Energy Drinks

September 10, 2013


As a health-care provider, I typically avoid getting annoyed at the huge variety of commercial products advertised as “good for you” (even though they are not), however I’m finding that there is one group of products I can’t ignore – energy drinks. The more I read about them, the less I like them. And it frustrates me to no end that these drinks are readily available on the supermarket shelf, easily accessible by children and teens. You might well think “what’s your problem – it’s just another version of pop”. Let me explain to you why these drinks bother me so much.

You’re probably aware of the many “energy drink” products currently available on the market, and all of them claim to provide the consumer with a burst of energy. This burst of energy is due to the combination of ingredients found in these drinks, some of which include:

  • Caffeine
  • B-vitamins (especially niacin)
  • Amino acids (especially taurine)
  • Sugar (and sugar derivatives, such as corn syrup and maltodextrin)
  • Herbal ingredients (including ginseng, gingko, and guarana)

Many of these drinks are touted as “health drinks” (because they contain herbs and vitamins), yet upon closer inspection one can see that the combination of ingredients may potentially cause more harm than good. Many of them have very high sugar levels (more than pop), while others use artificial sweeteners (e.g. aspartame or sucralose) instead. Most of them contain caffeine in varying amounts; the average is about 80mg per a 237ml (8 fl. oz) can (less than an average cup of coffee) – but that amount can be as high as 300mg in some cases.

One of the biggest problems with energy drinks is the way in which the ingredients are combined, and many of the ingredients used are contraindicated. For example: caffeine and ginseng should never be consumed together as the combination of these two substances can over-stimulate the nervous system. The herbs Guarana and Yerba Mate also contain caffeine, so should not be combined with ginseng or other caffeine products.

Taurine is an amino acid that can be made in the body; it is required for many bodily functions including regulation of blood pressure and heart rate, liver protection, and nervous system function. However, as with many things, high intake (especially in combination with other stimulating products) can result in negative impact on body, including the nervous system. These negative effects are potentially made worse when taurine is combined with caffeine.

These drinks are typically marketed to young people, and people ‘on the go.’ Approximately 65% percent of energy drink users are under the age of 35 years old, with males representing approximately 65% of the market.(1)

One of the latest crazes is to consume energy drinks with alcohol. This is a potentially lethal combination and places undue stress not only on the nervous system but the heart. Many people drink energy drinks to increase their stamina and endurance during periods of intense physical activity, or drink them after exercise to quench their thirst. But rather than re-hydrating the body these drinks tend to have the opposite effect and may actually lead to dehydration.

Unfortunately, these drinks are available in corner stores, gas stations, liquor stores, grocery stores, and bars, usually displayed alongside soft drinks, juices and sports drinks. They are NOT sports drinks, nor are they health drinks. Even though the can recommends that only 1-2 cans should be consumed daily, many people – especially young people – consume much more than the recommended amount.

In Canada, the only energy drink authorized for sale as a “natural health product” is Red Bull Energy Drink – and it carries a natural health product number (NPN: 80013474).  No other energy drink currently sold in Canada has been given this status, nor have they been evaluated under the Natural Health Product (NHP) regulations. Frankly, I fail to understand how an energy drink can be classified as a “health product” when it has no positive health effect on the body.

To date, four reports of adverse reactions involving “energy drinks” similar to Red Bull Energy Drink, have been reported to Health Canada.(2) In the reports, symptoms cited included electrolyte disturbances, nausea and vomiting, and heart irregularities. Also, there have been four published cases of seizure occurring after Red Bull consumption.(3)  At one time Health Canada’s website gave an outline of things a person can do to reduce risks potentially related to drinking Red Bull (e.g. to not mix it with alcohol and to drink according to label instructions) but that information is no longer available.

On closer inspection, compared to some of the energy drinks available, Red Bull is considered relatively mild, yet it is (in my opinion) erroneously labeled a “health drink”. If Red Bull is so “healthy”, why has it has been banned in some European countries, including France and Denmark? The answer – because it has been linked to several deaths and “some experts have criticized its high levels of caffeine and other stimulants.”(4) In Turkey, Red Bull was forced to reformulate its products to reduce the amount of caffeine – to reduce to levels to below half of what is commonly accepted among other countries.(5)

It’s actually quite shocking as to how many energy drinks are on the market, and how casually they are consumed, with little regard for any potential negative health impacts. One interesting website ( lists many of the popular energy drinks available, and gives basic information about ingredients as well as the amount of “energy” each drink provides. From the same website – for interest sake and to give an insight into how some people consume energy drinks – this comment:

“Well in my opinion … Red Bull does not have the best taste. To me it seems like there is a medicinal aftertaste. On the bright side this drink tastes unbelievable when you mix it with Jägermeister. These Jager-Bombs are just the thing to get you going all night at a party. The Jager-Bomb is a shot of Jägermeister dropped into a glass that is then filled with Red Bull. In my opinion, one of the greatest inventions of the 21st century! Well unless you count a Reddy (Vodka – Red Bull mix drink).” (6)

If you haven’t figured it out, Jägermeister is an alcoholic beverage – classified as an aperitif, or digestif. It is a 70-proof (35%) liquor flavoured with herbs and sold as a pre-dinner drink to stimulate the appetite. Although the recipe is a secret, it is thought to be made from about 56 herbs, and some of these herbs could have a reaction with the energy drink. Therefore mixing Red Bull and Jägermeister could essentially be more of a potential “bomb” than many people drinking the concoction could ever possibly realize.

If you choose to consume energy drinks always follow the manufacturer’s directions and never exceed the daily recommend amount. Also, keep the following in mind:

  • avoid consumption of other caffeinated products, such as coffee, tea, and pop
  • ensure a decent volume (2-3 litres) of water is consumed daily
  • never mix energy drinks with alcohol


And finally (and most importantly) – discourage children and teens from consuming these beverages; there have been no long-term studies done on these products (and how they affect the body) and certainly, children should NOT be consuming caffeine, let alone sugary pops and drinks.

The bottom line is that the combination of ingredients in “energy drinks” can cause more harm than good. Sure, these drinks might give you the temporary perk that you’re looking for, but at what health expense?




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1 Comment

  1. Laura Harrison
    Sep 12, 2013

    I completely agree! I do not understand the craze at all. I have watched people drinking can after can of these drinks and complain about how tired they are and then tell me about their sleeping problems, heart issues, weight problems, and on and on. But tell them it’s the energy drink and they won’t believe you. I cannot drink Redbull as it makes me violently ill and this explains why.
    Thank you for this.

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