Too many energy drinks are more harmful than helpful

Kyle Kranz

Kyle Kranz


We are past halfway through the semester now! It’s only a few very fast weeks until finals come around. Now come the late nights with energy drinks and coffee to stay awake and get the studying done and the papers finished. In these late nights, many people resort to supplements thinking they will unleash their studying warrior. However this practice may be doing the opposite.

The main reason energy drinks are said to work is that they contain the most abused drug in America, caffeine. A typical soda contains 20 to 50 milligrams while many energy drinks start at 50 and can go all the way up to 500 milligrams in a can! The reason so much caffeine should be avoided is due to how it stresses your adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline. Over time they start to grow tolerance to the caffeine and can even burn out. This actually results in tiredness and the need for more stimulation for the same energy boost. A study published in Psychopharmacology showed that measurements of alertness and tiredness were very similar in nondrinkers and habitual drinkers. When a person finally realizes, as I did, how much harm this substance alone may be doing to me, I quit. One may experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and loss of mental focus and function. But let me tell you, I feel much better off now that I do not rely.

It also depends on the drink, but some contain five or more tablespoons of sugar per can! This much sugar causes your pancreas to flood your blood with insulin to control the extra sugar. Unless you are exercising, most of the sugar will likely be stored as fat. Your adrenal glands also now release adrenaline and cortisol. You are indeed given a quick boost of energy, however it’s followed by a rapid crash, hampered immune system, and possibly a future insulin insensitivity, or Type II Diabetes.

One of my nutrition teacher talks about there being a small grain of truth in all marketing, this goes especially for energy drinks. They contain Taurine, B12, B6, L-Carnitine, etc saying they will improve your energy levels, improve alertness, or convert fatty acids into energy. The truth is that rarely does any single supplement result in a substantial benefit. Your energy systems are an amazingly complex network and the supplementation of a single substance is not going to make much of a difference unless one is deficient. And in that cause, a Shogun is probably not the best option for your source. A study published in the Journal of American Pharmacists Association concluded that “the amounts of guarana, taurine, and ginseng found in popular energy drinks are far below the amounts expected to deliver either therapeutic benefits or adverse events. However, caffeine and sugar are present in amounts known to cause a variety of adverse health effects.”

Caffeine is definitely safe when used appropriately and does have its uses. It is a stimulant and is the best legal (under certain levels) drug for use in sports. Also research does show drinks such as Red Bull increase alertness and reaction time. However use or overuse, like I mentioned above, has been shown to have negative side effects on health. These effects include negatively effecting bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, diabetes, depression, glaucoma, high blood pressure, and heart conditions. Caffeine also has been shown to interfere with the activity of vitamins such as folate, B12, and B6. High caffeine levels may also increase homocysteine and cholesterol, two significant cardiovascular disease risk indicators. High dosages can even cause an irregular heart beat and death.

So it’s 10 p.m. and you feel like you need a quick pick me up. A strategy I have used is to eat an apple. I have found this does a great job since it takes effort to actually consume the food, instead of simply sipping from a can. Also one of the major causes of tiredness or headaches is dehydration. So try drinking water throughout the day. A coffee now and then is totally fine and if I need to stay awake for a drive or a late night I may stop by Choco Latte for a drink. The issue is all the other junk and calories loaded into these beverages and the overuse and abuse of them.

If you really do want some caffeine and an energy boost, have a simple cup of  joe. According to, one or two cups a day is fine. It is when you get into the four cup range that issues may surface. If you are looking to cut back, try going half-caff. Also keeping track of how much you actually drink may be an eye opener. Many teas such as black, green, white, and oolong contain small amounts of caffeine, and most herbal teas are even caffeine free since they do not come from the tea plant but infusions of different botanicals. Try a caffeine free soy or fat free steamer with sugar free flavor.  If you brew your own, shorting the brew time can cut back on the caffeine content. Cutting cold turkey may work for some, but doing so gradually will help curb the withdrawal symptoms.

To the readers, and especially the guy sitting at the table next to me drinking a Rock Star at 2 p.m., think about this. The energy drink industry has a lot in common with other addictive markets such as tobacco and alcohol. People consume energy drinks because they want energy or think they need the product. However the over use of them actually negatively impacts how you feel. So you drink more, because the energy drink company’s marketing tells you it will help. Yet their product is what is making your body need them in the first place because of it’s addictive properties. For your sake, be a mindful consumer and save yourself the fatigue and the cash.

Kyle is a senior majoring in nutrition. View his blog at