Energy drinks are great! If you feel a little sluggish, just drink one, and you’ll feel much better. They’re no worse than a cup of coffee, right? WRONG.

Energy drinks can be dangerous and have been known to send people to the hospital with serious health issues; some have even died. Energy drinks are full of caffeine and chemicals that create toxic effects, especially when consumed in large quantities.

Erin’s story, as told by Dr. Todd Frisch, founder of SHAPE ReClaimed:

Erin had been a patient since she was a toddler. Although we hadn’t seen her in a couple of years, she was a vibrantly healthy teenager at her last visit.

She came in one day and sat on the exam table looking terrified. Erin said, “It came out of nowhere. I was standing, and then suddenly I saw that a group of friends was hovering over me asking me if I was alright. I wasn’t sure why they were asking this question but what I did know was that I had checked out, entering a darkness I could not control.”

The symptoms she described resembled a seizure disorder, but after repeated episodes and several trips to the emergency room, she was given no definitive answers.

After taking a thorough history, my first thought was that Erin was dealing with blood sugar imbalances. I treated her with acupuncture, nutrition and essential fatty acids, but her seizure episodes continued. Asking questions from every angle, I discovered that Erin had been drinking energy drinks in order to keep up with all of her activities, along with homework and a part-time job. As the demands and stress increased in her life, so did her consumption of energy drinks, which she used in order to cope.

Erin didn’t have a seizure disorder or blood sugar problems. Once she quit drinking energy drinks, her symptoms were GONE. My theory is that Erin’s body was unable to tolerate the neurotoxic nature of the combination of ingredients and chemicals commonly used in energy drinks.

Why are energy drinks dangerous?

Energy drinks can contain up to 3.5 times as much caffeine as regular soda, but caffeine isn’t the only problem. An 8-oz. cup of strongly brewed coffee has a similar caffeine content (about 165 mg) as 8 oz. of an energy drink (up to 164 mg), but we aren’t hearing reports of people being hospitalized or dying from drinking too much coffee. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of energy drink-related emergency room visits doubled.

Symptoms directly linked to consuming energy drinks include:

  • energy drinks caffeine overdoseAnxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Fibrocystic breasts
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Numbness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Restlessness
  • Sudden death syndrome
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

If you drink multiple energy drinks every day, ask yourself why. Also consider that you probably aren’t drinking enough water, and you’re likely working your body beyond its capabilities without adequate rest. It can quickly get out of hand, leading to severe dehydration and an inability to function without the jolt that comes from energy drinks. If you’re like Erin, and your body is ill-equipped to handle it, you might find yourself landing in a hospital bed — or worse.

An even greater concern for young adults is the trend toward mixing energy drinks with alcohol. Due to the diuretic and dehydration effects of both products, the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol decreases, leading to faster impairment. Also consider that energy drinks are a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant. Mixing the two is a recipe for impaired judgment.

Energy drinks often contain synthetic caffeine in combination with sugar (glucose), artificial sweeteners, B vitamins, amino acids like taurine and carnitine, stimulant herbs like guarana and yohimbe, and artificial preservatives and colors. While B vitamins and certain amino acids and herbs can be beneficial in individuals who are deficient, their effects when consumed in combination with other chemicals is unclear.

While caffeine isn’t the only reason why energy drinks are so harmful, it’s important to point out some concerns regarding caffeine. While some naturally occurring caffeine from coffee and tea might not pose a problem for most people, it may be something you need to avoid or limit. The effects of caffeine for each individual are as varied as thumbprints, so it is difficult to say how much is too much for you, and how much is considered safe.

As you evaluate the role caffeine plays in your day-to-day life, consider these facts about caffeine:

  • It absorbs rapidly, between a few minutes and an hour, depending on individual metabolism. It also has a three-hour half-life. This means that caffeine activates quickly and can stay active in your body for hours after consumption.
  • It enters all organs and tissues of the body, even the placenta of pregnant women. Because a fetus cannot metabolize caffeine, pregnant women should avoid consuming caffeine.
  • It can be addictive. The more you consume, the more you’ll be able to tolerate, but the more difficult it will become to give it up. Detoxing from caffeine can cause severe headaches, fatigue and irritability.
  • It is a diuretic, causing an increase in urination, which can lead to dehydration. Caffeine is excreted through urine and, to a lesser extent, feces.
  • It is a stimulant that increases energizing adrenaline while decreasing calming serotonin. So, while you may be able to accomplish more, you may also feel more agitated and frantic while you work. This can also lead to adrenal dysfunction, which can cause fatigue, brain fog and weight gain.
  • It increases brain activity while simultaneously reducing blood flow to the brain, which means the brain will run out of energy more quickly. This can lead to seizure-like symptoms.
  • It stimulates the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). This can make you more alert or energetic, but if you drink too much too often, you’ll feel shaky, nervous and sleepless.
  • It can disrupt normal digestion and alter blood sugar levels.

Natural Sources of Caffeine:

  1. energy drinks caffeine moleculeCoffee
  2. Green Tea (includes all forms: matcha, oolong, pu-erh, etc.)
  3. White Tea
  4. Black Tea
  5. Yerba Mate
  6. Guarana
  7. Kola nut
  8. Cocoa beans (chocolate)

If you’re sensitive or concerned with caffeine intake, be sure to check the ingredients list on all over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements, especially those that are taken for energy, headaches and PMS.

We urge you to avoid energy drinks just like you would any other poison. We also encourage you to limit or avoid caffeine during Phase I (the cleansing and detox phase) of the SHAPE Program. If you notice a reaction after adding caffeine back into your diet after you complete Phase I, then you know you should limit consumption or avoid it completely.

If you drink energy drinks or lots of caffeinated beverages because one of your health complaints is lack of energy, understand that these products only cover up the source of your health concern. Adrenal fatigue, thyroid imbalances, yeast overgrowth, sleep problems and poor diet are some of the causes of low energy.

Talk with your SHAPE practitioner about why you might be feeling this way so that, together, you can find the root of the problem and heal.