Practically every working-age adult has had one of those days where they just can’t seem to muster up the energy to get through a packed schedule. At some point in our lives, most of us start looking for ways to perk up to get through—but there are dangers if we aren’t mindful about our health.
Whether it’s waking up after late nights at the office or taking on a full day of meetings, supplements like coffee tend to creep into our diets. Then there is additional tiredness from trying to stay in shape through fitness. Sports drinks like Gatorade use to be the go-to beverages for the gym while offering a refreshing taste.
In recent years, though, energy drinks and caffeine supplements have become the rage for handling all of the above.
And, while coffee may be an acquired taste for “grownups,” young adults who grew up drinking pop may find energy drinks a way of dodging the bitter, black brew while still getting their daily lift.
From Monster energy drinks to pre-workout powders made with caffeine and amino acids, the market has been flooded with beverages and mixes that can get your heart pounding and your eyes wide open.
Yet, the harm they cause may outweigh the good it, in fact. The results have even been fatal in some cases due to the potent products, and so it’s worthwhile to know just how potent they really are.
Energy Drinks aren’t just caffeine
While some energy drinks truly do boast less caffeine than the average cup of coffee, most make up for the lack of caffeine by adding other stimulating vitamins and chemicals that can wreak havoc on your body—and in many cases, what you read on the package may not be what you’re actually getting. In a study by Consumer Report published in 2012, dozens of energy drinks either had more caffeine or less caffeine than was listed on the label. Sometimes, the discrepancy falsely advertised the amount of caffeine by more than half, leaving consumers downing cocktails of caffeine and vitamins in potentially, dangerously high doses that got their hearts racing.
Pre-workouts can be even more dangerous. According to a study reported in Men’s Journal in 2014, a number of pre-workout formulas contained stimulant-like substances known to increase the risk of heart attacks and cause brain bleeds. The substance found in these pre-workout mixes, known as DMBA, was similar to a substance banned by the FDA in 2013 called DMAA.
The biggest concern, of course, is that not every pre-workout mix is approved by the FDA before it hits the shelf, so there’s no way of knowing what you’re taking. In the case of the DMBA discovery, the synthetic stimulant being used had never been tested on humans before—and since the product wasn’t an FDA-approved substance, the companies selling it weren’t legally required to tell you what was in them. There’s no way of knowing what you’re taking, and that can lead to serious risks to your heart and overall health.
Caffeine has a dangerous effect on your heart
Putting aside the false advertising, energy drinks and supplements have another problem altogether—the amount of caffeine they boast wreaks havoc on your heart.
When Cassondra Reynolds lost her husband after he went into cardiac arrest following the consumption of an energy drink, doctors told the grieving widow that no heart is healthy enough to avoid being affected by energy drinks. Just one or two drinks a day can disrupt anyone’s heart, leaving her 41-year-old husband dead despite no prior cardiovascular warning signs.
Studies back up this particular example. Doctors who have observed the health patterns of regular energy drink consumers have reported that the caffeine-laden beverages can cause irregular heartbeats, rapid heart rate increases, dizziness, and even cardiac arrest. It doesn’t take an overdose on the drinks, either; just one a day is enough to cause the risks doctors warn about.
The cause? The amount of caffeine and other stimulants in an energy drink are supposed to kick-start even the most exhausted consumer. But for most people, that kind of a jolt is incredibly unhealthy—and your body will respond accordingly.
The sugars can cause lasting damage all on their own
If the caffeine isn’t enough to scare you off, the sugar in almost all energy drinks and pre-workout supplements should be.
Most people crave a tasty drink when they grab something to jump start their workout or day at the office, but the amount of sugar it takes to give those drinks the flavor people want is downright scary. A regular Red Bull has 37 grams of sugar in a regular 12 fl oz can, more than a standard-sized bag of M&M’s. A Mega Monster Energy Drink? The 24 fl oz can boasts a scary 81 grams of sugar, while most Rockstar cans contain over 60 grams of sugar per 16 fl oz.
Considering that the American Heart Association only recommends that the average adult consume 25-35 grams of added sugars per day, that can put some energy drink consumers at nearly three times the recommended daily limit for sugar intake.
The crash that this can bring once the sugar wears off is brutal, but the real risk is for both heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Not only can that much sugar seriously balloon your weight, but it can also cause lasting health implications that are hard to overcome. Given how little nutrients you actually obtain by drinking these energy drinks, your body is getting twice as much sugar as it needs while being robbed of essential vitamins and nutrients. Being malnourished can easily lead to fatigue, too, which can lead to the consumption of more energy drinks to form a vicious cycle.
That’s not to say that the occasional Red Bull or pre-workout powder can’t be exactly what you need on an especially tough day. But given the overall health risks involved, it may just be easier to soldier through on a lone cup of coffee or tea and get a better night’s sleep that evening.