Energy drinks… liquid miracles in a can. If you believe the ads, that is. Energy drink ads boast benefits such as bounding energy boosts, greater stamina and alertness and increased ability to perform amazing intellectual feats. Who wouldn't want to reach for a can then? Well, here's why…
Reason #1: Caffeine Overdose and Addiction
The average energy drink contains nearly four times the amount of caffeine found in commercial soda beverages. Several of the most popular brands of energy drinks contain the caffeine equivalent of fourteen Cokes. Basically, that means you're getting about three and a half cups of coffee in a single sip! Caffeine forces your adrenal glands to secrete enormous amounts of adrenaline and other energy hormones, even when those glands may already be depleted. The result is a growing tolerance to the effects of caffeine… and eventual burn-out. You feel increasingly tired and need higher and higher amounts of caffeine to achieve an energy boost.
In addition to adrenal exhaustion, by inhibiting the activity of vitamins B12, B6 and folate, high levels of caffeine interfere with your body's ability to regulate homocysteine and cholesterol – both of which are significant heart disease risk factors. By causing blood vessel constriction and increased risk of blood clots, the caffeine content in energy drinks can literally be deadly for someone with high stress levels or high blood pressure. Not to mention that high levels of caffeine consumption have been associated with increased risk of stroke, arthritis, insomnia, heart palpitations, tremors, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, chest pain and neurological symptoms.
Reason #2: Sugar Overdose and Inflammation
- Eat fresh whole foods with a large emphasis on vegetables
- Avoid trans-fats and take-out food
- Avoid pre-packaged and canned foods
- Avoid artificial colouring, flavours (i.e. MSG) and sweeteners
- Avoid preservatives (i.e.sodium benzoate, sodium nitrites).
If you are the type of person who already makes a conscious effort to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables and organic meats in your meals, you might say that you don't need supplements.
One energy drink contains the equivalent of nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar! This amount triggers your pancreas to create a flood of insulin in an attempt to manage all the extra glucose that ends up in your bloodstream. Most of the sugar (especially if you aren't exercising) is turned into fat by your liver. Your body releases both epinephrine and cortisol from your adrenal glands, resulting in a quick upswing in energy followed by a crash and a severely compromised immune system. Not to mention a surge of cell-damaging free radicals, thickened blood and an eventual insensitivity to insulin (think Type II diabetes). And that's just the sugar. Artificial sweeteners found in energy drinks cause a release of gastric hormones, which gives your brain a confusing message: food is present but the food has no calories. That's why you have a food craving often 30 to 60 minutes after consuming an artificially sweetened beverage. These artificial chemicals (aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium and sugar alcohols) have been linked to upset stomachs, mood swings, birth defects, cancer, diabetes, emotional disorders, epilepsy, seizures and a variety of neurological disorders, as well as obesity.
Reason #3: Acidity
Carbonic acid, citric acid and phosphoric acid in energy drinks dissolve tooth enamel, raise the risk of stomach damage and ulcers, cause bone breakdown, osteoporosis, bone fractures and upset the fragile acid-alkaline balance in your body. So, considering all that… would you be willing to experiment with providing yourself a break from caffeine and see what it feels like to live your life on your own fuel? For something that is supposed to give you more energy, energy drinks only offer a brief lift with increasingly diminishing returns. The surprising thing many former energy and coffee drinkers discover is that they have more energy, not less, when they finally kick the habit. Try a drug holiday – you may be surprised at the lift you get.
And if you want to go one step further to support energy production naturally in your body, I have one word for you: mitochondria.
Support your mitochondria for natural energy Mitochondria are the tiny energy factories of your cells. They turn food and oxygen into energy, the fuel for life. You have hundreds to thousands of mitochondria in each cell of your body. When your mitochondria are not working well you experience fatigue, memory loss, pain, and rapid aging. How are these little powerhouses damaged? Toxins, infections, allergens, stress… and, yes, poor quality food full of empty calories like energy drinks.
Remember the free radicals I mentioned earlier? Well, when poor quality foods like energy drinks are metabolized with oxygen in the mitochondria, the waste produced is in the form of free radicals. Unless we have enough antioxidants in our diet or we make enough in our body, we can't protect ourselves from the damage to our mitochondria. The bottom line is that the more free radicals we make the less energy we produce. The ultimate loss of energy is death.
How to protect mitochondria, increase energy production
- 1) Eat less (avoid whenever possible) processed, junk food, sugar and empty calories.
- 2) Eat whole, real, colourful plant food – 8 to 12 servings of fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds every day. They are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients.
- 3) Exercise – interval training, in particular, can increase the efficiency and function of the mitochondria.
- 4) Ask your naturopathic doctor about supplementing with mitochondria-protective and energy boosting nutrients such as acetyl-l-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, n-acetyl-cysteine, NADH, D-ribose, resveratrol and magnesium.
Taking care of your mitochondria will allow you to increase your energy in a gentle lasting way, and help you age well, too. Support the miracles your body is fully capable of creating on its own when in balance, rather than rely on false miracles touted by energy drinks.
Candice Esposito is a licensed naturopathic doctor with a private practice, Wellness Blueprint Health Centre, in Saskatchewan.