Energy Drinks. We see them everywhere, at every convenience store, gas station and supermarkets.
 
But...are they safe?
 
Traditionally coffee, tea and certain herbs are used because they contain the most popular and reasonably safe naturally occurring stimulant - caffeine. Later, caffeine itself was isolated and put into convenient pill form, such as Vivarin and marketed to people who needed to stay awake during long boring work shifts.
 
There are plenty of soft drinks that contain some amounts of caffeine, from Coca Cola to Mountain Dew. Then the 1980's saw off shoots such as Jolt cola that had twice the caffeine as regular soda.  Later we saw the advent of the five hour energy shots, which were often at the checkout counter at many convenience stores. 
 
But it was Red Bull and Monster that came along and took the concept of energy drinks to a new level.
 
At their simplest form, energy drinks are:
1 - Water
2- Sugar
3- A variety of chemicals
4 – Caffeine
 
The above can easily be the description of any soda. But add the term ‘energy’ or ‘revitalizes’ implies the product is healthier.
 
A sample ingredient list:
Carbonated Water, Sugar, Glucose, Citric Acid, Natural Flavors, Taurine, Sodium Citrate, Color Added, Panax Ginseng Extract, L-Carnitine L-Tartrate, Caffeine, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Benzoic Acid (Preservative), Niacinamide ( Vit . B3 ), Sucralose, Salt, d-Glucuronolactone, Inositol, Guarana Extract, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride ( Vit . B6 ), Riboflavin ( Vit . B2 ), Maltodextrin, Cyanocobalamin ( Vit . B12 )
 
Originally, Red Bull was a small can of 8-12 ounces. Now 22-24 ounce "tall boys" are taking up most of the shelf space on convenience store shelves. A big issue we have always talked about when it comes to health is dosing. You see, many of these cans contain two servings. While a can of Monster might say 27 grams of sugar, it actually comes out to 54 grams because there are two servings in one can. How many people drink half a can of carbonated product and then leave the rest for later?
 
There are many people who have two of these drinks PER DAY. If you look at the added sugar content alone, this is extremely unhealthy, especially when females should consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar and males 36 grams of sugar PER DAY. With other added sugars invariably consumed throughout the day then we can see that there is a huge surplus of excess sugars being added to the diet. 
While this article will not deal with the specifics, even diet or zero sugar versions of these products have their own host of issues. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to many health problems, and most health professionals recommend avoiding them.
 
Besides sugar, B vitamins are found in many energy drinks. But with some of them containing 200%, you run into the issue of overdosing side effects such as gastrointestinal problems, liver toxicity, skin conditions, blurred vision and nerve damage. 
 
Taurine is another ingredient found in many energy drinks, an amino acid which regulates water and minerals along with neurological development. However, there is no data on the long term effects of added taurine, especially when combined with other ingredients.
 
Ginseng, and other herbs. While they are inherently safe on their own, this changes when combined with caffeine and sugar. There is not much research on how these substances interact with energy drinks. But there are side effects such as high blood pressure, heart palpitations, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, swelling, dehydration and kidney failure. 
 
What about the caffeine?
 
There isn't a huge amount of caffeine in these drinks by themselves, and you could easily get a large cup of coffee with more caffeine. It is the combination of other ingredients and excess use that can create a caffeine addiction, with the potential of going over the 400mg daily recommended limit.
 
Energy drinks - Designed for Mass Market Daily Consumption
 
We tend to be skeptical of the health value of any product that relies on mass marketing, stunts and displays at chain stores and gas stations.  This combination of chemicals seems to be particularly addictive. While there are stories of people who are addicted to coffee or coca cola, it seems to be an exception versus the norm. 
 
A quick search on the internet shows an astounding number of energy drink addiction articles and related support sites.
 
An example:
 
"I used to drink 910ml Cans 1-2x a day, that's 4x the recommended intake. 

One day my hands and fingers started to shake and i could "hear" my heart beat.. like a big "thud" outside. 
I visited the doctor that evening, she said my blood might have high sugar and caffeine content(she asked if a drank anything), she said if i was an old man i would have suffered heart attack because the effect i had is similar to a minor heart attack. "
 
This is a big problem that make take a further ten years to determine the full side effects, especially as people age and their body cannot withstand the caffeine sugar combinations.
 
Highly addictive
 
While energy drinks can be addictive on their own, there is also a new study the reveals that energy drink consumers also have higher levels of drug use.
 
Financial cost
 
Many energy drinks can be purchased in bulk at low prices, but often people will go to a convenience store or gas station and pay a much higher mark up. This is especially in lower income areas, where customers might not have cars or access to get cases of product.
Often people spend $5 a day or more on these drinks. Many of these drinks are also falling under the so called sugar taxes being levied in various cities. Whatever your opinion is on sugar taxes, they are growing in number and energy drinks are not immune to them.
 
Energy drink alternatives and solutions - How to stop drinking monster and red bull, quitting energy drink and treating the addiction
 
We are taking the common sense approach that drinking products loaded with chemicals, sugar and caffeine should be avoided. Just like drinking soda, these beverages are not healthy and have little to no nutritional value. The sugar content is way too high, and non-sugar versions aren't any healthier and have their own host of long term issues, much like diet soda.
 
There are often side effects to withdrawing from energy drinks with much of this is related to caffeine. 
 
The first step would be to switch to simpler, natural drinks that actually have some health benefits as well as energy. 
 
Plain old coffee, for example will provide you with a short term energy boost and anti-oxidants.  Tea will also provide anti-oxidants, with a lesser amount of caffeine, but that means you can drink more of it!
By switching to these beverages, you can lower your dose to minimize the side effects of caffeine withdrawal such as headaches, irritability, depression and lack of concentration. After all, you can brew a 6-8 ounce cup of coffee or tea, and not be committed to a 22 ounce bladder buster size.
 
Both coffee and tea will have their health benefits negated if you add sugar. However, you can control the sugar yourself, something you cannot do with bottled products.  Start with what you are used to and gradually reduce the sugar.
 
With tea, there are some other things you can do if you want some of the other properties found in energy drinks. The popular author, podcaster and self-proclaimed human guinea pig, Tim Ferris came up with an interesting blend he nicknamed 'Titanium Tea' which combines several different teas that work together to provide energy.  TruGrit Tea is an all-in-one blend that uses many of the ingredients found in the Titanium tea.  
 
Conclusion - We consider Energy drinks glorified soft drinks. So ask yourself, is drinking a 1-2 large cans of soda every day part of a healthy life style? The long term consequences will be the same - excess sugars causing obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Coupled with caffeine, there may be cardiovascular side effects from the combination of sugar and caffeine. Add to this all the other chemicals and we would advise against consumption of energy drinks.