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Before you reach for a Monster energy drink, consider this: Are energy drinks bad for you? 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, high caffeine, and added stimulant content of these beverages can cause rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, dehydration, vomiting, cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, headaches, insomnia, and have been linked to several deaths.[1,2,3,15]
Why Are Energy Drinks Bad For You?
A typical energy shooter can contain as much as 171 mg of caffeine per can, which is 38 times the concentration of a can of cola soft drink and seven times the concentration of a cup of coffee. Monster ingredients include 160mg of caffeine in a 16oz can, while Red Bull ingredients include about 113mg of caffeine in a 12oz can.
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 about energy drinks you need to know to answer the question, “Are energy drinks bad for you?”
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,. 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. There are other 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.
The American Heart Association recommends avoiding energy drinks if you have high blood pressure or a heart condition. 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.
Make better choices when looking for energy in your food and drink, try these energy-boosting combos:
Originally published in 2014, this post is regularly updated.
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