WHEN THE AFTERNOON slump hits a bit too hard, it’s easy to turn to a light and refreshing energy drink to keep yourself focused throughout the remainder of the day.
Sometimes you need a break from coffee or tea, and something with a little fizz just feels right. In the back of your brain, you probably know that this isn’t the best choice, but how bad can energy drinks really be for you?
The answer is worse than you think—which is unfortunate news for your 3 p.m. crash. Studies have found that energy drinks can lead to a whole slew of health problems. And recently, they’re creating a buzz in the news, too.
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America’s most recent energy drink obsession, Celsius, was caught in a lawsuit last year over false advertising that the drink did not contain any preservatives, even though it contains citric acid—one of the world’s most commonly used preservatives.
PRIME, a new energy drink created by controversial Youtube star Logan Paul, has created its fair share of backlash as well. The drink is being banned in schools across the world because of its high caffeine content and under-the-table sales in schools by students at a higher price than usual. The company’s co-founder, KSI, Paul’s fellow social media star and former boxing rival, has made plans to avenge PRIME’s bad name.
The PRIME website, though, advises children under 18 to not drink PRIME energy. Good thing, too—a 2023 study found a correlation that adolescents ages 13 to 15 who consumed energy drinks regularly were more likely to use alcohol and tobacco products. Plus, the contents of PRIME and other energy drinks don’t really seem that they’re worth finding these fights for.
How Do Energy Drinks Affect Your Health?
“The wide range of conditions that energy drinks can negatively impact was quite astounding,” Josiemer Mattei, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told Men’s Health, and researcher on a 2017 meta-analysis studying the effects of energy drinks.
You might already know that energy drinks can screw with your sleep, make you gain weight, or even spike your blood pressure. But overarching evidence suggests they may lead to substance abuse, mental health problems, a higher diabetes risk, tooth decay, and kidney damage, too.
The sweet stuff may be to blame, she says. Energy drinks typically contain high amounts of added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. In fact, an average 500-milliliter/16.9-ounce can contains roughly 54 grams (g) of sugar, the review found, which is well beyond the American Heart Association’s recommendation of no more than 36 g per day for men.
When you down too much sugar, your body can have a hard time responding to it, requiring more and more insulin to help glucose enter your cells. If your body doesn’t react well to insulin’s efforts, this insulin resistance can be a first step toward type 2 diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. Plus, consistently high blood sugar levels can damage your nerves and blood vessels over time, which can set the stage for heart disease and kidney problems.
And it’s not entirely surprising that sweetened drinks can pile on the pounds. In one meta-analysis, researchers found that people who ate whatever they wanted typically weighed more when their diet contained more sugar and less when they didn’t consume as much.
Energy drinks also pack a perky punch, with some cans containing as much as 207 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per 2 oz, according to the review. While the researchers note that a moderate intake of up to 400 mg per day for adults is considered safe, the health implications can get a little dicey when you start to go overboard. That’s one potential reason why the drinks are associated with anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. One Korean study suggests that caffeine dependency may influence your irritable mood and screw with your sleep, which can be linked to stress and symptoms of depression.
Mattei believes this excess caffeine may also play a role in certain cardiovascular issues, like high blood pressure. Other researchers agree— A 2019 study from the journal of the American Heart Association has found that high volume energy drink usage significantly affects your heart rate, which in turn, raises your blood pressure. Other stimulants that contribute to the buzz—like gaurana, taurine, and ginseng—may have an influence as well, according to a separate study from the American Heart Association.
That’s a bit up in the air, though, says Mattei, and further research needs to be done to understand exactly how those ingredients affect your body. The review itself is limited, since there are only a small number of studies surrounding energy drinks, most of them focusing on young, healthy adults at one point in time.
Mattei emphasizes that the current evidence does support that the health risks outweigh any short-term perks you might experience from your energy drink.
Your move, then, is to nix them from you diet altogether. As obvious as it sounds, reaching for water can help, she says. Staying hydrated naturally keeps your body running—no funky ingredients or added sugar necessary. And if you want to wean yourself off of caffeine for good? Here are seven ways to boost your energy without it.
Deputy Editor, Prevention
Alisa Hrustic is the deputy editor at Prevention, where she leads the brand’s digital editorial strategy. She’s spent the last five years interviewing top medical experts, interpreting peer-reviewed studies, and reporting on health, nutrition, weight loss, and fitness trends for national brands like Women’s Health and Men’s Health. She spends most of her days diving into the latest wellness trends, writing and editing stories about health conditions, testing skincare products, and trying to understand the next greatest internet obsession.