Are Energy Drinks Worse Than Coffee
You’re sitting in class mindlessly taking notes when you hear the professor lecture on the first chapter of his new book. Suddenly, your eyes begin to glaze over as thoughts start racing through your head like a freight train. You’ve got no idea what he’s saying because all you can think about is how much more work you have to do after class. By the end of the hour, you still haven’t written down a single word.
Energy drinks are supposed to help with these types of scenarios, but recent research suggests they may not be that effective. In fact, some studies show that people who drank an energy drink before going to bed experienced less sleepiness the next morning compared to those who drank caffeine from other sources such as coffee or soda. Another study found energy drinks didn’t improve focus and reaction times the way it was expected to. And another study showed that even just one 16-ounce (454 milliliter) energy drink can increase blood pressure and stress hormones and could put a healthy young adult at risk for heart damage.
So why exactly do so many people buy energy drinks? The main reason is probably their ability to provide quick bursts of physical and mental power. But what makes energy drinks different from other caffeinated beverages is their unique combination of stimulants — things like taurine, glucuronolactone and guarana — which supposedly enhance performance without making users jittery or lethargic. However, while there has been plenty of anecdotal evidence that energy drinks make people feel energized and alert, scientific data hasn’t always supported these claims. For instance, a 2004 review of previous studies found that energy drinks really only helped people perform tasks that required low levels of concentration, such as studying.
In addition, energy drinks have long been criticized by health experts for containing high amounts of sugar and unhealthy additives often associated with fast food restaurants. While some brands boast that their products contain zero calories, others have little nutritional value and aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for safety reasons. It also doesn’t help that energy drinks tend to cost considerably more per serving than most other beverages, including soda and juice.
With all this conflicting information floating around, it makes sense that consumers would want to know whether energy drinks are worse than coffee in terms of health risks. If we learned anything from the last few years of headlines trumpeting health problems due to excessive drinking, however, it’s probably best to avoid both.
The Problem With Caffeine
When researchers look at the effects of caffeine on our bodies, they usually compare it to the amount of caffeine found naturally in green tea or chocolate, rather than the caffeine tablets or sodas we consume on a regular basis. This is because the caffeine found in coffee, soda and energy drinks is absorbed differently into the body and works in very different ways.
For example, caffeine pills consist of pure caffeine, whereas energy drinks have added ingredients such as vitamins and herbs that affect its overall effect on a person. And since each brand takes its own proprietary formula, it’s hard to say how much caffeine is actually contained within. Some companies will go as far as adding extra servings of caffeine to their product to give buyers an artificially boosted buzz.
Caffeine is considered a mild central nervous system depressant that stimulates the brain and nervous systems. Its primary effect is to raise the level of adrenaline in your bloodstream, which causes a sudden release of energy. When taken in moderation, caffeine isn’t thought to pose any serious health risks.
However, consuming too much caffeine can cause dehydration and gastric distress, especially if you don’t eat foods rich in vitamin B6, calcium or magnesium beforehand. Excessive consumption can also lead to anxiety, insomnia, headaches and irritability.
Since energy drinks are loaded with caffeine, they carry similar potential health hazards. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that teens who consumed two cans of Red Bull had higher blood pressure than those who drank non-energy drinks. Drinking energy drinks can also decrease sperm count and fertility in men, although the same effect can occur with normal doses of caffeine, too.
Even though energy drinks may not be great for your health, they can definitely help you stay awake during meetings and classes. They’re typically sold under the assumption that their special blend of stimulants will keep you focused and sharp throughout the day. Unfortunately, science hasn’t yet proven them right.
One possible explanation for this failure is that energy drinks’ stimulant properties are mostly psychological. This means that instead of affecting parts of the brain responsible for thinking and reasoning, energy drinks stimulate brain areas related to memory, movement and emotional responses. In other words, energy drinks might temporarily relieve feelings of tiredness or fatigue, but won’t necessarily solve deeper issues that require a more thorough solution.
Another problem with energy drinks is their tendency to create false expectations among customers. Many believe that energy drinks are guaranteed to improve cognition and productivity simply because their labels claim so. After all, the label on an energy drink bottle says “Increases Focus & Energy,” and the label on a coffee maker says “Brews Better Coffee.” Consumers shouldn’t expect the same results from either, but should consider trying out alternative methods to boost cognitive function before reaching for a can of energy drink.
Although energy drinks have failed to deliver the positive effects advertised on their labels, they continue to see popularity among younger generations. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 12 percent of American adults between ages 18 and 24 reported using energy drinks in 2010. That number is likely to rise in the coming years as more people realize that energy drinks are bad for them.
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