Rockstar or Rock Bottom: Dangers of Energy Drinks

November 17, 2015

By Audrey Roen

The semester is almost over and finals week is ahead of us. Don’t fret! You can just down a couple of energy drinks the night before and pretend like you didn’t procrastinate because you’re a rock star. That may sound promising, but my advice to you is to be careful. Those energy drinks in your hand may say Rockstar on the label, but recent studies show that these concentrated, caffeine filled energy drinks may not provide the best long-term benefits.

The European Food Information Council classifies energy drinks as made to increase alertness both mentally and physically. They contain multiple ingredients in addition to caffeine such as taurine, B vitamins as well as legal stimulants like ginseng and guarana.

Their caffeine content is three to five times that of a can of pop and they’re marketed to busy adults looking for a mental and/or physical “boost”. However, recent studies suggest that, if consumed irresponsibly, the short-term benefits of an energy drink might be outweighed by long-term health considerations.

According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the consumption of energy drinks, in five minutes or less, significantly increased resting blood pressure and stimulated the “fight or flight” response in healthy adults. This study followed one done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that found that visits to the ER involving energy drinks nearly doubled from 2007 to 2011.

Although seemingly dangerous, we continue to buy them. According to the New York Times, Americans spent almost 10 billion dollars on energy drinks in 2012 alone. Where do we strike the balance between the pick me up we crave and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease?

Here are some practical do’s and don’ts that may be good to consider in the final stretch of the semester and beyond:

  • Know the implications. It’s important to remember that energy drinks have stimulating properties that can boost heart rate and increase blood pressure, causing feelings of anxiety and fear. They also have the ability to dehydrate the body and (like many stimulates) prevent sleep.
  • Do not use energy drinks when you exercise. When fluid losses (i.e. sweating and urinating) combine with the diuretic quality of the caffeine from the energy drink, severe dehydration can occur and you can end up in the ER.
  • Be aware of your body reacts to these drinks. Much like dietary supplements, energy drinks are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. If you are concerned for your health, consult a doctor or do some research the drink. Better safe than sorry!  
  • Avoid the combination of alcohol and energy drinks. The combination of the two can be a dangerous pair as the stimulant covers the feeling of intoxication. According to Brown University’s health promotion page, those who drink alcohol with energy drinks have higher blood alcohol concentrations and experience more negative side effects.