Banner Health Services  

Energy drinks: Helpful or just hype?

Dr. Stanley Wen  

Stanley Wen, MD, is a board-certified family practioner at Banner Estrella Medical Center.

Question: Many people turn to energy drinks for a quick “pick-me-up”. Are energy drinks really a good source of energy, or marketing hype?

Answer: When fatigue sets in and it’s too hot for coffee, many people reach for energy drinks. Along with refreshment, these drinks often advertise increased alertness and energy. But, how much is hype versus sound clinical science? To answer this question, let’s look at the common ingredients in a typical energy drink:

  • Caffeine: Caffeine is the primary ingredient of any energy supplement. Caffeine decreases the sensation of tiredness, sleepiness and can improve concentration. It may also improve exercise performance. However, caffeine can be addictive and associated with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches. Effects of large quantities of caffeine are hyperactivity, abnormal heart beats, increased blood pressure and sleep loss, to name a few. Caffeine has a diuretic effect as well, causing more frequent visits to the restroom.

    Examples of the caffeine content in various drinks:

    • Coffee: 8 oz cup – 100 mg
    • Espresso: 1.5 oz cup – 70 mg
    • Tea: 8 oz. brewed – 25 mg
    •  Coca-cola: 12 oz. can – 34.5 mg
    •  Mountain Dew: 12 oz. can – 55 mg
    •  Red Bull: 8 oz. can – 100 mg
    •  Monster: 16 oz. can – 160 mg
  • Vitamins: We require a sufficient intake of vitamins to maintain health and wellness and prevent disease. Necessary vitamins can come from a balanced diet, or can be supplemented with multivitamins and vitamins C and E. Many energy drinks contain B vitamins, which are required to utilize energy in our cells. However, if you are already consuming enough vitamin B, very few benefits result from the additional amounts in energy drinks. There is no research suggesting that extra B-vitamins actually increase energy, as is advertised.
  • Ginseng: Ginseng is a prized medicinal herb from the far East. Believed to increase mental, physical and immune function, while building energy and vitality, the actual benefits are in dispute. How much ginseng is actually in these energy drinks is anyone’s guess. It is likely that the actual amounts are limited, as ginseng is relatively difficult to cultivate in mass quantities. Additionally, there is no reliable research that demonstrates better alertness or energy from taking ginseng, meaning better, independent studies are necessary.

Caffeine in energy drinks may give your body a jolt when you’re tired or low on energy, but it may introduce other health problems in some people. The actual benefits of other common ingredients remain unproven. As with anything, moderation is important.

Always consult with your doctor first before acting on any medical information or advice.

Page Last Modified: 02/22/2010
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