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Before you reach for your next energy drink, consider this: A growing number of studies are finding that products like Monster, Red Bull, and 5-Hour Energy can result in a variety of health dangers without offering any unique benefits.
The extreme acidity and high caffeine content of these beverages can cause rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, dehydration, vomiting, cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, headaches, insomnia, and even death.[1,2,3,15]
Extreme Caffeine and Simple Sugar
A typical energy shooter can contain as much as 171 mg of caffeine per ounce, which is 38 times the concentration of an ounce of cola soft drink and seven times the concentration of an ounce of coffee. Energy drinks can contain as much as 505 mg of caffeine per serving (about nine times more than a 12-ounce cola and almost four times as much as the average 6-ounce cup of coffee).
Large quantities of caffeine can cause elevated blood pressure and heart rate, vomiting, seizures, and death.[1,2] Caffeine overconsumption can also lead to severe dehydration by causing the body to eliminate water, salt, and nutrients.
- A 14-year-old boy with no medical history was taken to a doctor after drinking Red Bull before running a race. His heart rate was 130 beats per minute, double that of a normal resting heart rate. Further tests showed atrial fibrillation and fluttering. In a later examination—after he had stopped using energy drinks—the boy’s heart patterns returned to normal.
- A man’s heart stopped during a motocross event as a result of drinking eight cans of Red Bull.
- A student experienced heart palpitations after mixing Red Bull with alcohol.
With those points in mind, let’s showcase three things you need to know about energy drinks.
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1. Energy Drinks Are Strong Acids
Energy drinks can have pH values as low as 1.5, which is stronger than sulfuric acid and nearly as strong as battery acid. In one laboratory study, the acidity of Red Bull caused deeper tooth erosion than Coke, 100% apple juice, Diet Coke, and Gatorade, and an additional study found that energy drinks erode teeth twice as much as sports drinks.
Acid intake is also potentially harmful to bone, muscle, and brain health. More than 25 studies have established that the body moves calcium away from cells and into the bloodstream to compensate for excess acidity. Although it is difficult to associate this with a specific disease such as osteoporosis, the cells that rely the most on calcium exist in the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems.
2. Energy Drinks Do Not Improve Athletic Performance
Energy drinks are often marketed and sold in stores under the same category as sports drinks, but studies indicate that they do not enhance or promote athletic ability.
Two studies on Red Bull demonstrate that it does not extend the time it takes for runners to become exhausted and that it does not improve strength, weight volume, or 1-rep max in weight lifters.[11,12]
Furthermore, energy drinks contain far more carbohydrates than are recommended for active people, which can cause gastrointestinal distress by restricting the movement of fluid into the bloodstream.
3. You Can Boost Energy Without Risking the Dangers of Energy Drinks
Research shows that caffeine offers some mental benefits— such as better focus and sustained attention, faster reaction speed, and enhanced memory. But you don’t need to use energy drinks to obtain these benefits.
One study suggests that three to four cups of coffee per day can provide caffeine benefits as well as the antioxidant and anticancer benefits of coffee.
But it’s important to remember that your body’s source of energy is food, not caffeine. Jami Cooley’s blog on 8 Energy Boosting Foods to Keep You Alert provides a great list of foods such as green tea and wheatgrass that provide long sustaining and healthy energy reserves. Another way to improve your energy level is by using vitamin and mineral supplements. Check here to learn how vitamins and minerals will trigger your body to produce more ATP.
If you continue using energy drinks, keep in mind that you’re doing so for their taste and not for any type of specific health benefit. Most manufacturers recommend that you consume them slowly and that you do not use more than two in a 24-hour period.
Share Your Experience
Do you experience unpleasant side effects after drinking Monster or 5-Hour Energy? Do you know other, safer ways of finding quick energy? Share your experience in the comments section below.
This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.