Energy Drink Dangers

Energy Drink Dangers

Poster Child for Energy Drink Dangers?
Poster Child for Energy Drink Dangers? | Source

The Author, Paul Kemp

A Photo of Me, taken in 2005.
A Photo of Me, taken in 2005.

Energy Drink Dangers

Energy drink dangers are on the minds of many parents and grandparents, but what exactly should we be afraid of?

Energy drinks are mostly carbonated water, sugar, flavorings, various unfamiliar herbs, amino acids, vitamins, and caffeine.  Which of these should we consider the primary dangers?

I have followed with interest the development of the energy drink phenomenon since they appeared on the American shores in 1997.  After reading reports on nearly all the ingredients, the greatest danger appears to come from the most familiar ingredients -- high levels of caffeine and sugars.

Some of the potential dangers are tachycardia(rapid heartbeat), irregular heartbeat, panic attacks, passing out, and (rarely) heart attack and sudden death, usually while involved in sports.

Caffeine in excess can prove catastrophic, but the high sugar content can provide longterm danger by way of leading to obesity and diabetes, Type 2, which obviously can be fatal over the long run, as well as very expensive to treat.

It makes no sense to attack energy drink dangers by passing laws against them, when the primary ingredients causing the danger can be found in any coffee shop, grocery, pharmacy, or restaurant.

There is extensive medical literature detailing the properties and results of experiments with the herbal, amino acid, and vitamin ingredients contained in these energy drinks.  From what I have seen, these are not dangerous at the levels commonly seen in energy drinks, or even much higher levels.  Excellent sources of information on taurine, guarana, ginseng, and other minor ingredients may be found on Wikipedia and in Dr. Russell Blaylock's book, Health and Nutrition Secrets.

Perhaps the greatest of the energy drink dangers is the tendency of young people to over-do anything they like.  Trouble comes when people get together and drink several energy drinks in one sitting, perhaps mixed with alcohol.

My suspicion is that a combination of factors invite abuse of these powerful stimulants. 

#1) They taste sweet and this leads to drinking them continuously, like any soft drink, which leads to overdose on caffeine.  Some Starbuck's coffee drinks actually contain more caffeine, but there is less tendency to chug down multiple hot coffees quickly.

#2) The high sugar content acts as a "governor" on the caffeine's stimulant effects, encouraging young people especially to drink more than is comfortable.  The sugar rush is relatively short-lived, whereas the caffeine builds up to frightening and scary levels.

#3) Most of the marketing campaigns of the major energy drink makers feature macho extreme sports competitions and communicate the feeling that the cool people are cool because they drink lots of strong energy drinks.  More=Better is the unspoken message.

#4) I have had conversations with energy drink users in their teens and twenties who tell me that a lot of their use is at night, with alcohol, in social situations, parties, etc.  This masks the effects of alcohol and can lead to further overuse, which can precipitate trouble.

I should note that I am almost 62 years old and athletic.  I cannot tolerate coffee, but I enjoy the effects -- in moderation -- of about two healthily-formulated energy drinks every day. 

All energy drinks are not alike.  There are a few that primarily appeal to adults.  If the drink is intelligently formulated, preferably with guarana, green tea, yerba mate' as stimulant, and containing less than 5 grams of any kind of sugar per serving, it is far superior to coffee or tea.

What can be done about energy drink dangers?  My conclusion is that Education is better than Prohibition. 

If your kids already have a taste for sugary -- or even artificially sweetened -- beverages, they are at risk for over using energy drinks.  The best you can do, if this is the case, is to point out what an unpleasant experience it can be to overdose on caffeine.

Another strategy might be to make available to your children a healthy energy drink in the hopes that they can learn their limits under your supervision.  Hopefully, this will help them learn to appreciate the flavor and intellectual subtleties of a low-sugar beverage.


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