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Move over Monster, Red Bull, and Killer Buzz. Make way for Altar Herbal Martini, Pur Pak, and Youth H2O, new energy drinks that use vitamins and phytochemicals to replace caffeine and sugar.

Energy drinks have been taking a hit in the news in recent years, and not without reason:

  • Some energy drinks are loaded with caffeine. A two ounce (30 ml) "shot" of 5-Hour Energy contains, according to Consumer Reports, 215 mg of caffeine. Depending on how coffee is made a cup (240 ml)of coffee contains 100 to 150 mg of caffeine.
  • Many energy drinks are fortified with the amino acid taurine. One of the peculiarities of taurine is that it is extremely toxic to certain pets. (We won't identify which one, because we don't want to be responsible for deaths of pets by energy drinks.) Taurine is essential to cardiovascular function and seems to improve memory, but large amounts can cause diarrhea.
  • Many energy drinks are loaded with sugar. Rockstar Energy, as we reported last year, is perceived as a diet drink because "rock stars are always on diets." It actually contains 58 grams of sugar per serving, as much as two jelly doughnuts.
  • As you might imagine, energy drinks mixed with soft drinks are dangerous for kids who have type 2 diabetes. Mountain Dew mixed with energy drinks has proven to be enough to send children to the hospital for insulin injections to lower blood sugar levels.
  • Increasing numbers of doctors are reporting that the consumption of energy drinks by the 6- and 12-pack sends children with ADHD "over the edge." There are reports of ADHD children consuming large quantities of sugary, caffeine-enriched drinks and later requiring hospitalization for delusions, dementia, and seizures, and damage to the kidneys, liver, and heart.
  • In 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 20,783 visits to emergency rooms for treatment of the side effects of consuming too many energy drinks. The greatest number of patients were aged 18 to 25. The massive amounts of caffeine that can be consumed in energy drinks can cause racing heartbeat, chest pain, headaches, anxiety, and even heart attacks.

Monster Energy has been listed as the cause of 13 deaths. 5-Hour Energy has been named in 90 reports to the FDA, including cases involving heart attacks, convulsions, and one woman's spontaneous abortion.

Clearly, when a beverage used as a pick me up can cause heart attacks and death in users who have not even reached the age of 25, the product calls for drastic change. But is that what the new, "natural" energy drinks provide?

Changing the Formula of Energy Drinks

The natural foods industry has produced new energy drinks that make major changes in ingredients. High-fructose corn syrup has been replaced with evaporated sugar cane juice and agave nectar. Sucralose (Splenda) has been replaced with an herbal extract from stevia, although tiny, unlisted amounts of artificial sweeteners are still used to mask stevia's after-taste in most products. "Synthetic" caffeine, which is actually the caffeine extract from coffee beans to make decaf, has been replaced with the South American herb yerba mate. The South American "super foods" acai berry and maca have been added to some products, and a growing number of energy drinks are fortified with vitamin B12.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Daswani, K. A closer look at energy drinks with a natural kick. Los Angeles Times. 8 November 2013.
  • Yeomans MR, McCrickerd K, Brunstrom JM, Chambers L. Effects of repeated consumption on sensory-enhanced satiety. Br J Nutr. 2013 Nov 11:1-8.
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  • Photo courtesy of Daniel R. Blume by Flickr :

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