The ‘Relentless’ Effects of Energy Drinks

They are often a student staple, but  that energy drink you reach for to get you through to the next deadline may be giving you more than you bargained for.

Recent research has highlighted how excessive consumption of energy drinks – drinks like Red Bull, Monster, and Relentless – can have negative impacts on your health.

They are marketed as fun and exciting, and are used by many to increase alertness, aid concentration and improve physical endurance, but recent news has once again highlighted that far from being a healthier alternative, excessive consumption of these drinks is known to have negative effects.

Consumption of the drinks has even been linked to a number of severe impacts and deaths around the world – a recent report highlighted the US FDA is investigating more than 90 filings against one product and reports of five deaths linked to another.

Consuming large amounts of sugar leads to huge spikes in blood sugar – inevitably followed by a fall.

The main ingredients of many energy drinks are caffeine and sugar, and it is these that can cause problems. In moderate amounts, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, alleviating fatigue, increasing wakefulness, and improving concentration and focus.

However, too much can lead to some unpleasant effects, including insomnia, restlessness, palpitations and feelings of anxiety. Even a little can give you the jitters – some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others – and there can be nasty withdrawal headaches and fatigue for those of us with a bit of a habit.

In addition, many energy drinks contain large amounts of sugar, often equal to fizzy pop. A standard 355ml can of Coca-Cola contains 39g of sugar. A can of Red Bull contains the same percentage (27 g in 250ml) while a 480ml two-serving can of Rockstar has 62g. Consuming large amounts of sugar leads to huge spikes in blood sugar – inevitably followed by a fall. So the quick boost you get is followed by a crash – the crash and burn effect – which likely leaves you feeling even more tired than you did before.

So, excessive consumption of energy drinks can be an issue, but what about the odd one as part of a drink on a night out?

Now, you wouldn’t necessarily think of these energy drink ‘cocktails’ as dangerous. While it is true that the effects of combining the two are not yet fully understood, there have been serious concerns about mixing alcohol and energy drinks for some time. The combination has even been linked to the deaths of two people in Sweden.

One of the biggest dangers comes from the very ingredients designed to perk you up. Alcohol initially induces feelings of happiness and comfortable contentment, but when you overindulge your body knows it. It begins to shut down and you start feeling tired and sleepy – your signal you’ve had enough. However, if you are drinking these cocktails the energy drinks will keep you more alert. You may feel less impaired than you actually are, drink more than you normally would or get involved with activities that you shouldn’t (and might later regret). One report in the US termed this the ‘wide-awake drunk’, and a ready-made alcohol and energy drink mix available there was called ‘blackout in a can’.

The effects of combining alcohol and energy drinks are not yet fully understood, but there are serious concerns

In addition to this caffeine, one of the main ingredients of many energy drinks, has diuretic properties, so it excretes water from the body the same as alcohol. Combining the two can exacerbate dehydration (making the morning hangover even worse) – meaning that these drinks should not be used after exercise.

So, it is clear that there are concerns about mixing energy drinks and alcohol, and excessive consumption of energy drinks, but surely they can’t be all bad? Well, research indicates that there are several groups of people that should not even touch energy drinks at all, including children, pregnant women and those with diabetes, arrhythmias and other medical conditions, because they would be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects.

Although the effects of energy drinks are not yet fully known, research and news reports continue to highlight the possible negative effects from their consumption. With this in mind, moderation is the best way to go, particularly when we’re talking about energy drink cocktails.

Joanne Dernie