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What You Should Know About Energy Drinks

I’m definitely guilty of indulging in multiple energy drinks when studying for an exam, about to have a night out or pulling an all-nighter. Everything about them is so convenient; you can grab them around the corner, they taste great and just a small can gives you all the energy (and more) that you need. Having said so, there’s been some red flags that have been raised surrounding their consumption in the last few years.

There’s been emerging evidence that links energy drinks to some serious health effects, which has got a lot of people thinking about whether they’re really good for you, or if we are just fooling ourselves. To answer that question, I’ve compiled some things about energy drinks that you should know before deciding to grab your next one.

1. The amount of caffeine in energy drinks can make you sick

Energy drinks are made with large concentrations of caffeine, sugar and legal stimulants which when combined can have some serious side effects, even on a healthy body. There are a lot of contextual factors such as how the caffeine is consumed, the well-being of the person on that particular day and the amount ingested. Consuming excessive caffeine can have mild side effects ranging from anxiety, dehydration and trouble sleeping, to rare but serious effects such as arrhythmia, seizures and death.

2. Mixing energy drinks with alcohol can be dangerous

A 2011 study found that 23 percent of university students at a school in Victoria, BC had mixed alcohol and energy drinks in the past 30 days, despite most of them being aware of the warning labels printed on these drinks. Drinking the two together can be dangerous, as research has linked this behaviour to greater consumption of alcohol. Drinking more alcohol can exacerbate the already existing negative effects associated with alcohol use, while mixing it with energy drinks can increase your chance of experiencing heart palpitations and vomiting on your night out.  

3. Energy drinks can contribute to obesity and diabetes

Energy drinks have been linked to potential long-term effects like diabetes, which may be caused from decreased insulin sensitivity as a result of high caffeine consumption. They have also been linked to obesity, like many other high sugar beverages. Based on this evidence, some communities haven implemented a ban on energy drinks. Other groups have advocated for legislation to restrict their marketing from targeting young people.

4. Young people can be especially negatively affected

A 2014 study coming out of the University of Waterloo found that energy drink consumption among high school students is correlated with higher rates of depression and substance abuse although more research is needed to understand why. Based on this growing evidence, governing medical bodies such as the Canadian Pediatric Society have advised all children to stay away from energy drinks. All of the serious health effects known to be associated with energy drinks have exacerbated effects on young, underdeveloped bodies.

5. It’s possible to become dependent on energy drinks

Sugar, stimulants and caffeine can be addictive substances on their own. Since those three are the main ingredients in any energy drink, it’s easy to see why the beverage can cause dependence. This can lead to a greater chance of caffeine overconsumption and experiencing any of the negative side effects associated with that behaviour. Professionals suggest tapering off your drinking if you are dependent on them, instead of stopping cold turkey.

As growing evidence warns against the consumption of energy drinks, only time will tell whether they will remain as convenient, available and widespread as they are now. In the meantime, you can make a more informed and calculated decision regarding its consumption, as you do before eating or drinking anything else. If you’re ready for that all-nighter and need a pick-me-up, reconsider that energy drink and try to stick to a trusty old cup of coffee!

I study neuroscience at U of T and in my free time you can find me writing, surrounded by good friends, reading ethnographies and eating alfajores.
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