When exploring whether or not energy drinks are healthy, we have to consider more than just their caffeine. Caffeine isn’t terribly harmful. Studies suggesting that caffeine intake is associated with osteoporosis and cancer have been disproven by multiple studies, but not all sources of caffeine should be treated equally.
The caffeine in coffee and tea is accompanied by healthy antioxidants. Tea, especially green tea, may reduce your risk for developing some types of cancers. Coffee can help those with liver disease and may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
But what about energy drinks?
Energy drinks are marketed as healthy or harmless.
Energy drinks contain caffeine, few to no calories. They are often fortified with vitamins and minerals, and are marketed as a healthier alternative to soda. It’s working. The consumption of energy drinks is on the rise, especially among children, adolescents, and young adults. Energy drinks are “dietary supplements” so the ingredients are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The very high amounts of caffeine in these drinks often come from natural-sounding ingredients like guarana, taurine, and yerba mate.
In fact, energy drinks are a disaster.
Energy drink consumers report an alarming rate of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, heart abnormalities, and mood changes. Many of these occur in children and adolescents. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, at least 34 deaths have been directly attributable to energy drinks since 2012. The natural ingredients are a tiny fraction of energy drink contents and are thus very unlikely to give you any benefit at all. The primary ingredients include carbonated water, sucrose and glucose (also known as sugar). One Monster energy drink can have 13.5 spoons of sugar.
But it may not be the caffeine that’s to blame.
The caffeine levels in energy drinks is often the same (and sometimes less) than a cup of coffee, so the danger stems from something else. Health experts believe people are more likely to overdose on energy drinks because they are drank quickly, in larger quantities, and often by children.
For most healthy adults, about 300 – 400 mg of caffeine per day is ok.
What does that look like? Below is a handy chart, thanks to the CaffeineOverdose blog.
The sodas and energy drinks above contain lots of sugar. So while the caffeine from a coke or two are within the daily limit, their sugar will quickly surpass healthy levels.
Kids under age 18 should limit their caffeine to 100mg per day. Under age 12, they should avoid it altogether.
Clinical studies on the effects of caffeine on the brains of kids have not been done. However, caffeine disrupts sleep and impairs concentration. Sleep is vital to healthy child brain development.
Adults, stick the to tried-and-true stuff.
Little data exists about energy drink safety so we at Power 20 recommend coffee and teas over energy drinks. Caffeine tolerance varies among individuals. Two to four cups of coffee a day is tolerable by most, but your limit may be higher or lower. If you’re experiencing any problems with jitteriness, shakiness, dehydration, or falling asleep at night, this may be a sign that you need to cut back.
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