Coffee and Energy Drinks
The market for energy drinks has really taken off over the last ten to twenty years. Today there are over 300 varieties of energy drinks in the United States alone. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry and it keeps growing. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of you. After all, many of us are trying to get more work done in a day than the hours in which we have to do it. Energy drinks provide that quick solution to clear the sleep out of your eyes, get the pep in your step or the focus needed in the moment. I get a lot of questions about what’s healthy and what works.
When looking at energy drinks it’s important to note the key ingredients. Just about every formulation out there works off of caffeine. Coffee has been revered for hundreds of years in many societies. It has a powerful effect on the body. Caffeine, the key ingredient in coffee, can interact with receptors in the brain speeding up its activity, stimulate metabolism, enhance physical performance and counter sleep loss. This is no secret. We’ve all met people at some time or another who can’t function without their morning coffee.
In moderate doses caffeine is actually beneficial for the body. It can stimulate the heart and increase its rate. It can also promote better mood and counter the effects of fatigue. By stimulating metabolism, it can also help burn calories and help you lose weight. On the bad side caffeine can cause tremor, anxiety, insomnia and in high enough quantities can actually be bad for your heart.
Other key ingredients include taurine, guarana, ginseng, yerba mate and B vitamins. Taurine is not well understood in how it works in the body but is believed to enhance endurance and exercise recovery time. Guarana has high caffeine content that is released more slowly than in coffee. Ginseng has been in use for a couple thousand years with well documented benefits on the immune system, having anti-stress, antiaging and antioxidant properties. It is reported to improve physical and mental response. Yerba mate contains a high amount of caffeine, the primary reason it’s included in energy drinks. The B vitamins all work to help metabolize carbohydrates and fats. They are also well known to improve focus, alertness and mood.
Doesn’t all this sound great? Well, there has to be a downside. The US FDA has some of the least stringent measures of all the countries in the world. While they can limit the amount of caffeine in soda beverages there doesn’t seem to be such a restriction for energy drinks. The amount of caffeine consumed through these drinks can reach some very concerning levels. The same goes for the ingredients mentioned above. Ginseng, for example can contribute to hypertension. Although inconclusive, some data suggests that yerba mate may contribute to oral or esophageal cancers.
For anyone looking for safe options my advice would be to use in moderation. Not all drinks are the same. Keep in mind these drinks can sometimes have a lot of sugar or sweeteners that may not be right for you. Talk to your doctor about how caffeine might affect you and whether they think you need to limit.
Got questions for yourself or a loved one? You too can be featured in the next article. Write in to TheHealthyWay@NCHSI.org or write in to: North Country Hospital, ATTN: The Healthy Way, 189 Prouty Drive, Newport, VT 05855.

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