Energy drinks are bad news. Not only have they been linked to deaths and other physical dangers, but heavily caffeinated drinks like Red Bull, Monster and Full Throttle can also affect our mental health, including increasing our risk for depression and anxiety, according to certified clinical nutritionist, speaker and author who has appeared on the Dr. Oz Show and NPR, Dr. Kaayla Daniel. Energy drinks, she says, are risky and dangerous for our mental health. Find out why:
What is in most energy drinks?
Drinks like Red Bull, Full Throttle, Jolt, Amp contain caffeine plus sweeteners in the forms of glucuronolactone, sucrose and/or glucose. Some contain an extract from guarana seeds, a berry that has a stimulating effect on the body. Some also contain the amino acid taurine, which is beneficial for many people, but cannot possibly compensate for the low nutritional value of the remaining ingredient or the risk factor of extremely high caffeine content.
The biggest problem is we have no way of knowing how much caffeine is in these drinks. The labels don’t include this info. Because energy drinks are marketed as supplements, not food products, manufacturers can apparently load them up with caffeine without properly informing consumers. My understanding is the caffeine content of these drinks ranges from 100 to a whopping 430 mg per 12 ounces, which is considerably more than the 35 mg found in the usual can of Coca Cola. A study out of Johns Hopkins published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence in 2008 includes the statement, “The caffeine content of energy drinks varies over a 10-fold range, with some containing the equivalent of 14 cans of Coca Cola, yet the caffeine amounts are unlabeled and few include warnings about potential health risks of caffeine intoxification.”
Wow,that’s a ton of caffeine. What happens to your body when you drink one of these?
The sugar and caffeine provoke a quick burst of energy. It’s not a lasting effect, but rather leads to rising and crashing blood sugar levels, adversely affecting both physical energy and mental balance.
These products are heavily promoted to college students who may wish to forgo sleep for late night studying or partying. The highest risk comes from their use energy drinks along with alcohol for partying. Going to a bar and drinking alcohol and then consuming energy drinks to enhance concentration, performance, reaction speed etc is a prescription for disaster. The alcohol would be a depressant; the energy drink a stimulant. That creates a push-pull on the body that is extremely stressful, can create heart arrhythmias and could conceivably lead to heart failure.
Students who drink alcohol along with energy drinks are also more likely to get drunk much more often. This increases the likelihood of risky behavior, including violence. A study out of Johns Hopkins found that 27 % of college students mix energy drinks & alcohol once a month.
What are the possible mental and physical health consequences of drinking these regularly?
No one really knows as energy drinks are comparatively new in the marketplace. This is definitely not a case of Mother Nature’s traditional wisdom, but rather of Father Technology’s profit making and experimentation.
The ads target college students and twenty somethings so it may be years before the long-term cause and effect become apparent. On a more immediate level, caffeine intoxication is a recognized clinical syndrome, marked by anxiety, nervousness, restlessness, tremors, rapid heartbeat, pacing, insomnia etc. Caffeine intoxication occasionally causes arrhythmias leading to death.
Gastrointestinal upset is also commonplace, with excess caffeine damaging the gut lining, leading to severe pain.
Can energy drinks contribute to anxiety or depression? And if so, how?
Sure, and in much the same way sugar and/or caffeine would. People who go off the drug caffeine can become depressed as part of the withdrawal reaction. Irritability, fatigue and headaches are other withdrawal symptoms.
Can they make an existing case of anxiety or depression worse?
I would think the caffeine and sugar in such beverages would exacerbate existing anxiety, paranoia etc. Depressed people would feel very bad indeed when the crash follows the energy boost.
Caffeine is a “wake up” chemical. People start drinking beverages with caffeine for mental clarity and alertness, but chronic use can lead to lethargy, fatigue and malaise. The caffeine depletes the B vitamins, which are already depleted in most people who are anxious or depressed. People who “need” caffeine to get moving tend to have exhausted or burned out thyroid and adrenal glands.
Have you heard about cases where people drank energy drinks and suffered mental health issues? There have been stories in the news about kids/teens committing suicide as a result of these drinks…true?
It makes sense that energy drinks could be a contributing factor for kids and teens feeling suicidal. Caffeine intoxication keeps the body in “fight or flight” mode. This can leave people feeling very frightened and threatened. People taking in too much caffeine feel the physical symptoms of increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and panic akin to an outside “emergency.”
If someone has a mental health condition, should they avoid energy drinks?
I advise everyone to avoid energy drinks and also soda, regular or diet. Those with mental or physical health problems would suffer the worst effects. As a nutritionist, I strive to address underlying nutritional deficiencies and imbalances, and advise clients against sugar, caffeine and other quick “feel good” attempted fixes. People who rely on energy drinks need to take a good look at their diet and lifestyle and quit falling for a quick fix. Fatigue and lethargy can only properly be addressed with an optimum diet (including high-quality real foods, whole foods and slow foods, not fast foods and junk foods), less stressful lifestyle, adequate sleep and sufficient exercise. People who seek the quick fix of energy drinks but fail to address these issues are going to skid off their fast track into a ditch.
Any other mental health dangers of these drinks?
Caffeine is a legal drug. Some think it is a gateway drug. Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins thinks energy drinks can serve as a “gateway product” to drug abuse.