Energy drinks: harmful to health?

Energy drinks are becoming increasingly popular: they are consumed in the office to increase performance and at parties they are said to  ward off tiredness  . Children and young people are also turning to energy drinks more and more often – without, however, thinking about the undesirable side effects that the stimulating drinks can cause.

Energy drinks: what’s in them?

Depending on the manufacturer, the ingredients of an energy drink can vary, but the drink usually consists of the following ingredients and additives:

  • water
  • Zucker
  • carbonic acid
  • vitamins and  minerals
  • Caffeine
  • Toughness
  • Glucuronolacton
  • acidifiers or acidity regulators
  • coloring and flavorings

Guarana and inositol are also   added to some energy drinks.

effects of energy drinks

Energy drinks have a stimulating effect: They drive away tiredness and are said to have a positive influence on our concentration and performance. This effect of energy drinks is mainly due to the  caffeine  they contain . In Germany, a maximum of 320 milligrams of caffeine per liter is permitted: an energy drink (250 milliliters) usually contains around 80 milligrams of caffeine. For comparison: a cup  of coffee  has 50 to 100 milligrams of caffeine, a large glass of cola has 60 milligrams.

In addition to caffeine, energy drinks also contain large amounts of  sugar  , which can also lead to a short-term increase in performance. Since energy drinks have a relatively high number of calories due to their high sugar content, sugar-free versions with sweeteners are now also being sold. However, they do not get the additional energy boost from the sugar.

In addition to sugar and caffeine, most energy drinks also contain  taurine  . Taurine itself does not have a stimulating effect, but it is supposed to accelerate the effectiveness of the other ingredients. The exact effect taurine has on the body and how long-term intake affects it has not yet been finally clarified. The maximum allowable amount in energy drinks is 4,000 milligrams per liter.

Effect of other ingredients in Red Bull® and Co.

Not only caffeine, sugar and taurine are on the list of ingredients of energy drinks like Red Bull® and Co. and increase the stimulating effect.

Inositol,  a hexavalent alcohol, is also added to some soft drinks. The substance is said to play a key role in the conversion of nutrients into energy – but a positive effect on performance has not been proven. There is also a maximum level for inositol in energy drinks; it is 200 milligrams per liter.

Another popular ingredient is  guarana,  a plant whose seeds contain caffeine. In contrast to the caffeine in the coffee bean, the caffeine in the guarana seeds only develops gradually. Therefore, they are often used as an additive in energy drinks. 

 Manufacturers of energy drinks must observe a maximum quantity of 2,400 milligrams per liter for the substance  glucuronolactone . The danger with this substance is that it can increase potentially harmful effects of other substances.

Side effects of energy drinks

The caffeine contained in energy drinks can have unpleasant side effects. This is especially the case when energy drinks are consumed in larger quantities. Then the following symptoms can occur:

Therefore, people who are (overly) sensitive to caffeine should  not drink energy drinks.  Likewise, energy drinks should not be consumed by pregnant women, nursing mothers or patients with high blood pressure. Energy drinks are also not suitable for children and young people, particularly due to the high caffeine content.

It is particularly important to avoid energy drinks in connection with physical activity and alcohol. Otherwise, more serious side effects can occur – especially if larger amounts of energy drinks are consumed: These include  cardiac arrhythmiaskidney failure  and seizures.

energy drinks and alcohol

Alcohol is often mixed with energy drinks at parties to ward off fatigue or the bitter  taste  of alcohol. The combination of the two drinks should be viewed critically: Since both drinks remove water from the body, there can be a severe  loss of fluids  .

In addition, the combination of the two drinks leads to a subjectively increased assessment of performance. This is because the effect of the energy drink overpowers that of the alcohol: it makes you feel less drunk than you actually are. This can have devastating consequences for the assessment of one’s own ability to drive, for example.

In general, the  interactions  between energy drinks and alcohol have not yet been adequately researched. In order to avoid damage, the combination of energy drinks with high-proof alcohol should be avoided in any case.

energy drinks and exercise

It is controversial whether energy drinks can increase athletic performance. Some studies suggest that energy drinks have a positive effect on aerobic endurance capacity. However, other studies cannot confirm this effect. The positive effect of energy drinks is probably due to the fact that the drink supplies the body with additional energy.

However, it is important to note that energy drinks are hypertonic drinks that remove fluid from the body. They can contribute to dehydration  of the body , especially during prolonged endurance exercise   . This can cause serious side effects. That’s why it’s better to use water than energy drinks when exercising.

Are Energy Drinks Unhealthy?

Adults who occasionally consume a pure energy drink do not have to fear any negative consequences for their health. Nevertheless, instead of drinking an energy drink, it is better to take a break and let your body rest. Tiredness or a low level of performance are signs that the body needs a break. Under no circumstances should it become a habit to cover up such signals from the body with energy drinks.

It should also be noted that energy drinks often contain large amounts of sugar and are therefore relatively high in calories. The high sugar content can have a negative effect on both teeth and body weight.

Are Energy Drinks Harmful?

There is no definitive answer to the question of whether energy drinks are harmful or not. Studies on the long-term effects of energy drinks and their ingredients on our bodies are still pending. Of course, the amount consumed is always decisive for the effects of the energy drink on the body.

In general, however, energy drinks should not be drunk by children and young people: there are no known safe consumption levels for them and the high doses of caffeine or taurine are not suitable for them. Above all, children and young people with previous illnesses such as  diabetesepilepsy  or heart defects should not drink energy drinks.

You should be particularly careful with the so-called energy shots in general: These often contain the same amount of active ingredient as large energy drinks, but distributed in significantly less liquid. That’s why you should always take a look at the ingredients before buying an energy drink.

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