Energy drinks: harmful to health?

Energy drinks are becoming increasingly popular: in the office, they are consumed to boost performance, and at parties, they are designed to ward off fatigue. Children and adolescents are also increasingly using energy drinks - without, however, thinking about the unwanted side effects that can be caused by the stimulating drinks.

Energy Drinks: What's in it?

Depending on the manufacturer, the ingredients of an energy drink may be quite different - but usually the beverage is composed of the following ingredients and additives:

  • water
  • sugar
  • carbonic acid
  • Vitamins and minerals
  • caffeine
  • taurine
  • glucuronolactone
  • Acidulants or acidity regulators
  • Colorants and flavors

Guarana and inositol are also added to some energy drinks.

Effect of energy drinks

Energydrinks are stimulating: they eliminate fatigue and should also have a positive impact on our concentration and performance. This effect of the energy drinks is mainly due to the caffeine contained therein. In Germany, a maximum of 320 milligrams of caffeine per liter are permitted: An energy drink (250 milliliters) usually contains about 80 milligrams of caffeine. For comparison: A cup of coffee brings it to 50 to 100 milligrams of caffeine, a large glass of cola to 60 milligrams.

In addition to caffeine energy drinks also contain larger amounts of sugar, which can also lead to a short-term increase in performance. Since energy drinks have relatively high calorie content due to their high sugar content, sugar-free variants are also being sold with sweetener. With them, however, eliminates the additional energy boost from the sugar.

In addition to sugar and caffeine, taurine is one of the ingredients of most energy drinks. Although taurine itself has no stimulating effect, it is intended to accelerate the effectiveness of the other ingredients. The effect of taurine on the body and how long-term intake works has not yet been finally clarified. The maximum permitted 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 such as Red Bull® and Co. and strengthen the stimulating effect.

Inositol, a hexavalent alcohol, is also added to some soft drinks. The substance is said to play a major role in the conversion of nutrients into energy - but there is no proven positive effect on performance. Also for inositol is in energy drinks a maximum amount; it is 200 milligrams per liter.

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

For the substance glucuronolactone, manufacturers of energy drinks must comply with a maximum quantity of 2, 400 milligrams per liter. The danger with this substance is that it may possibly increase the harmful effects of other substances.

Side effects of energy drinks

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

  • sleep disorders
  • a headache
  • Gastrointestinal complaints
  • nervousness

Therefore, people who are (overly) sensitive to caffeine should not drink energy drinks better. Likewise, energy drinks should not be consumed by pregnant women, nursing mothers or high blood pressure patients. Energy drinks are also unsuitable for children and adolescents, especially because of their high caffeine content.

It is particularly important to abstain from energy drinks in connection with exercise and alcohol. Otherwise - especially if larger amounts of energy drinks are consumed - further serious side effects may occur: These include cardiac arrhythmias, kidney failure and seizures.

Energy drinks and alcohol

At parties, alcohol is often mixed with energy drinks to eliminate fatigue or the bitter taste of alcohol. The combination of the two drinks is to be seen critically: Since both drinks withdraw water from the body, it can come to a strong fluid loss.

In addition, the combination of the two drinks leads to a subjectively higher assessment of performance. This is because the effect of the energy drink overlays that of the alcohol: you are therefore less drunk than you really are. For example, this can have disastrous consequences for assessing your own driving ability.

In general, the interactions of energy drinks and alcohol have not been sufficiently researched. In any case, to avoid damage, the combination of energy drinks with high percentage alcohol should be avoided.

Energy drinks and sports

Whether the athletic performance can be increased by energy drinks, is controversial. Some studies suggest that energy drinks have a positive effect on aerobic endurance performance. Other studies can not confirm this effect. Presumably, the positive effect of the energy drinks is due to the fact that the body is supplied with additional energy by the drink.

However, it should be noted that energy drinks are hypertonic drinks that deprive the body of fluid. In this way they can contribute to a dehydration of the body, especially during prolonged endurance exercise. This can cause serious side effects. Therefore, the sport should be better resorted to water than energy drinks.

5 facts about energy drinks - © istockphoto, Mingirov

Are energy drinks unhealthy?

Adults who occasionally drink a pure energy drink need not fear any negative consequences for their health. Nevertheless, instead of drinking an energy drink, it is better to take a break and let the body rest. Because fatigue or a low in performance are signs that the body needs a break. By no means should it become a habit to cover such signals of the body by energy drinks.

In addition, it should also be noted that energy drinks often contain larger amounts of sugar and are therefore relatively high in calories. The high sugar content can have a negative effect on the teeth as well as on the body weight.

Are energy drinks harmful?

The question of whether energy drinks are harmful or not can not be definitively answered. Because there are still studies on the long-term effects of energy drinks and their ingredients on our body. Decisive for the effects of the energy drink on the body is of course always the amount consumed.

In general, however, that energy drinks should not be consumed by children and adolescents: For them so far no safe consumption levels are known and the high doses of caffeine or taurine are not suitable for them. Especially children and adolescents with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy or heart disease should not drink any energy drinks.

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

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