In recent news, reports have emerged of deaths attributed to energy shots like 5 Hour Energy, and I recently read a report that drinking more than three energy drinks per day may increase the risk of stroke and other life threatening incidents. Though it is hard to fully quantify these claims without knowing the specifics of lifestyle, family history and pre-existing health issues, it is by no means hard to believe them possible having spent years reading and researching the ingredient labels of these performance enhancers. Add to that my own personal trial usage and the claims become completely plausible. But, distinguishing the true culprit from the sometimes lengthy list of suspects is another task all together.
Caffeine and B-vitamins, energizer staples, are in and of themselves hardly hazardous in moderation. Even at their upper limits, the side effects are more easily managed and the possible damage more capable of being repaired and reversed. However when the formulators fall victim to temptation and start tossing in layers upon layers of herbs, amino acids and other ancillary nutrients, watch back! The resulting potions can be potent and seductive when we discover what we can do faster, better and longer with their assistance. I know you recall my declaration of brain buzz indulgence, and I know I am not alone. Life is demanding and the more focused and energized we are, the more confident and capable we feel. So, what’s the harm in drinking a shot or two of these enhancers, right? It’s not like they’re drugs, right? And therein lays the real question being asked by scientists and researchers. Their specific target of focus is the amino acid taurine.
Taurine is a free form amino acid naturally and easily obtained from foods like fish, meat, dairy milk, eggs and even seaweed. With the help of vitamin B6, taurine is also manufactured by the body from other amino acids cysteine and methionine. A safe daily dose of taurine is between 100 and 500 mgs per day and offers health benefits to the brain, eyes and central nervous system. Unfortunately, the amounts found in your typical energy drink can be twice this amount. Possibly even more concerning is that these drinks usually contain synthetic taurine and that combined with the large dosages can have effects on the brain and body similar to those of illicit drugs, causing an unnatural and extreme stimulation of the central nervous system followed by a hard melancholic crash in energy.
Increased blood pressure, disturbances in sleep cycles, moodiness and irritability, seizures, heart palpitations, and manic episodes are some of the reported and observed side effects of excessive taurine intake. The list only grows longer and more dangerous when use of this ingredient is combined with anabolic steroids or alcohol, as in the Red Bull & Vodka cocktail. Consequently, Switzerland and other countries are leading the way and banning taurine containing energy drinks. Although the US FDA doesn’t appear to be firmly decided, it is publicizing consumer reports of adverse reactions to the substance and my advice is to take heed. This does not necessarily mean stopping supplemental use all together, but perhaps pulling back.
- Start reading the ingredient labels of the sports and energy drinks, checking for the amounts of taurine and caffeine as well as the number of servings in the bottle or can.
- Beware of the words “proprietary blend” and note that the ingredients listed first on that list are the most abundant ones.
- Decrease daily intakes by half, reduce days of use to two per week, and take full breaks from use every four to six weeks.
- Increase dietary intake of natural taurine according to your lifestyle and eating habits.
- Increase the body’s production of taurine by making sure that vitamin B6 is also present in the diet.
Most importantly, tune in to your body’s reaction to these drinks pre, during and post use; and be honest with yourself regarding observations of side effects like unpleasant physical sensations, mood swings, energy fluctuations and even your own cravings for the drinks. It’s all relevant and we are all responsible. A friend of mine recently shared his professor’s view on the supplement industry as the “Wild Wild West” and there’s a lot of truth in that. So, I’ll be keeping that in mind as I venture. Til next time, be aware, be wise and…
Break Studios, Evelyn De Matias