Tuesday, January 15

Where does the energy come from in energy drinks?

by Katherine Matutes, Ph.D.

Consumption of energy drinks has exploded over the last few years, making it a billion dollar industry. But who is regulating their manufacture and should they be a part of a healthier lifestyle?

The label may indicate that the most energy drinks contain is a modest 180mg of caffeine, which is about equivalent to the caffeine in one cup of strong coffee, but they also rely on a variety of stimulant compounds to produce the energy rush consumers experience after drinking them.

These stimulants often include theobromine (found in chocolate) and theophylline (found in tea). These are chemical “cousins” to caffeine, so to speak, and they belong, along with caffeine, in a chemical class called methylxanthines.

A drink’s stimulant capacity reflects all present methylxanthines, not just caffeine, but manufacturers aren’t required to reveal this on energy drink labels.

Making this even more complex is the set of terms energy drink labels do include. Ingredients like green tea extract, cocoa extract, ginseng and guarana are all sources of stimulants, but labels don’t reveal this.

As Director of Health and Wellness at the JCC Indianapolis, I question the safety of being exposed to unregulated, high stimulant levels. Stimulants affect the body’s central nervous system, and overexposure can result in insomnia; irritability; increased acid secretion by the stomach, which aggravates acid reflux; increased force of cardiac contraction; cardiac arrhythmias; and, rarely, seizures.

The threat is so serious that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently investigating 13 deaths that may be related to the over consumption of energy drinks. The FDA does limit the caffeine content in soft drinks, which are categorized as food, but there are no such regulations of energy drinks due to their classification as dietary supplements, and very little research into their safety has been conducted.

Until ingredient labels are made to be more accurate, it will be difficult to know the true impact of energy drinks on your body. This is why consumption in moderation should be considered by anyone seeking a healthier lifestyle.

More About Katherine Matutes, PhD

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