We often drink energy drinks because we believe we need to be more awake and alert, maintain high energy levels and sharper cognitive functions…and many have grown fond of these drinks!
Although energy drinks can improve our mental performance to some extent, there are risks associated with their intake such as increased or irregular heart rate, increased blood pressure, sleep disturbances, anxiety, increased blood sugar, dehydration and many others. Research has shown that these side effects can lead to other complications such as Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, cardiac abnormalities, damaged dental health, dental erosion (due to the high level of sugar), even paranoia and hallucinations! The list doesn’t end there: after a prolonged consumption of these drinks, our whole nervous system can be impaired. Some people feel dizzy and jittery leading to impaired concentration and sleep. To top it all off, our body can get used to these drinks, requiring more of them in order to function well and to deliver the desired level of performance. In general, energy drinks contain more caffeine compared to soft drinks. Some of them contain sugar, guarana and taurine which also reportedly boost energy levels.
Caffeine is probably the most commonly used drug in the world. It’s so popular that we barely even think of it as a drug. Nevertheless, many people know little about the potentially severe effects that caffeine can have on us. It impairs our central nervous system, as well as our cardiovascular system. Average doses of caffeine (85-250mg) can lead to alertness and improved focus; however, a higher dosage (250-500mg) will result in restlessness, hyperactivity, nervousness and tremors. That’s equivalent to just 2 cups of coffee.
Sugar is a great source of energy for the brain, muscles and blood cells, but some energy drinks contain higher levels than what experts recommend. Furthermore, excessive intake of sugar may cause diabetes, tooth cavities, obesity, premature aging and it may tip the balance of the healthy bacteria in our GI tract.
What's the alternative?
There are alternative options to boost our energy levels and stay alert. Drinking more water and eating fresh fruits such as apples, raspberries, oranges, which are rich in vitamin C, will help during the day. When we’re at home, we must ensure that we’re getting enough sleep and having breakfast to fuel you for the day ahead. Instead of taking your coffee or tea with sugar, why not try honey? It’s a natural substitute for sugar and provides energy over a longer period of time as it contains complicated sugars which the body takes longer to process.
Consume high-in-protein foods. Beans, for instance are a great source of energy and low in calories. Nuts (such as cashews, almonds, hazelnuts and make sure they’re unsalted) are another source of protein and they are a great snacking alternative to those tempting chocolates. Fish, meat, eggs and soya products are also rich in protein which provides the body with 10-15% of all the energy it needs. Also, carbohydrates (potatoes and whole grains such as cereal, brown rice, whole wheat bread) are both nutritious and rich in energy.
Energy drinks may be a good short-term and occasional solution but there are other alternatives that do not damage our health in the long term. And with so many tasty, healthy alternatives, you can add more variety to your diet whilst keeping your eyes open until clocking off time!
Written by Dr. Noel Duncan