Energy Drinks/Caffeine- Good or Bad?

energy-drinksOver 6 billion energy drinks are sold every year in the USA. Most energy drinks have high levels of caffeine.  Many have Taurine, added for possible benefits to muscles and the nervous system. When Guarana (Paullinia cupana) is added, it gives an additional dose of caffeine at 250mg of caffeine per 3-5 grams of the herb. Ginko and Panax are herbs known for positive effects on brain and Carnitine is a vitamin that is known to assist energy at the cellular level.  B-vitamins may be added for their support of cell function and brain function, being important cofactors for many metabolic pathways.

The FDA limits the amount of caffeine that can be in soft drinks to 71 mg per 12 ounces.  Energy drinks get around this by claiming that their product is a dietary supplement containing herbs as well and thus is exempt from that FDA limit.  In 2010, the FDA banned the addition of caffeine to alcoholic beverages due to the dangers of combining caffeine with alcohol.

Energy drinks and caffeine at low to moderate levels (less than 200-300mg a day) are safe for adults and do provide some benefit in the area of alertness.

Deaths can occur at doses around 500mg of caffeine a day, and at even lower doses for teens. At the higher doses, energy drinks and caffeine will produce palpitations, tremor, anxiety, jitteriness, atrial fibrillation, and serious health consequences if one has prolonged use of high doses.

Caffeine content:  
12 ounces of tea: 60-180mg
brewed coffee: 150-300mg
Starbucks: 240mg
Mountain Dew: 54mg
Coca Cola: 34mg
8 ounce Red Bull – 80mg
1 ounce Powershot: 100mg 
2.5 ounces Redline Powerpush:  350mg
16 ounce Full Throttle: 144mg
Monster : 16mg
24 ounce Wired: 505mg.

Caffeine is more dangerous when mixed with alcohol.  
Caffeine is more dangerous for children and teenagers..

Since caffeine is a stimulant that acts in the nervous system, antagonizing adenosine receptors and increasing dopamine, it can have positive benefits in some people, increasing alertness and perhaps in some may actually be having the paradoxical effect of being calming (much like the stimulants are typically calming and focus-promoting for those with ADD or ADHD). 

Moderation is the key.  We must be aware of the ingredients in these energy drinks as they are not well regulated and more dangerous levels of caffeine or other herbs may be included.

 The following link is for a very comprehensive look at Memory and Cognitive Function. There are examples of how diet and excercise affect this. Also, on page 18, there is an entire section on energy drinks that lists the positive and negative effects of consuming caffeine, and how that is (or isn’t) regulated by the FDA. Please take a look.


Dr. Paul


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