Energy drinks can be found almost anywhere; mixed into your cocktail at the bar, sitting on your co-worker's mess of a desk, and being sold in bookstores and cafes throughout college campuses. They're the easily-accessible, quick pick-me-up that many people depend on to get through a hectic work day at the office, or a crazy class schedule at school followed by a long night of homework and studying.
Because of their energizing and stimulating effects, energy drinks are most commonly marketed as physical and mental performance boosters - but what exactly are they doing to our bodies and minds? Let's look a little further, dig a bit deeper, and see for ourselves.
The main ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine. As a stimulant that directly affects the central nervous system, caffeine works by temporarily blocking the pathway of adenosine to its receptors. Adenosine is the chemical that's responsible for making you feel tired when your body is in need of rest or sleep. Because these pathways become blocked, adenosine cannot reach its receptors, and our body does not feel tired anymore, even though it really should. Instead, we experience the euphoric "boost" of energy and good feelings from the caffeine, as well as chemicals like dopamine, which now have more accessibility to receptors since adenosine is blocked.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the caffeine content of an energy drink can range anywhere between 80mg and 500mg. To put this into perspective for you, a 5oz cup of coffee contains around 100mg of caffeine. Just as excessive coffee consumption isn't healthy for you, neither is excessive energy drink consumption.
It has been found that high and frequent caffeine intake can stimulate the nervous system in a negative way, causing an increase in urination, shaking, feelings of anxiousness, insomnia and poor sleep, heart palpitations, hypertension, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, and in younger users, possible developmental problems.
Because they are cocktails of caffeine and other stimulating substances - such as taurine and ginseng - prolonged use of energy drinks can lead to many serious health problems. It has been discovered that frequent intake of the combination of caffeine and taurine can lead to calcium buildup in heart cells, which then may cause vessels to constrict. Too many energy drinks may also lead to insomnia, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, severe headaches, and panic attacks in some users. For those with high blood pressure, consuming energy drinks can lead to a stroke because the caffeine increases blood pressure levels.
In addition to caffeine, energy drinks often contain B vitamins, such as niacin and pyridoxine. Regular users may be drinking an excessive amount these vitamins, which pose threat to the liver and may cause nerve injury. Additionally, the high sugar content of energy drinks contributes to weight gain and also possesses the ability to wear out the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, leading to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
If you can't imagine completely cutting energy drinks out of your life, don't panic. Occasionally enjoying one shouldn't put you at risk as long as you are in good health and do so in moderation. However, if you're one of the many people who rely on energy drinks to get you through your day, try looking towards healthier, safer, all-natural alternatives. Eat more energizing carbohydrates, such as fruits and whole grains. Try including more iron-packed foods in your diet, such as nuts, salmon, or dark greens like spinach. Drinking a glass of ice cold water or taking a 10 minute power walk can help wake you up and increase your brain activity. Even our Moringa is famous for it's all-natural energizing effects that are never followed by a crash. If it seems that nothing besides energy drinks seems to work for you, your best bet is going through a detox to end your caffeine addiction, and then getting into the habit of giving your body exactly what it is asking for - more sleep and relaxation.