Drinks like Red Bull claim to “vitalise body and mind” and “give you wings”, giving you the ability to power through the entire workday and gym sessions at a low cost. It might be too good to be true. However, are energy drinks really good for you? Studies say no.
Energy drinks – loaded with caffeine and sugar – far from healthy, are implicated in overstimulation of the nervous system as well as obesity. Studies have even shown that energy drinks may not actually even work.
The caffeine content represents the biggest health issue. A study in the medical journal BMJ Open last year found the average caffeine content was about 30mg per 100ml.
Red Bull has said caffeine was “naturally present in more than 60 plants”. But most supermarkets have already banned the sale of energy drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre.
Earlier this year, British Member of Parliament Maria Caulfield called for a ban on sales of high-caffeine drinks to under-16s after the suicide of 25-year-old Justin Bartholomew, who habitually drank 15 cans a day.
His family believed the drinks increased his anxiety levels, contributing to the frame of mind that led to him killing himself.
Caffeine can be toxic in rare cases, but it is hard to reach a lethal dose of about 10g by drinking either energy drinks or coffee. The bigger concern has been the stimulant effect, which can produce jitteriness and palpitations. Teachers have complained of children unable to settle down and focus in school.
A study in 2014 by a team of nutrition experts from the World Health Organisation’s regional office in Europe, who were concerned about the increasing popularity of energy drinks, said there were “proven negative consequences of caffeine consumption among children and adolescents, including effects on the neurological and cardiovascular systems, which can cause physical dependence and addiction”.
Coffee can contain just as much caffeine and sometimes more, but it “is typically consumed hot and (so) more slowly”, said the study.
The drinks industry is aware there is an issue and has its own guidelines on the labelling of energy drinks, which must read: “High caffeine content. Not recommended for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women or persons sensitive to caffeine.”
Many young people mix energy drinks with alcohol, which can produce a state of “wide-awake drunkenness” in which they can carry on drinking.
Energy drinks also contain a lot of sugar – 27g in 250ml. The 2017 BMJ Open study found the average sugar content was high – “more than the entire maximum daily recommendation for sugar intake in the United Kingdom for an adult (30g).”
“This study illustrates the huge contribution of energy drinks to sugar intake, which is linked to the development of obesity and various types of cancer, as well as Type 2 diabetes and rotting our children’s teeth,” said Dr Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London, who is chair of the campaigning group Action on Sugar, when the study was published.
“They are completely inappropriate for children to consume, form no part of a healthy balanced diet, and should be banned for under-16s,” he added.
Be cautious of your overall caffeine and sugar intake throughout the day. While energy drinks do provide you energy to get through the day, it does so at the cost of your own body.
Article originally appeared in The Straits Times.