Energy drinks and brain damage – is there a link?

You had a great breakfast filled with all the nutrients you need to start your day. You have some pep in your step as you arrive to work and feel like you’re ready to tackle whatever the day throws at you.

Circulation | Healthy Eating | Memory and concentration

Dr. Owen Wiseman, ND

14 November 2018

What are energy drinks?

Energy drinks are defined by Merriam-Webster as, “a usually carbonated beverage that typically contains caffeine and other ingredients intended to increase the drinker’s energy”.

What exactly is in an energy drink that makes me so alert?

While the ingredients range across brands, the ingredients at the heart of these products include caffeine and sugar. This article will also look at some of the other common ingredients and their effects:

  • Caffeine – a safe upper limit of caffeine lies at around 400mg per day in the average adult, 200mg for a pregnant woman, and 45-85mg for a child depending on their current weight. Research has shown that most of the labels accurately report the caffeine content of the drink, give or take a number of milligrams while those drinks that fail to report the caffeine content often contain higher amounts.
  • Sugar – found in the form of glucose, dextrose, or sucrose, the sugar content of energy drink often exceeds 35g of sugar per serving. When the average Canadian adult should only be consuming approximately 50g of sugars a day…35g is a significant amount!
  • Taurine – a non-essential amino acid that can range between 750 to 1000mg per serving despite the normal diet containing approximately 40 to 400mg per day. However, up to 3g/day is considered safe.
  • B vitamins – there are a number of these vitamins that are critical to many of the functions that occur around our body. While Energy Drink marketing loves to let us know that their beverage contains 8000% of our daily intake of B12…there’s actually no reason for this. The body becomes saturated and cannot absorb above and beyond its maximal intake, the rest of the vitamin is simply excreted, often as neon yellow urine.

What effect do the drinks have on the brain?

While some of these ingredients can certainly provide an energy boost, energy drinks are not individualized and may provide too much or too little of the ingredient for your specific weight and height.

While caffeine can improve some areas of cognitive function such as attention, memory, and reaction times, intake is often far beyond what is recommended. Pregnant mothers are especially susceptible to the impacts of caffeine and research has shown that females who consume excess caffeine during pregnancy birth children with lower IQ’s.

Taurine can be a fantastic antioxidant and is found in high levels in the brains of developing children. This amino acid plays a role in the development of connections between the neurons of the brain and also plays a role with calcium concentrations found in smooth muscle around the body. It is safe to consume in the recommended amounts, but when combined with other ingredients in an energy drink, taurine can contribute to a spasm in blood vessels including those found around the brain.

Other evidence has shown the consumption of energy drinks leading consumers to enter seizures, becoming agitated, interrupting sleep, decreasing mood, increasing rates of suicidal thoughts, decreased academic performance, and decreasing blood flow to the brain causing delirium and hallucinations.

I’ve heard people combine energy drinks with alcohol. Are there any dangers there?

Yes! Studies have shown that when the two of these are mixed, they increase the risk of alcohol dependence and rates of binge drinking.

They were also more likely to end up hospitalized in emergency care and it was more likely that they would engage in risky behaviour.

These effects are especially pronounced in the developing adolescent brain and the consumption of mixed energy drinks and alcohol has caused death a number of times. Modeling responsible drinking habits for your teen and having an open discussion about alcohol can help them develop safer habits.

Are there any natural energy drinks out there?

The best type of meal or beverage is the one you prepare yourself. You know the ingredients going in and whether there’s any added flavouring or sugar. This is especially important considering that consuming energy drinks is related to a higher body mass index, obesity, and a lower intake of fruits and vegetables.

Quickly putting together a smoothie is a great way to get a number of vital nutrients into the body without the unnecessary and sometimes harmful additives. Recipes like the Super Veg & Fruit Green Smoothie or Peanut Butter and Jelly Smoothie are tasty, healthy, and a quick boost for those finding themselves with limited time. With ingredients ranging from flaxseeds to beet, these natural energy boosters can provide the pick-me-up that you need.

What are some key takeaway’s I should remember?

Energy drinks should never become a part of an individual’s regular diet. Parents should avoid buying them altogether and teaching children the importance of a healthy diet and adequate sleep to feel rested rather than relying on an outside stimulant. If a loved one or friend is having thoughts of self-harm or harming others, then it’s important to direct them to see their primary care provider and contact a help line that will direct them to the resources they need.



Healthy & nutritious dinner ideas



Become a member, discover our offers in preview, follow our news and enjoy a 10% discount on your 1st order!