Energy drinks have unhealthy buzz

Local nutritionists warn that claims of boosts in energy, focus are not backed up by facts

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 

They can give you wings or help you unleash the beast.

They can improve concentration, sharpen focus and boost energy.

They can carry the caffeine kick of two cups of coffee.

Energy drinks — Monster Energy, Red Bull, Rockstar Energy Drink, 5-Hour Energy — and their promises are everywhere.

But are they all hype?

“There’s no scientific evidence that they’re helpful,” said Janice Stixrud, a registered dietitian at Kaiser Permanente’s Longview medical office.

“It’s all testimonials and false claims so far,” she added.

Those claims go unchecked because of how the drinks are labeled. Manufacturers of many energy drinks and energy shots have labeled their products as dietary supplements. The “active ingredients” in dietary supplements require no pre-approval by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to be used in the product, according to the FDA.

“I do get leery of products not evaluated by the FDA,” said Dominique Lopez-Stickney, a registered dietitian at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

Many of the drinks include “mega-doses” of vitamins and amino acids, Stixrud said. For example, a 3-ounce serving of 5-Hour Energy includes more than 8,000 percent of the daily value of vitamin B12.

While many vitamins are water-soluble, which means the body will excrete the excess, researchers don’t yet know the effects of large doses of amino acids on the body, Stixrud said.

“I think people run the risk of getting mega-doses of things when they rely on these designer things, and we don’t know what that’s going to do over time,” she said.

The drinks do serve up a kick — they are stimulants, after all — but the boost is short-lived and offers no nutritional value, Stixrud said.

Caffeine is the main active ingredient in energy drinks. Many of the drinks contain 70 to 120 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce serving, according to a December 2012 Consumer Reports study. The energy shots — 1 to 3 ounces — contain 150 to 240 milligrams of caffeine, according to the study.

By comparison, an 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 100 milligrams of caffeine.

People who feel like they need the energy boost every day may be overlooking another culprit, Lopez-Stickney said.

“I think it’s kind of like a Band-Aid for a bigger problem going on,” she said.

Skipping meals or substituting energy drinks for food can rob the body of nutrients and cause energy levels to drop. Snacks of vegetables and an egg or some cheese can help improve energy levels, Lopez-Stickney said. Exercising, even for only 10 to 15 minutes, can also help boost energy, she said.

Energy drinks can also contain high amounts of sugar and empty calories.

For example, a 16-ounce can of Monster contains 57 grams of sugar, equal to about 13½ teaspoons, and 200 calories.

A person would need to eat about 4 cups of vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and sugar snap peas to consume 200 calories, Lopez-Stickney said.

So rather than reaching for a Red Bull, Stixrud suggests sitting down for breakfast.

“You may as well have a cup of coffee and eat some food,” she said.


Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.