Is it dangerous to have an energy drink everyday?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

I have two kids and a high pressure job. I’m always exhausted. Lately, I’ve been drinking an energy drink in the afternoon to get through the day. My husband thinks this is dangerous. Is he right?

DEAR READER:

I’m sure many readers can relate to the mid-afternoon slump. It’s no wonder that energy drinks and shots have become the fastest-growing category in the beverage industry.

What gives energy drinks their jolt is good old-fashioned caffeine. It occurs naturally in coffee, tea, cocoa and chocolate, and is added to energy drinks and some soft drinks. Caffeine is a stimulant. When you consume a food or drink that contains it, your brain cells fire messages more quickly, improving concentration and reaction time. The heart pumps blood faster and more forcefully, increasing your physical energy.

People who regularly consume caffeine develop a tolerance for it; they need to keep increasing their intake to get the same effect. People can become so dependent on caffeine that they feel rundown when they don’t get enough.

Energy drinks can contain up to 242 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per serving. In comparison, a 5- to 8-ounce cup of coffee contains roughly 100 mg of caffeine. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 50 mg.

Most energy drinks also contain lots of sugar. Together with the caffeine, this can lead to a jolt of energy and then a crash (just like eating a candy bar). Energy drinks also contain a mix of herbs and other substances that are marketed as “energy boosters,” though they haven’t actually been proven to increase energy.

Many people have reported negative reactions after consuming energy drinks, including heart palpitations, chest pain, high blood pressure, anxiety, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and flushing.

Here’s the bottom line: If you need a quick surge of energy, it’s OK to have an occasional energy drink — no more than one a day. But this shouldn’t be a daily or long-term practice. If you’re dragging, it’s far better to drink a single cup of coffee or tea.

Better yet, try these proven nutritional, exercise and lifestyle strategies to help you feel more energized:

  • Eat small meals and snacks every few hours rather than three large meals a day.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Reduce stress with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation.

As you’ve heard me say more than once in this column: Most food or drink that’s unhealthy when used regularly is OK to consume occasionally. That’s surely true of energy drinks.

Unfortunately, most of my patients who have turned to increasingly available energy drinks in recent years do not use them just occasionally. The drinks tend to become a crutch, a habit. If that’s happened with you, I’d strongly urge you to slowly scale back the number of energy drinks you consume each week, with a goal of getting below one a week.