(The Best Years in Life) Energy drinks were first introduced over 20 years ago. Though their use grew slowly for the first several years, today they have become a modern day phenomenon with tens of millions now being consumed daily. Energy drinks are the number one growth market for beverages and annual sales are forecast to top $9 billion for 2011. Around one-third of teenagers and young adults report drinking one or more energy drink daily, and in many instances consumers drink several energy drinks each day.

What’s not to like about having more energy and alertness – particularly if it comes from beverages which often tout herbal and other “natural” ingredients as the secret to their success? As it turns out, there is a very great deal not to like – and many of the millions of energy drink consumers may one day find that the temporary boost they are getting today comes at the expense of health problems tomorrow.

Some of the more common unwelcome side effects reported for energy drinks include elevated heart rates, hypertension, anxiety, headaches and interrupted sleep patterns. Due to a combination of ingredients commonly found in energy drinks which cause elevated heart rate and blood pressure, energy drinks may end up putting added stress on the heart. Such stress may lead to hypertension and ultimately heart and other cardiovascular problems.

It is also believed that the combination of ingredients in energy drinks, including sodium benzoate, may lead to extra risk of various forms of cancer. Some energy drinks may also contain ingredients which stress the pancreas and could lead to diabetes. The effects and side effects of energy drinks are elevated when combined with coffee and other caffeinated drinks and the combination of alcohol and energy drinks, a growing practice among younger drinkers, may be particularly dangerous.

Until recently, energy drinks and their side effects have been lightly studied, as a report earlier this year in the medical journal Pediatrics noted when it described energy drinks as overused and understudied. After examining data from the government and interest groups, scientific literature, case reports and articles in popular and trade media, the reports authors warned against energy drinks and cited potential harms which included heart palpitations, seizures, strokes and even sudden death.

Dr. Marcie Schneider, an adolescent medicine specialist in Greenwich, Connecticut, and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics nutrition committee, praised the recent report and stated that “These drinks have no benefit, no place in the diet of kids.”

Late last year, poison control centers started tracking energy drink overdoses and side effects nationwide. 677 cases occurred from October through December. The chart’s list of reported energy drink-related symptoms included seizures, hallucinations, rapid heart rate, chest pain, high blood pressure and irritability.

Two of the most common ingredients found in energy drinks are sugar and caffeine, both of which provide temporary stimulation (as opposed to actual energy) and both of which may have serious side effects when regularly consumed in large amounts.  Notably, both sugar and caffeine, as well as other ingredients in energy drinks, stress the adrenal glands.  Adrenal fatigue is considered to be the number one cause of lack of energy.  Thus energy drinks create their own catch-22 for many consumers by causing long term tiredness and lack of energy at the same time they give their temporary boosts.

Just one of a huge number of health risks caused by processed sugar is the risk of diabetes – which has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. Very large amounts of sugar can ultimately overwhelm the pancreas, the organ which generates insulin to offset sugar intake. If your pancreas is “worn out” by being overworked from too much sugar, diabetes can begin.

Some energy drinks contain up to 7 times the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. While small amounts of caffeine are not generally considered dangerous, too much caffeine can over stimulate the central nervous system and can dangerously elevate blood pressure and heart rate. Caffeine is also addictive and withdrawal symptoms include headaches and irritability. Caffeine also causes a loss in valuable B vitamins which are needed for “normal” energy creation.

When sugar is not used, dangerous artificial sweeteners are employed. Perhaps the most dangerous is aspartame, though increasingly, the sugar substitute of choice has become sucralose. Sucralose is a chlorinated organic compound, a chemical group which includes several compounds known to be harmful to animals and plants and which has been linked to birth defects and other prenatal conditions. The body does not recognize artificial sweeteners like sucralose as food, but instead essentially processes them as toxins.

Other potentially dangerous ingredients commonly found in energy drinks include:

*Sodium benzoate. Sodium benzoate is widely used as a preservative in energy drinks as well as other beverages and foods. Last year a study conducted by an expert in molecular biology and biotechnology linked sodium benzoate to cell damage and an increase in the production of free radicals.

Even more concerning is the fact that sodium benzoate in combination with vitamin C can result in the formation of the potent carcinogen benzene. Many energy drinks contain vitamin C, especially the fruity energy drinks.

As noted health authority Chris Gupta reports, “This is not a small thing, although the so-called experts will try to tell you that there’s no harm at these benzene levels. But there is no safe level of benzene. And no one is talking about how it reacts with other carcinogens in your body, which could be a serious problem. We already know it reacts with healthy substances like vitamin C.”

“There is a solution”, Gupta added. “Eliminate all processed foods and unnatural drinks. All processed foods have chemicals in them for preservation. And many of these preservatives can damage your health.”

*Phenylalanine. Though an essential amino acid, phenylalanine is also a neurotoxin and is one of the three main ingredients which make up aspartame. Too much can excite the neurons in the brain to the point of cellular death.

*Guarana. Guarana (or guaranine) comes from the seeds of the guarana plant, which contain up to 3 to 4 times the caffeine as coffee beans. Thus the amount of actual caffeine for many energy drinks which also contain guarana may be even more than is reported.

*Ephedra. Ephedra has been described as a drug that increases heart rate and blood pressure at low doses and strokes, seizures, and possibly even death at high doses.

Despite their potential dangers, energy drinks have become a very large part of today’s beverage industry. As we have seen time and again, once any product or group of products and the ingredients they contain become hugely profitable and popular, it may take many years – if ever – before they are curtailed despite evidence of danger. Aspartame is a prime example and such may well end up being the case with the multi-billion dollar energy drink market.

However, the good news is that there are far safer natural options for achieving greater energy than energy drinks – such as super foods powders, juiced vegetables and whole-foods derived multi-vitamin products for example. The very best long term option for achieving greater energy is an active lifestyle combined with adequate sleep, avoidance of energy robbing toxins and stress and a healthy nutrient-dense diet.

See also:

Boost Your Body and Mind with Magnesium

The Reason You are Sick and Tired May be Fatigued Adrenals

Building a Foundation for Better Health and Longevity

Try this healthy homemade sports drink to avoid summer dehydration

Sources included:

The Harmful Effects of Energy Drinks – Dangerous Ingredients