Energy drinks can be risky. It is important that you understand what is actually in these products because their labels typically don’t tell you. Energy drinks are cited as a possible cause of thousands of emergency room visits each year, and there are reports of at least 11 deaths among people who drank 5-Hour Energy – although we don’t know more about the cases. And five deaths have been associated with the use of Monster energy drinks.
How Much Caffeine?
Although known as “energy drinks,” many of these products don’t provide any real energy, as you would get from carbohydrates, for example. Instead they provide a stimulant – caffeine. Labels typically don’t tell you exactly how much caffeine is in a product. At ConsumerLab.com, we recently tested caffeine levels in three popular energy drinks. We found that a 5-ounce bottle of Monster Energy M-3 Super Concentrate contained 206 mg of caffeine and 5-Hour Energy contained about the same amount but in just 2 ounces, meaning that 5-Hour Energy is even more concentrated than Monster. In comparison, a full 8-ounce cup of regular brewed coffee has just 95 milligrams of caffeine. Ounce-for-ounce, the caffeine in 5-Hour Energy is 9 times as concentrated as in coffee.
Over the course of a full day, these amounts, and even up to 300 mg of caffeine can be fine. You’d be drinking about 3 cups of coffee, sipping here and there, so you’re getting a gradual rise in caffeine as well as eliminating some of it. The problem with the shot is that you are getting over two-thirds of that daily amount all at once, which can be a jolt to the system. And since it’s such a small amount of liquid, you may be inclined to drink more than one bottle. Drink two little bottles and you’ve just downed 415 mg of caffeine.
Vitamins You Don’t Need and May Not Want
There are very high levels of B vitamins in some energy drinks that could be harming you. For example, an adult needs only 15 mg of niacin per day – and few people are deficient. One bottle of 5-Hour Energy has twice that amount, which is just shy of the upper tolerable intake level for niacin, above which you can get flushing of the skin, which can be annoying and even painful. If you drink more than two bottles in a day, you are also exceeding safe levels for folic acid and vitamin B6, raising your risk of various types of toxicity to your body. We have also found that the amounts of vitamins in these products don’t always match what’s on the label. Details are in ConsumerLab.com’s Product Review of B Vitamins Supplements and Energy Drinks (available through the 24-hour free pass to Dr. Oz viewers).
Be aware that the regulations are such that these products can contain any amount of caffeine and B vitamins that the companies want to put in. It is a buyer-beware situation. You don’t really know what you’re getting, which is why ConsumerLab.com tests products like these.
The Bottom Line
Getting a lot of caffeine all at once along with potentially harmful megadoses of vitamins is a bad way to go, and there is real potential for misuse. Thousands of case reports bear this out. In addition, people who mix energy drinks and alcohol are more likely to engage in risky behavior because it makes them feel or act alert while they are mentally compromised.
Getting caffeine gradually from coffee or tea is a more healthful way to go. Of course, eating properly and getting more sleep are the best solutions to feeling more energized.