Wednesday’s Ask Dr. Walt — The Buzz on Energy Drinks

Dear Dr. Walt,

I’ve heard that energy drinks are unhealthy. How bad are they?

—Low Energy in Louisiana

Dear Fatigued,

Dr. Anthony Komaroff of Harvard Medical Schoolwrites, “Many people have reported negative reactions after consuming energy drinks, including heart palpitations, chest pain, high blood pressure, anxiety, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and flushing.” Furthermore, there have even been deaths reported among young adults consuming energy drinks.

“What gives energy drinks their jolt is good old-fashioned caffeine,” says Dr. Komaroff. “It occurs naturally in coffee, tea, cocoa and chocolate, and is added to energy drinks and some soft drinks. Caffeine is a stimulant. When you consume a food or drink that contains it, your brain cells fire messages more quickly, improving concentration and reaction time. The heart pumps blood faster and more forcefully, increasing your physical energy.”

He adds that energy drinks can contain up to 242 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per serving. In comparison, a 5- to 8-ounce cup of coffee contains roughly 100 mg of caffeine. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 50 mg. Also, most of them contain lots of added sugar.

He says, “The combination can lead to a jolt of energy and then a crash (similar to eating a candy bar). Energy drinks also contain a mix of herbs and other substances that are marketed as ‘energy boosters,’ though they haven’t actually been proven to do that.”

Here’s the bottom line from Harvard: If you need a quick surge of energy, it’s OK to have an occasional energy drink, but no more than one a day. And, it should not be a daily or long-term practice. If you’re dragging, it’s far better to drink a single cup of coffee or tea. Better yet, try these proven nutritional, exercise, and lifestyle strategies to help you feel more energized:

  • Eat small meals and snacks every few hours rather than three large meals a day.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Reduce stress with relaxation ,with prayer, Scripture memorization and meditation.

Dr. Komaroff concludes: “Most food or drink that’s unhealthy when used regularly is OK to consume occasionally. That’s surely true of energy drinks. Unfortunately, most of my patients who have turned to increasingly available energy drinks in recent years do not use them just occasionally. The drinks tend to become a crutch, a habit. If that’s happened with you, I’d strongly urge you to slowly scale back the number of energy drinks you consume each week, with a goal of getting below one a week.”

Dr. Walt

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2018. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.
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