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Energy Drinks and Your Health

In a world where we are trying to do more with the hours we have in the day, many of us are finding that sleep can often be negated by our desire to complete more each and every day. Unfortunately many of us know that this often leads to a lack of energy that can begin to interfere with our desire to produce more. A catch-22 of sorts.  So what do we do? For some it involves turning to cups and cups of coffee. For others it’s energy drinks. Over the past 15 years energy drinks have become wildly popular.  Sales have gone from a relatively new fad bringing in 350 million a year in 1999 to just under 9 billion in 2013. For comparison coffee sales were just over 12 billion in the same year. So what makes these drinks so popular?

Coffee has gone from a drink for energy to a drink for taste. Most coffee shops sell more of their flavored concoctions than traditional black coffee. A coffee shop has turned into a hangout, a place to meet and socialize. The identity of coffee has changed for many. Energy drinks on the other hand, do not attempt to compete on taste, but rather on performance. They claim more energy, more alertness, and more focus. The taste is off-putting at first but many quickly begin to dismiss the taste because of the positive effects they feel.  With a 24-ounce can of most major energy drinks containing 3 to 5 times the caffeine of a regular 8 oz. cup of coffee, it’s no wonder why many turn to them to stay awake. Check any college campus in America and you’re sure to find truckloads of energy drinks lying around-especially during finals weeks.

But are they safe? The answer really depends. One energy drink most likely will not cause significant problems as most studies agree that even 240 milligrams of caffeine in a 24-hour period shouldn’t lead to health problems. However many people do not limit themselves to one. The risk lies in having multiple energy drinks in one day. Taking large doses of caffeine, 500 mg or more, in a short period of time can have a number of real, and scary, side effects. These can include headaches, insomnia, jitters and nervousness, vomiting, drug interactions and even cardiac arrest.  The last one is particularly scary. In 2011 there were approximately 20,000 visits to the ER that were related to energy drinks and included symptoms such as heart palpitations and increased blood pressure. In 2012 a 14-year-old girl went into cardiac arrest and later died after drinking a second 24-ounce energy drink in less than 24 hours. According to research these effects are more common in teenagers, but that does not mean adults cannot have the same affects.  As we ingest more and more caffeine our bodies build up a tolerance, which in turn requires more caffeine to overcome. This means more energy drinks and more risk.

It should be noted that caffeine is not the only ingredient in many of these drinks. Most also include a slew of B-Vitamins and amino acids that may or may not have an affect on your energy levels. While most are not inherently dangerous, continually taking large doses of vitamins your body doesn’t need may not be the best and may extrapolate the effects of the large doses of caffeine.

The bottom line here is, moderation is key. It is not difficult to find yourself living on multiple energy drinks per day just to be coherent. If that sounds like you, it may be time to re-evaluate how you maintain your energy levels. Maybe it’s time to schedule more sleep into your daily routine!