of cortisol lead to stronger cravings for fat and carbohydrates.

Caffeine also increases the body’s level of dopamine, which acts similar to an amphetamine. As with adrenaline, it makes you feel good after it gets into your system. But, as with adrenaline, after dopamine wears off, feelings of having low energy and even mild depression take over.

As is well known, caffeine inhibits the adsorption of adenosine, which is necessary for sleep.

Caffeine does have some benefits. A small amount at the beginning of the day can give you good concentration and focus. A small amount before exercise can actually enhance physical performance and endurance. It can help the body break down fat approximately 30% more efficiently if taken before exercise.

The typical energy drink contains approximately 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8.4 ounces. The average cup of black coffee also contains 80 milligrams of caffeine.


Sugar that is present in fruit is fructose; refined sugar (table sugar) is sucrose.

When sucrose is taken into the body, it is broken down into equal amounts of fructose and glucose.

Glucose is the sugar that the body uses for both physical and mental energy. Insulin from the pancreas enables the body to burn glucose to produce energy.

If there is too much glucose in the bloodstream for the body to use as energy, it is converted to glycogen and placed in temporary storage. If the temporary storage capacity is exceeded, the remaining glucose will be converted to long term storage (fat).

Fructose is broken down by the body SLOWLY into glycogen, which is placed into storage in the liver and muscles. When glucose levels get low in the bloodstream, the liver can readily convert the stored glycogen into glucose. Insulin is then needed to burn the glucose. The demand for insulin when it is needed to burn glucose is reasonable.

Conversely, a big dose of sucrose provided by candy, soda pop, or cake, puts a big strain on the pancreas, especially on an empty stomach. The pancreas has to provide a lot of insulin FAST to stabilize the blood sugar level brought on by the candy or cake.

If the pancreas doesn’t provide enough insulin to handle a large influx of sucrose, a diabetic condition exists. If the pancreas provides too much insulin, a hypoglycemic conditions exists. Blood sugar levels either too high or too low can cause serious problems.

Fructose obtained by fruit is beneficial for diabetics because it does not place a huge demand on the pancreas for insulin in a small amount of time. The pancreas can handle the insulin requirements imposed by fructose being converted SLOWLY into glycogen then glucose.

However, fructose does have a down side to it.

Excess fructose that cannot be used by the body is easily converted into fat. Many experts believe that fructose is the main cause of Americans getting fatter. Fructose in concentrated forms (e.g. high fructose corn syrup) is especially bad. Excess fructose can also raise the level of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).

How About These Energy Drinks?

Energy drinks have indeed created quite a stir, especially regarding health effects. Even a few countries (Denmark, Malaysia, and France) have banned the sale of Red Bull because of high caffeine levels. I wonder what the caffeine content is in the coffee sold in those countries.

As far as producing energy, energy drinks do provide at least some energy because they all have sugar and other energy producing ingredients. The “kick ” for which these drinks are famous comes not from the energy, but from the big doses of caffeine provided by consuming not one, but multiple energy drinks in a short period of time. You would get the same kick drinking 4 or 5 cups of coffee.

Too much caffeine and too much sugar consumed day after day over a long period of time will increase the likelihood of some bad health effects. Common sense.

Too much caffeine will increase the likelihood of addiction, which will cause the stress hormone cortisol to be always present in your body. Too much cortisol leads to increased chances for a suppressed immune system, high blood pressure, and less bone mass.

Too much refined sugar day after day and year after year will put a big strain on your pancreas, which could increases your chances of getting diabetes. Your chances of getting fat are also much greater. The fatter you get, the more of a strain that puts on your heart.

I do not think energy drinks are harmful unless you just plain drink too many of them. I would recommend using them sparingly.

I like energy drinks. I am also concerned about good health. It seems the older I get, the more I care about good health.

Therefore, I am a little more selective these days when it comes to energy drinks. I now look for energy drinks that have little or no refined sugar. I look for one that tastes good and provides real long-lasting energy, the kind of energy that helps me concentrate and stay focused. I don’t need a “kick” provided by stimulants.

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