Energy drinks are widely consumed in the UK, with many people using them to get a quick energy boost. However, the effects are only short lived, and can cause health problems if consumed in large amounts.
What counts as an energy drink?
An energy drink is “A soft drink containing a large amount of sugar, caffeine, or another stimulant, that is intended to boost energy levels”. Many of the risks below are related to the large amounts of caffeine and / or sugar content of these drinks.
Caffeine: “A chemical, for example found in tea, coffee, this is a stimulant”
Stimulant: “A substance that makes the mind and / or body more active”
Within the UK two-thirds (68%) of young people surveyed had consumed an energy drink in the past year (2015). 13% of those said they were chronic consumers, consuming energy drinks around 4-5 times a week or more, however there are many risks associated with these drinks:
- Finding it hard to concentrate / sit still
- Poor dental health
- Feeling tired and irritable (when caffeine wears off)
- Sleep disturbance
- Needing to use the toilet more often – this can increase calcium loss (calcium is needed for healthy bones)
- Increased calorie intake and possibly weight gain
- Reduced iron absorption when consumed with food – iron is needed for healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen around your body
- Rapid heartbeat, which will increase blood pressure
- Stomach upset
- Type 2 diabetes – as high consumption of caffeine reduces insulin sensitivity
- In pregnant women – late miscarriages, low birth weight and still births
Caffeine is widely consumed and is found in lots of different products, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, sports drinks and cola.
Caffeine may have negative effects when consumed in high amounts.
High caffeine drinks are those that contain more than 150mg of caffeine per litre. Product packaging must carry a statement if a drink is ‘high caffeine’, as well as providing the amount of caffeine per 100ml in brackets, making it easier for consumers to spot high caffeine products.
Caffeine content of some drinks;
- A mug of instant coffee = 100mg per mug
- A mug of tea = 75mg per mug
- Cola = 40mg per 330ml can
- Monster Energy = 160mg per 500ml can
- Relentless Origin = 160mg per 500ml can
- No Fear Extreme = 146mg per 485ml can
- Red Bull = 80mg per 250ml can
How much caffeine is safe?
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suggests that drinking up to 400mg of caffeine (about 5mg/kg bw for a 70-kg adult) a day does not raise safety concerns. For example an adult could drink two mugs of coffee, a can of cola and a can of Monster Energy and be within their limit. However, if they drank three mugs of coffee, two cans of cola and two cans of red bull they would be over their limit.
Caffeine intake for children will be much lower. For a 10 year old child weighing around 30kg the suggested maximum caffeine intake is 90g a day, as they are less tolerant to caffeine. Therefore; drinking one 500ml can of Monster Energy would put them over their limit.
Sugar in energy drinks
The high amounts of sugar in energy drinks can also have an impact on your health.
The recommended daily allowance for sugar is;
- 4 – 6 year olds = 19g a day (5 sugar cubes)
- 7 – 10 year olds = 24g a day (6 sugar cubes)
- 11+ year olds = 30g a day (7 sugar cubes)
Source: National Diet & Nutrition Survey, rolling programme 2008 – 12.
To help meet the recommended target for sugar, sugary foods and drinks should not be a regular part of your daily diet. Just one small energy drink (can) contains on average 30g of sugar, which for all ages means your recommended daily allowance of sugar can be consumed from just one energy drink.
- Monster Energy = 55g of sugar per 500ml can
- Relentless Origin = 53g of sugar per 500ml can
- No Fear Extreme = 49g of sugar per 485ml can
- Red Bull = 28g of sugar per 250ml can
Consuming high amounts of sugar can contribute to;
- A build up of fat that we cannot see
- Weight gain
- Tooth decay
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of some cancers
For more information on sugar and your health have a look at our article on controlling sugar intake
Risk of mixing energy drinks and alcohol
Mixing energy drinks and alcohol together can be very dangerous. Alcohol is a depressant, which means your brain’s function slows down. When high amounts of alcohol are drunk, words may begin to slur, reflexes become much slower and feelings of sleepiness occur. However the caffeine within energy drinks acts as a stimulant, producing the chemical adrenaline within your body, making you feel more alert.
When the two are mixed together, the effects of the stimulant from the caffeine are stronger, which;
- Increases the amount of alcohol you drink
- Makes you feel ‘wide awake drunk’
- Makes you more likely to take risks
- Increases calorie consumption
- Increases risk of weight gain and therefore obesity
What to drink instead of energy drinks
Ideally you should drink plain water; this will satisfy your thirst and keep you hydrated. For a quick and healthier energy boost try snacking on fruits and / or seeds and nuts. You could also make fruit smoothies satisfying both your thirst and energy needs, (making your own smoothies will count towards your 5 a day, and will contain less sugar than a shop bought one).
For more information on hydration and your health take a look at our article