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The Dangers in Energy Drinks


Over the last few years energy drinks, containing high levels of sugar and caffeine among other ingredients, have become very popular, especially with teenagers and young adults. These drinks are marketed as ‘energy’ drinks (as opposed to sports drinks which contain electrolytes), and claim to enhance physical performance in sports and increase energy. So how true are these claims and are these drinks detrimental to our health?

If you believe the claims made on websites, such as Red Bull, these drinks will enhance sports performance, driving ability and exam results. Looking at the Red Bull site, I was amazed at the tactics they are using to sell their product. They kindly supply a list of ingredients, which include: Caffeine, taurine, glucuronolactone, B-group vitamins, sucrose and glucose and alpine spring water (not just water, but alpine spring water, honestly).

So lets break these ingredients down. We all know what caffeine is, but how much is in a standard energy drink, such as Red Bull, and how does it compare to drinking a coffee. A cup of coffee (we are talking a normal size, not large), can contain anywhere from 40 - 176 milligrams of caffeine, with the average being approximately 85 grams, whilst a normal cola has 35 mg and a red bull contains 80 mg. So, if you don’t like your child drinking coffee, why would you let them drink one of these energy drinks? It is possible to overdose on caffeine and if a person drinks 2, 3 or even more of these drinks per day, they can be doing their body harm.

Symptoms of caffeine overdose include heart palpitations, restlessness, inability to sleep, nausea and tremors. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it has a dehydrating effect on the body and this makes it dangerous to consume before playing sport. The double whammy with this is that a can of Red Bull (for instance) contains less fluid than a can of cola, yet has twice the amount of caffeine. There have been cases of young athletes who have consumed 2-4 cans of an energy drink before or during sport and have suffered cardiac arrest. More information can be found here. 

Another ingredient in some energy drinks, such as V Green, is Guarana, which also has high levels of caffeine. The caffeine in Guarana can cause insomnia, nervousness and restlessness, stomach irritation, nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate and blood pressure, rapid breathing, tremors, delirium, diuresis, and other side effects. If you have had one or two cups of coffee and then consume an ‘energy’ drink, you can put yourself over the safe limit of caffeine consumption for an adult (which is considered to be about 400 mg per day).

Taurine is another main ingredient in these drinks. It is an amino acid which is not produced by the body, but is found in food. I was unable to find information proving that it was unsafe - in fact there are studies which report taurine can have a positive effect on the body. Glucuronolactone is produced by the body and is believed to increase the feeling of well-being but so far, no studies have proven this or that it is a harmful ingredient.

We shouldn't forget that these drinks also contain a large amount of sugar and we all know sugar is not good for us.

It is clear, after reading a lot about energy drinks and the dangerous amount of caffeine they contain, these drinks can damage our health, in particular for people that play sport – young people have died  or had to be hospitalized after drinking this type of drink and participating in vigorous exercise. Keeping this in mind, when I read the Red Bull website (we have singled them out, but they are only one of many companies who produce these beverages) I shook my head and I can’t believe they are allowed to make the claims they do, which include: "…in short Red Bull vitalizes body and mind in virtually any situation of our daily life."

And this, “(Red Bull) helps sports enthusiasts of all ages to be in top form, physically and mentally as well as everybody who wants to be fit; because Red Bull increases and improves performance, vigilance, reaction speed and concentration.” What a load of crap. They list studies done, but don’t provide links, and one of the studies done with runners, actually said that an energy drink (such as Red Bull) did not improve actual performance, just the perception of an athlete’s own performance.

After three and a half years, the Advertising Standards Authority has said that there is no proof that Red bull can improve concentration, reaction time and endurance. So, if you still believe the hype and want to risk having heart palpitations, tooth decay, and maybe even the odd heart attack or insomnia, treat yourself and grab an energy drink or two today, oh and don’t forget to pick up a can for your kids.


Sources and  more info:

What do you think?