How Dangerous Are Energy Drinks?

risks of energy drinks

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Key Takeaways

  • Energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine, sugar, and a variety of other legal stimulants.
  • Experts warn that energy drinks can increase blood pressure and cause irregular heart rhythms.
  • Combining alcohol and energy drinks may cause further health problems and increase the risk of binge drinking.

Energy drinks are one of the most popular dietary supplements in America—only second to multivitamins for some age groups. In fact, over 30% of teens aged 12–17 consume energy drinks on a regular basis.

Experts warn that these highly caffeinated, often sugary, drinks may be associated with increased blood pressure, weight gain, headaches, anxiety, dental problems, dehydration, and heart disease.

Despite the risks, energy drinks continue to grow in popularity. Celebrities promote these drinks on TikTok and global energy drink sales are expected to top $53 billion by the end of this year, with a 7.1% increase projected by 2027.

Why So Popular?

Since energy drinks are known to contain high levels of caffeine, they are associated with mental and physical boosts. They are often used by athletes to increase performance and by students to enhance study sessions.

How Much Caffeine Is Safe?

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day is safe for most adults. That’s the amount you’d get from about 4 cups of coffee or around a dozen 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola.

For young adults, the caffeine recommendations are much less.

“If an adolescent is in taking caffeine, the maximum that they should intake per day is 100 milligrams,” Priscilla Mpasi, MD, a pediatrician and region II chairperson with the National Medical Association, told Verywell.

Energy Drink Caffeine Content

  • Red Bull: An 8.4-ounce can contains 80 mg of caffeine
  • Monster: A 16-ounce can contains 160 mg of caffeine
  • Celsius Essential Energy: A 16-ounce can contains 200 mg of caffeine
  • Bang: A 16-ounce can contains 300 mg of caffeine

Many energy drinks contain well over 100 mg of caffeine, which is one reason why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against any child or adolescent consuming them.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), 16-oz energy drinks contain anywhere from 70 to 240 mg of caffeine on average. Bang, a fast-growing company that has blown up on TikTok, offers 300 mg of caffeine in its 16-oz energy drink. This product even comes with a warning label stating that it is “not recommended” for children under 18 and should not be consumed with any other caffeine-containing products.

Other Ingredients Are Problematic, Too

While high levels of caffeine are a major reason experts caution against consuming energy drinks, Mpasi said she is also concerned about the other additives in energy drinks.

“You have caffeine, but there’s other legal stimulants on the market such as guarana, taurine, L-carnitine, that can be in the energy drink. And just a glance at the label or even the front of the marketing, that is not easily visible,” she said.

Experts say that not enough is known about these other additives to make recommendations for safe levels of consumption.

Energy Drinks May Contribute to Heart Disease

Martha Gulati, MD, MS, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, told Verywell that one of the biggest concerns with energy drinks are irregular heart rhythms, known as arrhythmias, that can occur due to “hyperstimulation of the heart.”

Arrhythmias can impact the amount of blood pumped throughout the body, making you feel faint. Over time, untreated arrhythmias could lead to more serious or fatal conditions.

“The other thing that I think people underestimate is the effect of energy drinks on blood pressure,” Gulati said.

A randomized control trial from 2019 found that energy drinks elevated blood pressure in otherwise healthy young adults. And another study published this year connected energy drinks with hypertension in children and teenagers.

Gulati said that energy drinks might pose an even greater risk for people who already have hypertension since these drinks can increase their blood pressure further on a regular basis. However, she said many people don’t realize they have hypertension, especially if they are young.

Long-term energy drink consumption could lead to heart failure or heart attacks, but experts say it is hard to test these associations with randomized control trials. This lack of evidence leads experts to broadly caution against energy drinks.

“I think that people should be careful with what they consume,” Gulati said.

Alcohol Makes Things Worse

In addition to the concerns about consuming energy drinks on their own, experts also caution against combining alcohol with energy drinks.

Mpasi told Verywell that alcohol acts as a depressant while energy drinks are a stimulant, which can confuse your body’s neurotransmitters.

“Your brain is going to be getting a lot of different signals—you don’t know how your brain and your body will respond to drinking alcohol and an energy drink together,” she said.

In 2010, the FDA cracked down on caffeinated alcoholic beverages, which led companies like Four Loko to reformulate their recipe and remove the caffeine, guarana, and taurine from their products.

However, Jägerbombs, Vodka Redbulls, and other energy drink cocktails are still sold in bars and mixed at home. The CDC reported in 2017 that almost 32% of adults aged 19–28 consumed an energy drink with alcohol in the previous year.

Gulati told Verywell that combining alcohol with caffeine means it will take longer for the caffeine to leave your body.

“That means you’re stimulated for an even longer time than maybe you would be if you took either of them separately,” she said.

Experts say this additional stimulation can lead to people consuming more alcohol than they might otherwise. The CDC reported that young adults who consumed alcohol and energy drinks together were more likely to binge drink than those who did not mix these substances.

It Can Be Difficult to Consume Energy Drinks Safely

While a single energy drink may contain less than the 400 mg of caffeine considered safe by the FDA, people who rely on these drinks might find themselves consuming more than one to feel the same effects.

A 2015 study of nursing students using energy drinks to stay awake while studying for exams found that some of the students consumed as many as 30 energy drinks in a week.

“The effects that they might feel early on when they take these energy drinks and feel more awake and feel more stimulated tend to wear off in time,” Gulati said.

Some athletes also use energy drinks for performance, but experts say it is important to discuss the pros and cons with a trusted healthcare provider first.

“Don’t assume food and drink manufacturers have your best interests at heart,” Gulati said. “They’re just trying to sell something to you.”

What This Means For You

In addition to caffeine and other stimulant additives, many energy drinks contain high levels of sugar. Experts say that the sugar content in energy drinks can contribute to weight gain and dental issues.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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