5 Hidden Dangers of Energy Drinks

Energy drink hospitalizations are on the rise, but the dangerous damage could be subtler, too.

January 23, 2013

Energy drinks are sending more people to the hospital than ever.

The same pick-me-up that powers you through a boring afternoon meeting or late-night deadline could be silently setting your body up for some serious health problems. A 2013 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration outlines a drastic climb in energy-drink-related emergency room visits. With cans lining gas station and grocery store coolers across the nation, these beverages have become a billion-dollar industry in the United States, and the research citing major negative health implications is starting to catch up.


Let these five health threats serve as a wake-up call:

#1 Hospital Visits
Death is the worst side effect linked to energy drinks and shots, but there's a laundry list of other health problems that could send an energy drink enthusiast to the hospital, too. The number of ER visits involving the drinks doubled from 10,000 in 2007 to more than 20,000 in 2011, according to the new report. Those most likely affected? People in the 18- to 39-year-old age range. Older folks are reaching for canned and bottled energy drinks and shots, too, much to the detriment of their health. ER visits for the 40-plus age group jumped 279 percent between 2007 and 2011.

#2 High Blood Pressure
Drinking two cans of an energy drink a day could lead to a dangerous blood pressure reading, according to research done at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Doctors there found that 500 milliliters of caffeinated energy drinks a day lead to a faster heartbeat and a 10-point jump in systolic blood pressure. That might not seem like much, but if you're one of the 26 million people in the U.S. living with heart disease, it could pose a major risk.

#3 Heart Attack Risk
Even sugar-free energy drinks with caffeine pose a heart attack threat, according to a 2010 Australian study published in the American Journal of Medicine. Researchers found that just one drink caused blood vessels to narrow, even in healthy young adults. The possible culprit is glucuronolactone, a common sweetener in sugar-free energy drinks. Another potential ticker terror? Bisphenol A, or BPA, the chemical used to line most metal drink cans, has also been shown to trigger abnormal heart rhythms in heart cell tests in the lab.

Read More: The Best Natural Energy-Boosting Foods & Drinks

#4 Headaches
Headaches are one of the most common side effects that energy drink consumers complain of, according to the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association. Researchers peg the high caffeine and excess sugar, not the herbal blends, as the cause of the head pain attributed to consumption of the beverages. A Nutritional Journal analysis found more than 20 percent of users report headaches, with about 30 percent also suffering from jolt-and-crash episodes as a side effect. Another 20 percent experienced heart palpitations.

#5 Drunk Driving
Mixing energy drinks with alcohol creates a whole new set of problems, including the inability to gauge how drunk you really are. In one study, bar patrons who consumed an alcohol–energy drink combo were three times more likely to leave the bar plastered and four times more likely to try to drive at closing time.

Tactics for a Real Energy Boost:
• Eat a healthy breakfast every morning.
• Include lean protein with each meal and snack.
• Stand and stretch at least once every hour.
• Take a 20-minute walk several times a week. The exercise can unleash fatigue-fighting brain chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine. Nice side effects? The walks will improve your mood and improve your sleep.

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