Dangers of Energy Drinks

Red Bull may give you wings, but apparently, it also increases your risk of several health problems including heart attack and stroke, according to an Australian study. The proliferation of booster beverages such as Red Bull, Rock Star and Monster on the market has health professionals and organizations calling for more warning labels about the dangers of energy drinks.

Some estimates put the energy drink market in the U.S. at over $5 billion. These beverages are loaded with caffeine, and also contain vitamins, herbs such as ginseng, guarana, yerba mate and gingko biloba. Many are also packed with sugar. According to the Australian researchers, Red Bull affects the blood system causing it to become sticky, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular problems such as heart attack and stroke--leading causes of death in the U.S.

Last year, scientists at Johns Hopkins University called for prominent labels to warn consumers of the possible dangers of energy drinks. "The caffeine content of energy drinks varies over a 10-fold range, with some containing the equivalent of 14 cans of Coca-Cola," says Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., a co-author of the article published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. "Yet the caffeine amounts are often unlabeled and few include warnings about the potential health risks of caffeine intoxication."

Caffeine content in energy drinks range between 50 and more than 500 milligrams (for a 12-ounce cola drink it's 35 milligrams, and it's about 80 to 150 milligrams for a brewed 6-ounce cup of coffee). However, energy drinks are marketed as "dietary supplements" and the Food and Drug Administration's caffeine content limit of 71 milligrams per 12-ounce can doesn't apply. As a result, consumers remain in the dark about the dangers of energy drinks, which include:

• Dental decay. A study published in the journal General Dentistry revealed that high energy drinks have the potential to erode tooth enamel more than other drinks we're usually warned about such as sodas, sports drinks and root beer.

• Energy highs and crashes. In a study that investigated the energy drink consumption by college students (the key target demographic for energy drinks), 29 percent reported experiencing weekly jolt and crash episodes.

• Headaches and heart palpitations. In the same college study, 22 percent reported having headaches, and 19 percent had heart palpitations related to drinking the energy drinks.

• Poor perception of intoxication. Mixing an alcoholic beverage with an energy drink may help fight fatigue, but it reduces your ability to tell that you're drunk - even more than drinking alcohol on its own, according to a study out of Brazil. This puts you at a higher risk of problems such as driving while intoxicated.

• Higher risk of injury. In a Wake Forest study that also investigated energy drink consumption by college students, researchers found that combining alcohol with energy drinks dramatically heightened the risk of injury and other alcohol-related problems.

• Increased risk taking. If you consume six or more energy drinks a month, you have a three times greater risk of smoking cigarettes, abusing prescription drugs, or engaging in a serious physical fight. You're also twice as likely to abuse alcohol and smoke marijuana compared to people who don't drink energy drinks.

Considering the last of these potential dangers of energy drinks, Griffiths adds that names such as "Blow" and "Cocaine" make these beverages even more likely to be gateway products to more serious drugs. Next time you're looking for a quick energy boost, you may want to consider healthier alternatives such as getting a good night's sleep, eating nutrient-rich meals, or running and lifting weights at least five days a week.


Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center press release, "Study Shows Energy Drink 'Cocktails' Lead to Increased Injury Risk," Sept. 2007.

Academy of General Dentistry press release, "New Study Indicates That Popular Sports Beverages Cause More Irreversible Damage to Teeth Than Soda," Feb. 2005.

Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 2009 Jan 1;99 (1-3):1-10

"Caffeinated energy drinks--a growing problem."

Reissig CJ, Strain EC, Griffiths RR.

Nutrition Journal, Oct. 2007 6(35)

"A Survey of Energy Drink Consumption Patterns Among College Students."

Brenda M Malinauskas, Victor G Aeby, Reginald F Overton, Tracy Carpenter-Aeby and Kimberly Barber-Heidal

Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2006 30(4):598 - 605

"Effects of Energy Drink Ingestion on Alcohol Intoxication."

Sionaldo Eduardo Ferreira, Marco Túlio de Mello, Sabine  Pompéia, and Maria Lucia Oliveira de Souza-Formigoni