The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is warning soldiers about the health risks of chugging too many energy drinks.
Nearly 45% of deployed service members had at least one energy drink every day, and 14% drank three or more, according to a study by military researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2010.
Energy drinks and shots became wildly popular in the mid-2000s, coinciding with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some were specifically marketed to young people, athletes, and military members.
Energy-boosters are a great way to stay alert and focused — but over-indulgence can have serious side effects. Caffeine, sugar, and “mystery ingredients” add up to a big dose of stimulants and supplements.
“If it’s got more than 200 milligrams of caffeine, don’t use it,” cautions Dr. Patricia Deuster, professor and director at the Uniformed Services University.
Doctors don’t know what the effects of ingredients are in larger doses. I don’t think anybody has an answer to the long-term effects.”
Consuming more than 200 milligrams of caffeine every 4 hours can increase blood pressure and cause anxiety, panic attacks, heart problems, or bowel irritation. Insomnia from caffeine also create a harmful cycle of dependence on energy drinks to perform and stay awake.
The other problem is sugar. For example, Monster Energy and Red Bull contain about 25 grams of sugar, which is about two-thirds the recommended limit for men, and an entire day’s limit for women. All that sugar floods the bloodstream and causes a “crash” later in the day.
B-Vitamins and ingredients like taurine can also have negative side effects. No one knows the long-term effects of taurine, but there have been a few reports of hepatitis (liver inflammation) in people who consumed massive amounts of B-vitamins in energy drinks or shots.
Mixing energy drinks with alcohol is another dangerous cocktail. A wide-awake drunk might continue drinking or engage in dangerous activities like driving. Caffeine and alcohol can also cause dehydration because they are both diuretics.
Finally, the bottom line — money. Coffee delivers the same amount of caffeine for a fraction of the price, without the added sugars or secret ingredients. Looking for an even cheaper and healthier alternative? Keep it simple: “Good old water,” says Dr. Deuster.