Excerpt from Rebuilding Your Temple: Blueprints for True and Lasting Health by Stacy Mal
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. None of the information in this book is intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information contained in this chapter and this book are for educational purposes only and are not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Stacy Malesiewski is not a doctor and does not give medical advice, prescribe medication, or diagnose illness. Stacy is a certified health coach, journalist, and independent Plexus ambassador. These are her personal beliefs and are not the beliefs of Plexus Worldwide, Gray Matter Media, Inc., or any other named professionals in this book. If you have a medical condition or health concern, it is advised that you see your physician immediately. It is also recommended that you consult your doctor before implementing any new health strategy or taking any new supplements. Results may vary.
For many people, the go-to remedy for lack of energy is an “energy drink.” You know what they are. They are on the shelves of almost every grocery store, drug store, and gas station around. They are not hard to find. However, I personally do not choose these products for many reasons.
First and foremost, they are called “energy” drinks, but many contain around 27 grams of sugar per serving, and some contain two servings per can. That’s 54 grams of sugar per can! Consuming that much sugar will inevitably cause rollercoaster blood sugar levels with dramatic peaks and falls.
So, even though it is touted as an “energy” drink, it will likely result in increased fatigue later on. (Note: many sugar free options also have sweeteners on my no-no list from earlier chapters.)
Also, typical store-bought energy drinks usually contain a synthetic form of caffeine. Yes, caffeine can be derived naturally from things such as coffee beans, tea leaves, and cacao beans. But, the form of caffeine traditionally used in energy drinks (and sodas, too) does not usually come from these sources. Rather, it is created in a lab.
The first synthetic caffeine lab was formed in 1945 by Monsanto (yes, the same company known for genetically modified crops). Other companies followed suit, but later all synthetic caffeine production moved abroad. Today, most synthetic caffeine is manufactured in overseas pharmaceutical plants in very “sketchy” conditions because foreign inspections are not usually required.
Also, synthetic caffeine powder undergoes several steps that are just not ideal, in my opinion. The process starts with urea, a compound that comes from ammonia. Then, it is exposed to several harsh chemicals during production. Finally, it is rinsed with things like sodium nitrite, acetic acid, sodium carbonate and chloroform. This last step is done because raw synthetic caffeine has a bluish glow which is not very appetizing.
Why is all this information important?
Because, even though synthetic and natural caffeine are almost indistinguishable at a molecular level, they are not identical in how they are created or digested. Natural caffeine grows in natural food sources and is still intact with its counterparts such as antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients. Synthetic caffeine is absorbed in the digestive system much quicker than natural caffeine. So it gives a quicker boost, but also a quicker fall later on. It creates another digestive “rollercoaster,” I guess you could say.
Too Much of a Not-So-Good Thing?
What’s important to understand is that typical store-bought energy drinks often contain a substantial amount of this synthetic caffeine. Some brands have as much as 242 milligrams (mg) per serving—almost three times more caffeine than a cup of coffee, which only has about 85 mg. Many health organizations agree that up to 400 mg of caffeine a day is considered safe for most adults. So, on the surface, these energy drinks “seem” to be safe for consumption.
However, there is more to consider.
First, organizations agree 400 mg of caffeine a day is considered safe (100 mg a day for teens). That means, 400 mg of caffeine consumed over the course of many hours. The servings are typically spread out over a lengthy period of time—coffee at breakfast, iced tea at lunch, a mocha granola bar in the afternoon. But consuming 400 mg of caffeine in one energy drink (two servings in one can), takes place in a much shorter period of time and therefore has a much more dramatic effect on the body.
And remember synthetic caffeine in energy drinks digests faster than natural caffeine in coffee. So three times the amount of caffeine in a synthetic form, consumed all at once (not spread out over the day), is not just a bigger boost, but a faster boost. This is a lot harder on the body.
This is especially dangerous for children and teens, as one can of the typical energy drink could be four times more caffeine than the safe daily limit for teens. This could easily lead to caffeine toxicity, especially in people with a smaller build. Unfortunately, about 30% of U.S. teenagers (ages 12 through 17) still consume energy drinks on a regular basis anyway. (12)
What’s also important to consider is that quick consumption also makes caffeine more addictive. You see, caffeine enhances dopamine signaling in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and reward, as well as memory. So, when someone consumes caffeine, the brain experiences a flood of dopamine which not only produces feelings of pleasure and reward, but also records these feelings in memory. This causes a person to seek more caffeine, to experience those feelings of pleasure once again.
What’s important to understand about addiction though, is the faster a substance or behavior takes place and elicits a reward, the more addictive it is. For example, cocaine that is injected is more addictive than cocaine that is snorted, because when injected it is assimilated into the body faster and provokes a quicker feeling of pleasure and reward.
In regards to caffeine, the same principle applies. An energy drink with 400 mg of synthetic caffeine that is consumed in 20 minutes is far more addictive than 400 mg of natural caffeine spread out over the course of 12 hours.
As with all addictions, the body develops a tolerance to the substance and must consume more of it to get the same reward. So, this explains why, after time, many people begin to “need” more than one energy drink a day. This becomes a huge problem because, while 400 mg of caffeine a day is considered safe for adults, some organizations say just 500 mg of caffeine is enough to cause caffeine toxicity in adults.
Other Reasons to Avoid Store-Bought Energy Drinks
The amount of synthetic caffeine is not the only reason to avoid store-bought energy products, in my opinion. Many of these energy drinks also contain other ingredients that increase the effectiveness of the synthetic caffeine. They also contain ingredients like guarana (from the seeds of a Brazilian shrub) that are stimulants similar to caffeine, but not classified as caffeine.
That means a label that claims to have just 200 mg of caffeine can be very deceiving, because it often carries even more of a “punch” than it appears. This is especially important to remember for people who are already taking other stimulants, such as medications for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
What’s more, high consumption of caffeine also reduces insulin sensitivity, thereby increasing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Combine that with the high sugar content found in these drinks and the risks are even greater.
Caffeine can also influence hormone metabolism because sex hormones and caffeine are metabolized via similar enzymes. Some data suggests that caffeine can especially influence estrogen metabolism, as well as testosterone and sex hormone binding globlin (SHBG). (13) Therefore, high caffeine intake can potentially contribute to hormone imbalances in some people.
But again, it’s not just the caffeine that is problematic, but the combination of multiple ingredients and the effects they have on each other. They can create a sort of ‘perfect storm’ in the body—and recent data confirms these risks.
One study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that caffeinated energy drinks altered the heart’s electrical activity and raised blood pressure. (12) Another study done in Texas showed that after consuming just one energy drink, several participants experienced a decrease in blood vessel dialation—from 5.1 percent in diamaeter to 2.8 percent in diameter—which can reduce blood flow to various parts of the body, including the heart and brain. (14)
This can be especially dangerous before a workout if blood vessels in the heart do not dilate in order to allow enough blood to flow into the heart. Ironically (and unfortunately) some people consume energy drinks specifically for a pre-workout boost. Sometimes, parents even purchase these drinks for their kids before a sporting event.
Unknowingly people who consume these products are often doing far more harm to the body than good. In a prominent study over four years, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found a ten-fold increase in hospital-related emergency room visits due to energy drink consumption. People aged 18-24 had the highest number of ER visits, followed by those aged 26-39. (15)