They are among the worst things you can put into your body, and quitting energy drinks is important if you want to free yourself from your caffeine addiction and get on with your life. If you’ve been drinking energy drinks every day for a while now, you may already be realizing what a bad idea it is. There are the mood swings, the jitteriness -- and the cost. And that’s just the beginning.
If your day consists of short bursts of energy followed by unenthusiastic fatigue, maybe it's time for a change.
Caffeine can cause cycles of hyperactivity followed by a crash (Also see: Caffeine Crash). And putting your body through this roller-coaster several times a day can really take its toll. You deserve better.
Caffeine is the world's most widely abused psychoactive drug on earth -- a chemical substances that affect the brain’s functioning and causes changes in behavior, mood and consciousness. It’s both physically and mentally addicting, and it works in much the same way as amphetamines, cocaine and heroin.
Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean you can’t become seriously addicted to it.
Energy Drinks Are Seriously Unhealthy
Increased stress and anxiety. Chronic stress can lead to loss of memory, depressed moods and poor judgment. The effects of caffeine can produce stress that leads to depression and interferes with both your short-term and long-term memory.
Effect on mood and personality. Every aspect of the buzz you receive from caffeine is simply your body releasing stress hormones into the bloodstream, giving you a temporary fight-or-flight boost of adrenaline. These hormones are your body's reserve energy, and it won’t take long for you to feel mentally and physically drained if you’re constantly accessing them.
Damage to your teeth. A 16-ounce energy drink can have as much as 60 grams of sugar or more. That's almost 16 sugar cubes! That contributes to tooth decay and cavities, even if you have good dental hygiene. Energy drinks are also acidic and eat away at the enamel of your teeth just like sucking on a lemon would, plus they stain too. And these effects are just a few of the negative effects of energy drinks that have nothing to do with caffeine.
Disruptions in your sleep. Sleep is less restful when elevated stress hormones caused by caffeine consumption lead to insomnia or wake you up in the middle of the night. You may also experience increased fatigue because you don't reach stage 4 sleep so your body can repair and renew itself. Compounding the problem, a poor night's sleep makes you feel bad, tempting you to drink more energy drinks the next day.
Consequences for your stomach. Acid reflux is increased by caffeine, which decreases the pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. Ulcers, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome are all sensitive to the effects of stress hormones caused by caffeine. Chronic stress and the acidity of most caffeine products can aggravate your symptoms if you suffer from any digestive disorders.
Ballooning of your waistline. Weight gain around the abdomen is promoted by the elevation in the stress hormone cortisol caused by caffeine consumption. Plus, energy drinks typically contain high amounts of sugar and are high in calories, causing you to pack on the pounds. The excess sugar may be fine for athletes who expend a lot of calories in a day, but the average person has enough trouble keeping their waistline trim without drinking extra calories every day.
Immune system suppression. Chronic stress and elevated stress hormones interfere with the proper functioning of your immune system and causes a significant decrease in its ability to protect your health. That means you become more vulnerable to illness over time.
Adrenal fatigue and exhaustion. Caffeine triggers the fight-or-flight syndrome in the body -- a primitive survival mechanism designed to help humans escape from imminent danger. Stress hormones, cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine flood your body, triggering numerous reactions. You can only pump a certain amount from your adrenal glands before they become exhausted and depleted, and you feel terrible.
Other Good Reasons For Quitting Energy Drinks
The serious health consequences above just scratch the surface. You may also want to quit energy drinks because:
They cost you more than $1,000 a year. At $3 per can, you’re spending $1,095 on energy drinks if you have one every day. (Also see: Financial Impact/Cost of Caffeine)
They actually deplete the vitamins that make you feel good, and that doesn’t make sense for long-term health.
They give you an artificial boost, but you deserve to feel good on your own -- without fake stimulants.
They make your heat beat faster and your blood pressure rise.
They cause your liver to release glycogen to elevate your blood sugar.
They restrict your digestive system.
They decrease oxygen to your brain, making you change from a rational person to one who makes snap decisions.
They make your muscles tense up, making you feel even worse.
They cause dehydration, and most of us are dehydrated anyway.
They can cause manic episodes, chest pains, seizures and more.
And the list goes on…
When you’re drinking something to make you feel better that doesn’t work and actually makes you feel worse, why would you continue? It makes sense to free yourself from your addiction by quitting caffeine for good.
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The above slogans are from the marketing campaigns for energy drinks (Red Bull, Monster, Full Throttle, Amp and Cyclone, respectively), and they more than point out the target audience for their products: young men.
When you look at the images and read the ad copy, you can get the feeling that having an energy drink in your hand conveys that you are an on-the go kind of guy, busy but ready to take on new challenges. Teens and young adults – mostly male – have responded to the clever slogans and packaging and have become the major consumer of energy drinks, creating a more than $3.5 billion annual industry (Rath).
What the ads, billboards and TV and radio ads don’t reveal, of course, is that these drinks – and there are close to 600 brands of them on the market now -- contain dangerous doses of caffeine and other potentially harmful substances that belie the positive outcome the marketing promotes. This problem is enhanced due to the lack of restrictions on what can be sold as an energy drink, so young adults often fail to understand just what exactly is in those colorful cans and bottles they are toting around.
What are energy drinks?
An energy drink by definition is a beverage that claims to provide its consumer with extra energy and that contains caffeine in combination with other ingredients such as taurine, guarana and B vitamins. The beverage industry coined the term, and it is not recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (Heneman). Energy drinks are seen as “dietary supplements,” according to the government, and the government’s subsequent lack of jurisdiction over the drinks’ contents allows the energy drink makers somewhat of a free reign in what they put in the drinks.
The amount of caffeine in a 8- to 12 oz.-serving of an energy drink can range from about 75 to 200 mg; however, many companies package their products in two- to three-serving containers, hiking the caffeine content of one can or bottle possibly as high as 295 mg. (Heneman) To put that in perspective, the average amount of caffeine in a cola – as limited by the FDA – is 65 mg per 12 ounces, (Rath) and the average amount of caffeine in an 8 oz. cup of coffee is about 95 mg.
Anecdotal evidence shows that most energy drink consumers drink the whole bottle or can, however, despite the serving size designation. Therefore, energy drinkers are getting quite a jolt every time they down a beverage.
So, what exactly in energy drink? Here are a few of the more common ingredients:
Caffeine—Classified as a stimulant, caffeine is a crystalline compound that is found in tea and coffee plants. Caffeine occurs naturally in some foods and beverages and is added to others. Thought by many consumers to provide alertness and improved concentration, caffeine can cause heart palpitations and anxiety as well as a myriad of other symptoms and can create dependency problems among consumers (Consumer Reports). Although it is legal and easily obtainable in many forms (including everything from candy to over-the-counter pain medications), caffeine is a drug. Therefore, it can have a powerful effect on the body when consumed in large quantities.
Guarana -- Derived from the seeds of a South American tree, guarana is high in caffeine and has become a popular energy supplement. In fact, guarana has among the highest concentrations of caffeine in any plant -- up to 3.6 percent to 5.8 percent caffeine by weight. Coffee plants, by contrast, have only 2 percent.
Taurine -- A sulfur-containing amino acid, taurine is thought to support neurological development and to help regulate the level of water and mineral salts in the blood. Taurine also is thought to enhance the effects of caffeine and to help fight muscle fatigue. (Rath) Most energy drinks contain up to 10 times the usual daily intake of taurine we get from the foods we eat, and experts are unsure of the effects this large amount may have on the human body. (Consumer Reports)
Sweeteners – An 8-oz. serving of an energy drink can contain as much as 35 g of sugar in the form of glucose, sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup. Energy drinks in the common sizes of 16- to 24-oz., therefore, contain a walloping 60 to 90 g of sugar. (Rath) Compare that with U.S. dietary guidelines that recommend a maximum sugar intake of 32 g for every 2000 calories, and you can see that energy drinkers are getting way too much sugar with their energy jolt.The concentration of sugar in energy drinks definitely can give the consumer a “sugar high” – a temporary boost in energy resulting from an increase in blood sugar levels. Once the sugar breaks down, though, the body usually crashes, sending a signal that more sugar is needed. This can give the consumer the feeling that another energy drink should be consumed.
Ginseng – Although studies have not proven it to be the case, health drink marketers claim ginseng can improve physical performance. The other side of the coin is that ginseng can cause insomnia, heart palpitations, headache and hypertension. Many energy drinks boast herbs such as ginkgo biloba and milk thistle, but, again, there is little to no evidence backing up claims that these ingredients improve an individual’s health or performance. (Consumer Reports)
Bitter orange -- A citrus fruit, bitter orange is used as an oil, a flavoring, and a solvent. The Seville orange variety is used in the production of marmalade. Bitter orange also is thought to be both a stimulant and appetite suppressant, due to its active ingredient, synephrine. Bitter orange has been found to elevate the heart rate and blood pressure, and doctors have concerns about the impact this stimulant can have on consumers when it is ingested along with other stimulants in the form of an energy drink (Rath).
The popularity of energy drinks is a symptom of a culture that is on overdrive. Today’s young adults, in particular, have a 24/7 kind of lifestyle that is fueled by the internet and the instant access to all kinds of information and entertainment that it provides.
Energy drinks are not really new, however. The oldest known energy drink is probably Lucozade, a beverage which dates back to 1927. Lucozade was created in a Newcastle, England as a source of fluid replenishment for hospital patients. The drink’s ingredients mirror the major components of today’s energy drinks: carbonated water, caffeine, citric acid, sodium benzoate, lactic acid, sodium bisulfate and ascorbic acid.
While the 21st century has seen the real boom in the popularity of energy drinks, the first such beverage hit American shelves almost 30 years ago. Jolt Cola was hyped as a cola with high caffeine and high sugar to give consumers just what its name suggested – a jolt. PepsiCo had another one of the early energy drinks with Josta, which the soft drink giant introduced in 1995. Josta was marketed as a "high-energy drink” and had a flavor described as “fruity, with a hint of spice and a touch of the key ingredient guarana.” PepsiCo discontinued making the drink in 1999, despite a loyal fan base, which started a "Save Josta" campaign that has been active on and off through the years. (Fornicola)
Japan is perhaps the country with the highest use of energy drinks. The country’s Lipovitan-D, which dates back to 1962, has a blend of B Vitamins and taurine. In 1987, Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian, combined sugar with caffeine to create Red Bull in 1987. Its popularity spread through Europe and came to this country a decade later (Mayo) to find a waiting public.
College students, in particular, fall victim to the idea that they have to stay awake more and more hours of the day and night in order to accomplish all they have on their plates: work, school, family and social responsibilities. Energy drinks -- and their crafty marketing -- give these young adults the allusion that, yes, they can have more time each day by staying awake and alert even when they are not getting enough sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, only 15 percent of adolescents reported sleeping 8.5 or more hours on school nights, and 26 percent of students reported typically sleeping 6.5 hours or less each school night. The foundation also reports than nearly 90 percent of Americans stay up regularly to watch TV or surf the internet.
When you add in the fact that adolescence is a time when more sleep is needed rather than less and the fact that The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has identified adolescents and young adults (ages 12 to 25) as a population at high risk for problem sleepiness based on “evidence that the prevalence of problem sleepiness is high and increasing with particularly serious consequences,” you get a clear idea of the market for energy drinks.
Many Americans are simply just too busy these days, and young people, in particular, can’t seem to avoid the added energy drain of a plugged-in entertainment-oriented lifestyle.
Like most things in life, moderation is the key to energy drink consumption. Drinking an energy drink occasionally to help stay awake so that you can study for a final or so that you can drive home safely after a concert should not pose any significant problems. The risk mounts, however, when students turn to energy drinks on a daily basis to “get going” for the day.
Depending on factors such as your height and weight and your individual physical make-up, your body’s response to energy drinks will vary. Other factors, including the combination of ingredients in the drink, the concentration of those ingredients and the speed in which you drink the beverage, can make energy drinks dangerous. (Sather)
Consumers should be careful not to confuse energy drinks with sports drinks. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade or PowerAde, typically contain electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and chloride (and often a high percentage of sugar) to help hydrate the body. (Brown)While these drinks are as highly marketed as energy drinks, it is important to keep in mind that the best way to hydrate yourself is by simply drinking more water.
Not only do energy drinks not help hydrate the body, they have the opposite effect, since caffeine acts as a diuretic. The combination of sweating during physical exercise with this diuretic effect can cause a heightened risk of dehydration as well as the possibility of heat stroke. (Heneman)
Large amounts of caffeine, especially when consumed by people with pre-existing health conditions, can lead to heart palpitations, dizziness, tremors and cardiac seizures. Studies have shown that caffeine consumption in teens is associated with an increase in blood pressure (Heneman), which is why pediatricians regularly advise against their use.
In addition to possible cardiovascular problems, excessive amount s of caffeine can hurt the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. People who get hooked on energy drinks often experience nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Excessive caffeine in the system can throw off the body’s balance of healthy bacteria in the GI tract. (Rath) Large doses of energy drink can also result in symptoms of heartburn. (Stacey)
Probably the biggest reason to limit energy drink consumption, however, is the risk of becoming addicted to them. The high caffeine content in energy drinks can cause the body to become accustomed to its effects and thereby require more and more of them to achieve the same desired effect of alertness.
As with other addictions, when the body is accustomed to a certain amount of a substance and does not get it, it can experience withdrawal symptoms. With caffeine addictions, those symptoms often include headaches, fatigue and depression. The overuse of energy drinks also can lead to sleep deprivation.
In addition, the high sugar content in these drinks can contribute to tooth decay and obesity due to the resulting high calorie content (Stacey). Most energy drinks contain at least 200 calories per serving. (Rath)
A major concern is the trend for energy drink consumers to combine the drinks with alcohol. In 2011, about 42 percent of emergency room visits involved energy drinks mixed with alcohol or medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall. (Nordquist) Drinking energy drinks mixed with alcohol is a potentially lethal combination.
The stimulating effect of the energy drink gives people the feeling they are not intoxicated. When you mix energy drinks with alcohol, you may not experience the feelings of dizziness and the loss of motor control that often come with drinking alcohol to excess. Therefore, you are at higher risk for accidents – both on foot and behind the wheel of a car. (Rath) In addition, both drinking alcohol and drinking energy drinks are dehydrating, so the combination of the two can keep your body from metabolizing the alcohol, thereby increasing the toxicity in your system. (Brown)
Some college campuses have banned alcoholic energy drinks because of the high risks involved in their consumption. Most 23.5 oz. cans of Four Loko, for example are 12 percent alcohol content, which is the equivalent of four to six 12 oz. cans of beer. (An average 12 oz. beer is 4 to 6 percent alcohol. In addition, Four Loko has 135 mg of caffeine per that 23.5 oz. can as well as an unknown amount of guarana. A 23 oz. can of Joose energy drink contains 10 to 12 percent alcohol. (Brown)
According to one report, consuming an energy drink with added alcohol is like drinking an entire bottle of wine along with several cups of coffee. (Blankson)
The FDA is continuing to investigate several cases in which teens and young adults have died following the alleged consumption of large amounts of energy drinks. Last fall, the FDA cautioned consumers “that products marketed as ‘energy shots’ or ‘energy drinks’ are not alternatives to rest or sleep.”
“It is important for consumers to realize that, while stimulants such as caffeine may make one feel more alert and awake, judgment and reaction time can still be impaired by insufficient rest or sleep. If you are thinking about taking one of these products, please consult your health care provider to ensure that you don’t have an underlying or undiagnosed medical condition that could worsen as a result of using them.”
In June of this year, the American Medical Association (AMA) called for bans on energy drinks that are similar to bans on the marketing of tobacco and alcohol products. “Energy drinks contain massive and excessive amounts of caffeine that may lead to a host of health problems in young people, including heart problems, and banning companies from marketing these products to adolescents is a common sense action that we can take to protect the health of American kids,” said AMA board member Alexander Ding, MD, at the AMA’s annual meeting in Chicago.
As a stimulant, caffeine alters moods and behavior and can result in a physical dependence. Because it is legally and easily obtained, many people hesitate in thinking of it as an addictive substance until they are themselves addicted to it. The reality is this: if you can’t “get going” with your normal daily activities without the boost of an energy drink, you most likely have an addiction problem.
Try abstaining from energy drinks for 12 to 24 hours. If you have an addiction, you may experience one or more of these signs of withdrawal (Stacey):
muscle pain and/or stiffness
These symptoms typically begin 12 to 24 hours after your last energy drink, with peak intensity occurring at about 20 to 50 hours. (Stacey) The withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from two to nine days.
Steps to Recovery from an Energy Drink Addiction
As with any addiction, the first step to beating a problem is recognizing you have a problem.
Once you do that, many people have success in beating their energy drink addiction by slowly cutting back on their daily caffeine intake. A gradual withdrawal of the stimulant – perhaps over the course of several months -- eases the severity of any adverse symptoms you will experience. Remember, it took your body some time to get accustomed to that much “energy,” and it may take the same amount of time for it to adjust to not having it.
One way to taper down your caffeine intake is to reduce it by about 10 percent every two weeks. Try replacing your energy drink with smaller serving sizes or with a cup of coffee. After you have done that successfully, try eliminating the number of times you drink caffeinated beverages. (Fillon) Each time you drop a serving of an energy drink, it can be helpful to replace it with another stimulant-free beverage you enjoy, such as herbal tea, fruit juice or sparkling water.
To help your body get used to sleeping better without all that added “energy,” start replacing that last energy drink of the day first. Here are some other ideas to help you as you go through this process of becoming energy drink-free:
Eat breakfast. Choose low-fat, high protein options such as granola with yogurt or fruit or peanut butter on whole grain toast with a glass of low-fat milk. People who eat breakfast tend to concentrate better and have less fatigue (Consumer Reports)
Eat small meals and/or snacks as needed throughout the day. Try a handful of raw walnuts or almonds for a quick energy burst.
Drink more water. A common reason for lack of energy is dehydration. Other liquids to try are 100% fruit juice or low-fat milk.
Grab some quick protein. Maybe a hard-boiled egg or a protein shake. Proteins have been proven to increase brain chemistry and provide energy ((Fornicola)
Make sure your diet is not too low in carbohydrates. Both fresh and dried fruit can give a great carb pick-me-up.
Take a nap. Studies have proven that a 20 minute (and no longer than 30 minute) nap can energize your brain for the rest of the day.(Sleep Foundation)
Exercise. Regular moderate exercise each day can boost energy levels, studies have found. A British Medical Journal study of female college students found that even 10 minutes of daily moderate exercise, such as walking, elevated the participants’ moods and energy levels. When the participants added an additional 10 minutes of exercise, their mental clarity improved as well.
Plan for a good night’s sleep. Increase your activities in the afternoon, getting in as much natural light as possible. Turn off electronics long before sleep time. Also try to avoid alcohol, nicotine, and excessive food or fluid intake of any kind in the late evening. (Consumer Reports)
When you are feeling down or low in energy, try examining what is going on in your life rather than just reaching for an energy drink. Stressful situations, such as the start of a new term at school, a new job or move, can cause us to feel tired. Concentrate on natural ways to boost your energy and elevate your mood, such as eating better, exercising and getting more sleep. (Glassman)
Fight the tendency to stay busy all the time and make relaxation more of a priority. Look for ways to have some down time in your life that don’t involve technology. Take a walk, read a book, listen to music, enjoy nature. Search out opportunities to just be. Your body and you mind will feel more rested, and you will have more restful sleep when you do not stimulate your brain as often with technology.
The main piece of information to remember is that energy drinks are well marketed beverages that are highly concentrated in sugar and caffeine and should be consumed with caution. You don’t need energy drinks. Take control of your diet and your health by looking for other ways to maintain a vigorous lifestyle without them.
Blankson, Kwabena. "Energy Drinks - What Teenagers (and Their Doctors) Should Know"Pediatrics in Review Vol. 34 No. 2 February 1, 2013. pp. 55 -62. (doi: 10.1542/pir.34-2-55)
Glassman, Destinee, et al. "Revving Up And Staying Up: Energy Drink Use Associated With Anxiety And Sleep Quality In A College Sample." College Student Journal 45.4 (2011): 738-748. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.
Fornicola, Fred. "Energy Drinks: What's All The "Buzz" About?." Coach & Athletic Director 76.10 (2007): 38-43. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.
Heneman, Karrie. “Energy Drinks: Nutrition and Health Info Sheet” Publication 8265 University of California. Web. 18 Sept. 2013
Mayo, J.J. & Kravitz, L. (2008). Sports & energy drinks: Answers for fitness professionals. IDEA Fitness Journal, 5(9), 17-20http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/sportsdrinksUNM.html
Nordqvist, Christian. "Energy Drinks' Health Hazards For Adolescents." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 6 Feb. 2013. Web.
Rath, Mandy. "Energy Drinks: What Is All The Hype? The Dangers Of Energy Drink Consumption." Journal Of The American Academy Of Nurse Practitioners 24.2 (2012): 70-76. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.
Sather, T. E. "The Dangers Of Energy Drinks And Supplements." Approach: The Naval Safety Center's Aviation Magazine 58.1 (2013): 6-8. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.
Stacey, Ed L. Blachford and Kristine Krapp "Caffeine." Drugs and Controlled Substances: Information for Students.. Detroit: Gale, 2012. Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.
National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. How biological clocks work.
1999, NIH Publication No. 99-4603
"How To Boost Your Energy." Consumer Reports On Health 21.5 (2009): 1-5. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.