Energy drinks are a growing trend for those looking for an energy boost. Some use it as a morning pick-me-up. Others use it to push themselves at the gym a little harder. No matter the reason, energy drinks are being consumed more than ever, but does that mean that they are a pain friendly choice? And, when it comes to pain patients, how do energy drinks affect you and impact your pain condition?
Energy drinks: By the numbers
This fairly new product is starting to get more attention from the scientific community as a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that emergency room visits involving energy drinks doubled from 2007 to 2011. This is partly due to the fact that the energy drink industry had a 60% market growth during this time, but it does show a trend that some energy drinks can have serious health consequences.
How do energy drinks affect you?
Let’s break down the ingredients most commonly found in energy drinks and dive into what they do in the body in order to determine an energy drink’s impact on health.
Caffeine is one of the most widely used drugs on the planet and stimulates a person’s central nervous system. It is a part of most people’s daily life and it is a generally accepted guideline that a consumption of 400 mg of caffeine a day is considered safe.
Even in safe limits, though, there are extra (and tricky) considerations. Some fibromyalgia sufferers, for instance, find that even small doses of caffeine can cause a pain flare-up, or can adversely impact sleep to the point of causing more pain the next day. Some migraine or headache sufferers also report that caffeine can cause pain. On the other hand, some migraine sufferers actually find that caffeine can help alleviate head pain symptoms, and some fibromyalgia sufferers find the same.
Your body and your pain are specific to you. When it comes to caffeine, keep a pain and food diary to track what you eat and associated symptoms so you can start to figure out what helps and what hurts. It is also a good idea to consult your doctor if you are taking prescription drugs as caffeine is known to interact poorly with many other medications.
That concerns safe levels of caffeine consumption, however. Energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine and, depending on the drink, can have reported amounts of anywhere from 50 – 250 mg of caffeine per can. This is the main reason why energy drinks produce a performance boost, increase memory, and make the user more alert.
High caffeine consumption comes with quite a few downsides, though. Regular caffeine intake can cause high blood pressure, risk of heart attack (even in younger adults), increase risk for gout attacks, decrease bone density, increase anxiety, and lead to insomnia, just to name a few.
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that our body breaks down and uses as energy to fuel our cells. Generally, an eight-ounce energy drink has somewhere between 21g and 34g of sugar that can come in the form of sucrose, glucose, or high fructose corn syrup. The American Heart Association suggests that adult women should only consume 25g and men 37.5g of sugar at most per day, so it is easy to see how drastic a single energy drink can be.
Sugar does provide some benefits like an instant energy boost, but mostly it can hurt your body. It can cause increased inflammation in joints, it can decrease the immune response, it can cause a pain flare-up, and it also has some nasty effects on the tooth and gums. It also can cause a sugar crash, which will leave you tired and cranky. Sugar is one thing that you should always make sure you are consuming in moderation.
Even if the energy drink contains a sugar substitute instead of actual sugar, there simply hasn’t been enough research done on the more popular sugar substitutes to know how they impact the body.
Guarana is a South American plant compound found in most energy drinks that has a large amount of natural caffeine – approximately 40g per 1g of guarana. What does that mean exactly? It means that drink companies are not required to report that added caffeine to the total of an energy drink, which means that it is likely that your favorite drink has much more caffeine than you realized.
Taurine is a common amino acid that supports numerous bodily functions including brain development and regulating water and in minerals in the blood. While there is some preliminary evidence that it helps prevent and treat cardiovascular disease, further studies are still required. As it is, diets in the U.S. are generally fairly rich in taurine so it is unknown whether more of this compound has any other additional benefits.
These are common ingredients in energy drinks, but there are many more depending on the brand you choose. So, how do energy drinks affect you, especially if you have a chronic pain condition? Generally, not well. Based on their ingredients (and the amounts of those ingredients), it is always better and healthier to find an alternative to energy drinks especially if you have chronic pain.
What are some better alternatives to energy drinks?
The large amounts of sugar and caffeine make this “dietary supplement” a poor choice for a healthy lifestyle. Instead of grabbing an energy drink the next time you are in a slump, try one of these tasty alternatives to get you energized and back in the game.
- Smoothies are always an excellent choice. Specifically, vegetable smoothies that include spinach, kale, or parsley. You can also add a touch of ginger to help boost your energy levels and even reduce pain. Throw in some fruits or honey to create different combinations so you never get bored.
- Green tea has many health benefits that beat out energy drinks. Not only does it boost your metabolism, but it also has been reported to have positive effects on the heart and brain. It does usually contain caffeine, but only 25 – 40mg. That’s just enough to get your body making cortisol, an important hormone in keeping up energy levels.
- Chocolate milk provides a great balance between carbohydrates and protein, plus it gives you calcium. Grab a small glass of it for a healthy treat that is a perfect post-work out recovery drink.
- Coconut water is a good option as it has fewer calories and more potassium than most energy drinks. It also has many other essential nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium. This drink is rich and refreshing while still being great for your body.
- Good ol’ fashioned water. Water is very important for a healthy body as it supplies the muscles with nutrients and is crucial in every metabolic reaction. When you are dehydrated, your metabolism slows down and you start to feel sluggish. Downing some water can be just the trick to pep you back up again. Added bonus: add some fresh fruit to your water to get some added vitamins and minerals even more energy!
How do you get your motor running when your energy is low? How do energy drinks affect you?