Americans spent a whopping $13.4 billion dollars on energy drinks in 2015. That’s about $42 for every man, woman, and child in the country!
What are you getting for that $42? A lot more than the industry promises, that’s for sure. And the “lot more” is all bad.
For example, a single 16-ounce energy drink can raise your blood pressure by more than 6%. That jump may be temporary… but millions of Americans already have elevated blood pressure. And millions drink more than one energy drink a day.
Read on to discover the real costs of that “energy boost.”
Courting Heart Trouble, One Can at a Time
According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, energy drinks have already been linked to “serious cardiovascular events.” Curious as to how this happens, they designed a simple experiment.
They split a group of volunteers into two groups. Both groups were given a single drink. One group got an energy drink. The other drank a look-alike that had none of the stimulants in the energy drink.
A half-hour after the drink, the doctors compared their volunteers’ blood pressure to pre-drink levels. The placebo group showed no change. In the energy drink group, though, average blood pressure shot up by 6.4%.
Norepinephrine levels also surged in the energy drink group. This is the hormone responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response. It raises blood pressure and heart rate and triggers a rush of sugar into your system.
Less than two weeks later, the doctors switched groups. The former placebo group now got the energy drink. The original energy drink group now got the placebo. The results were the same. The energy drink resulted in higher norepinephrine levels and a boost in blood pressure.
And all it took was a single can. If you drink multiple cans a day, the effects may be prolonged or magnified.
This wasn’t the first – or the last – study to show energy drinks increase heart risk.
Danger Higher for the Uncaffeinated
In another study, Mayo Clinic scientists found energy drinks don’t have the same effect on everyone. If you’re not used to a lot of caffeine, the effects are even stronger.
This study looked at people who got less than 160 mg of caffeine a day – the amount in about 1-1/2 cups of coffee. Their blood pressure shot up even higher than folks who do get more caffeine.
In fact, the low-caffeine group saw blood pressure spikes twice as high as the caffeine group!
A new study from Houston’s UT Health (UTH) reports a single energy drink can also damage blood vessels.
The UTH team looked at a measure called “flow-mediated dilation.” This measures the response of arteries to increased blood flow. It’s frequently used to determine artery health.
Volunteers – all healthy young adults – each drank one 24-ounce energy drink. Ninety minutes later, doctors measured their arteries’ response to increased blood flow.
They found the volunteers’ arteries were 45% less responsive than before the energy drink.
Keep in mind all three of these studies looked at the effects of just one energy drink. Many people drink two or more per day.
Should You Worry?
If you have high blood pressure, energy drinks are not your friends. The same applies if you have any heart health risks.
A modest amount of caffeine may confer some health benefits. But these drinks usually have more than just caffeine. Many contain other herbs – along with a significant amount of added sugar.
There’s really nothing healthy about energy drinks. And you can boost your energy safely in other ways…
- Eat foods low on the glycemic index. In other words, get more fiber and fewer refined carbohydrates. Low-glycemic foods help you avoid mid-morning and mid-afternoon “crashes.”
- Exercise regularly. Burning energy to feel more energetic may sound strange. But regular exercise helps your body run more efficiently. So you’ll feel less dragged out.
- Manage stress. Stress leads to fatigue. Mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, and many other activities can ease stress levels. So you feel less drained.
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant. Even worse, it makes you sleepy while lowering sleep quality.
There’s really no reason to resort to energy drinks. Most brands deliver all the disadvantages of soft drinks – but with added risks. If you really need a quick “pick-me-up,” try a handful of almonds or walnuts instead.
About the Author: Jason Kennedy is a celebrated investigative health writer and the author of The X-Factor Revolution and Beyond the Blue Zone. With over 10 years of experience working with today’s leading alternative and anti-aging doctors, Jason shares his insider status and access to the latest breakthroughs with thousands of readers from around world.
Richter, F., “Energy Drinks,” Statista.com. Feb 19, 2014.
“Energy Drink Increases Blood Pressure, Norepinephrine Levels,” JAMA Network. Nov 8, 2015.
Klein, T., “Energy Drinks Raise Resting Blood Pressure, Dramatic In Those Not Used To Caffeine,” Mayo Clinic. Mar 13, 2015.
“Just one energy drink may hurt blood vessel function,” AHA/ASA Newsroom. Nov 5, 2018.
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