Health Team

Energy drinks deliver on promise, but at what cost?

Posted February 1, 2013 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated February 1, 2013 5:51 p.m. EST

— The television commercials for energy drinks are almost unending, with companies promoting more pep, brain power and performance.

But what about the health risk? 

As the popularity of sugary energy drinks has skyrocketed, so too have trips to emergency rooms for those people who consume too many. 

WRAL Health Team's Dr. Allen Mask sat down with registered dietitian Tara Wind and Dr. Graham Snyder to talk about the risks energy drinks present and what can be done to get energy naturally. 

How much sugar is too much sugar? 

Wind: Each drink contains about 54 grams of sugar, which is equivalent to 13 teaspoons of sugar. That's coupled with 240 milligrams of caffeine, equal to about seven regular Coca-Colas. 

Snyder: They crank up your body, making you more alert or awake, but having a second or third drink can lead quickly to over-stimulation, most commonly in the form of tachycardia: a quickened heartbeat. 

Mask: The caffeine levels in these energy drinks can be so easily abused just by drinking a second or third can.

Can drinks send people to the hospital? 

Yes, according to Snyder, who said he has seen an uptick in the number of patients in his emergency room in recent years. 

One of the more common problems Snyder deals with is people who come in with quickened heart rates, in some cases more than double the average of between 60 and 100 beats per minute. 

Snyder: If you have any sort of underlying heart disease or any sort of panic or anxiety disorder, it's going to make it worse.

Another danger is mixing energy drinks with alcohol, a trend that has increased with the popularity of the drink. 

Mask: Alcohol is a depressant, whereas the energy drinks are a stimulant. Alcohol may make you less aware of the effects of the super dose of caffeine, less aware that it's making you sick.

How do you know what's in popular energy drinks? 

Because most are sold as supplements, the Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate them the same as it does soft drinks. For example, 5-Hour Energy contains the same caffeine content as five Coca-Colas in just 5 fluid ounces, but the bottle offers no warning. Even the drinks that do include labels don't always do the trick. 

Wind: Do not drink more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. Some kinds might take that as a dare.

Getting healthy energy the right way

While it may take a bit more effort and planning, there are several ways to get the right amount of energy without having to consume energy drinks or several caffeinated drinks. 

Wind: I preach healthy eating, and sleep the right amount at night. Get your energy from more natural sources, not so much from in a can.