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Are Energy Drinks Safe?

Exploring the Hype and the Health Risks

Mia West
February 13, 2024
Medically-reviewed and fact checked by Ryan Lester, PA-C

In today's fast-paced world, many of us reach for energy drinks to combat fatigue, boost alertness, and power through long days. But before you crack open another can, it's important to ask: are energy drinks compromising your health? 

In the aftermath of two recent lawsuits linked to tragic deaths attributed to the consumption of a highly caffeinated Panera "Charged Lemonade," questions surrounding the safety of energy drinks have consistently made headlines. These incidents have sparked a broader discourse regarding the $21 billion industry and the potential health risks associated with these beverages. In fact, Canada limits ready-to-drink products to 180 mg of caffeine and recently recalled six brands for high caffeine content and labeling violations in an effort to protect consumers.

Despite their widespread popularity, there are potential dangers to this pick-me-up, as well as healthier alternatives to naturally fuel your body.

The Dark Side of Energy Drinks

While the energy surge from a sugary, caffeinated beverage might feel instantaneous, the long-term consequences can be concerning. Here's a closer look at the key ingredients raising red flags:

-High Caffeine Content

Energy drinks often pack a serious caffeine punch, with some exceeding 300 mg per serving. The FDA considers 400 mg a day safe for healthy adults, but exceeding this limit can lead to:

  • Anxiety and jitters: Caffeine activates the fight-or-flight response, leading to anxiousness, nervousness, and restlessness.
  • Sleep disturbances: High caffeine intake disrupts sleep cycles, impacting quality and duration of sleep, further amplifying fatigue.
  • Cardiovascular issues: Excessive caffeine can elevate blood pressure and heart rate, putting strain on the heart, especially for those with pre-existing conditions.

-Artificial Sweeteners

Most energy drinks rely heavily on artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and acesulfame-K. While considered safe by regulatory bodies, studies suggest potential links to:

  • Increased sugar cravings: Artificial sweeteners may trick the body into expecting sugar's calorie intake, leading to overconsumption of other sugary foods.
  • Gut microbiome disruption: Research indicates artificial sweeteners might negatively impact gut bacteria, potentially affecting digestion and overall health.
  • Headaches and migraines: Some individuals experience sensitivity to certain artificial sweeteners, triggering headaches and migraines.
  • Cardiovascular events: The results from a recent study on sugar alcohols discovered Erythritol, a popular sweetener often found in low-calorie foods and drinks, can significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular events. Both the World Health Organization and National Health Institutes have since issued warnings.

-Other Additives

Energy drinks often contain a cocktail of additional additives, including taurine, guarana, and B vitamins, some that have been banned by the NCAA and the Olympic Committee because they’re considered performance stimulants. While their individual effects are debated, the combined impact on health remains poorly understood and potentially concerning.

Additional Health Concerns

In addition to the potential dangers mentioned earlier, energy drinks may inadvertently contribute to various health issues. Here are some additional concerns to be mindful of:

  • Dehydration: Despite their liquid form, energy drinks can act as diuretics, increasing urination and leading to dehydration, especially when consumed in large quantities.
  • Nutrient Deficiencies: Replacing water and healthy meals with sugary drinks can contribute to nutrient deficiencies, impacting overall health and hormone balance.
  • Addiction Potential: Regular caffeine intake can lead to physical and psychological dependence, making it difficult to quit without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Natural Energy Boosters

Instead of relying on the temporary "high" of energy drinks, consider these natural approaches to enhance your energy levels:

  • Prioritize Sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. Consistent sleep hygiene regulates hormones like cortisol, crucial for energy regulation.
  • Balanced Diet: Nourish your body with whole, unprocessed foods rich in complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats for sustained energy throughout the day.
  • Stay Hydrated: Water is essential for optimal bodily function and energy production. Aim for 8-10 glasses of water daily.
  • Exercise Regularly: Physical activity boosts energy levels, improves mood, and regulates sleep, creating a positive cycle.
  • Manage Stress: Chronic stress depletes energy reserves. Practice stress-management techniques like yoga, meditation, or spending time in nature.
  • Optimize Hormones: Underlying hormonal imbalances, like thyroid issues or chronically elevated cortisol levels , can contribute to fatigue. Consulting a hormone optimization specialist can help identify and address hormonal imbalances for improved energy levels.

If you’re an energy drink lover, as with anything else, moderation is key. By prioritizing healthy habits and natural solutions, you can achieve sustained energy, optimal health, and well-being, empowering you to thrive without relying on the potential risks of certain energy drinks. At the end of the day, true energy comes from within, not a can. 

Additional Sources:


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About the Author

Mia West

A former journalist, Mia brings a high energy approach to communications rooted in insights, culture and brand DNA. She is driven by helping brands crystalize their story and foster meaningful, emotional connections with audiences. Over the years she has collaborated with prominent brands such as Petco, Keurig Dr Pepper, Jaguar Land Rover, Revlon, and Procter & Gamble Beauty, as well as many others in the retail, health & wellness, beauty, lifestyle, and sustainability realms. A California native, she lives in San Diego with her family at the beach.

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