Energy drinks: Are they good or bad for you?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I was asked to write an article about how energy drinks affect people. Boy did that open a can of worms. There is so much out there for and against energy drinks I don’t know if they are god or bad. I am going to give you the basic ingredients and a few quotes from the research I found, and you are going to have to make your own decision. I personally do not recommend drinking these drinks everyday.

Here is a list of the most common ingredients found in energy drinks.

• Caffeine – It is probably the most common ingredient in energy drinks, as it acts as a big stimulant for people, which as well know is in the pop products we buy such as Pepsi and Mountain Dew and other things such as coffee. But the key is that the caffeine is of a much higher quantity in energy drinks. 

• Taurine – This is something that is naturally produced by the body, as it is supposed to help energy levels throughout the body. And usually your body makes enough of this so you don’t need to add extra to your body. And one of the things that they always talked about with taurine in energy drinks is that it could possibly help with stress levels as well. Again, something that isn’t always the best for us on a day-to-day basis.

• Guarana – It is derived from South American plants and is supposed to be used for awareness and energy levels. It can be compared to caffeine but has a few different variations and stimulants.

• B Vitamins – Well finally a word that seems to be good — vitamins. We all know the importance of vitamins and minerals because they are supposed to be healthy for us. B vitamins are supposed to wake up our bodies and kick start them, and that’s why energy drinks put this type of vitamins in them.

• Ginseng – This supplement is an herb that is supposed to increase energy levels and alleviate stress as well.

• Ginkgo Biloba – Along with ginseng, this is another emerging herb. It is supposed to help your memory, concentration and blood circulation. This also is made for the regulating of stress levels.

• L-Carnitine – Is naturally produced by your body and is supposed to help with your metabolism and energy levels. It is created by your liver and kidneys, but because it speeds up your metabolism it can often increase energy levels, and that’s the main reason energy drinks contain this ingredient. It is supposed to give you endurance as well. The bad thing about this is that some people use this ingredient for support of their heart, so too much of this can speed up the heart.

• Sugars – We all know about sugars. They are the body’s main fuel, and we always hear about why we shouldn’t eat too much sugar. People can get a short-lived burst of energy from consuming sugar, and energy drinks are loaded with it.

• Antioxidants – These are actually a very good thing for your body, killing the free radicals in your body and recovering from the damage they can sometimes leave. Most vitamins contain some kind of antioxidants, but there are better ways of getting antioxidants than what energy drinks give you.

“Energy drinks are rip-offs,” said Bruce Silverglade, legal director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in a Washington, D.C.

In most energy drinks caffeine levels were higher than the FDA limit for sodas, which is 65 mg of caffeine per 12 ounces. The FDA does not regulate caffeine in energy drinks, some of which, like Cocaine, contain huge amounts of caffeine: 280 mg in an 8.4-ounce serving compared with about 100 mg per 6 ounces in coffee.

Overall, caffeine “is relatively benign and is not associated with life-threatening health risks,” said psychopharmacologist Roland Griffiths, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and a caffeine expert. “But here it is being promoted in the form of energy drinks and, alarmingly, in many cases to children and adolescents.”

Caffeine can increase anxiety and panic and cause some stomach problems and some cardiac arrhythmias. Although some data suggest drinking coffee can be good for you, according to Griffiths, “We should not mistake coffee or caffeine as a health food.”

Michael Heath is president of the St. John Professional Firefighters Association.