Energy drinks are beverages which are designed to give the consumer a burst of energy. Various forms have been around since at least 1900, but they really began to rise to popularity in the 1960s, primarily in Japan and other Asian countries. By the mid-1990s, they had reached the United States and Europe, where they became immensely popular. Most are marketed at young people, with advertising campaigns which focus on this age group.
The contents of energy drinks vary. Most of them contain stimulants and methylxanthines such as caffeine and theobromine, one of the active ingredients in chocolate. They are also packed with sugars, and may include herbal ingredients such as ginkgo biloba as well. Commonly, the herbal ingredients are marketed as being unusual and highly fortifying, and some companies suggest that the herbs make people more intelligent as well as more alert.
There is some danger to energy drinks. Many of them contain very high amounts of caffeine, and since they are intended for rapid consumption rather than slow sipping, they can overwhelm the body, elevating blood pressure and heart rate as well as dehydrating the body and interfering with normal sleep patterns. Students are especially subject to these problems, since they may consume lots of drinks in an attempt to make it through stressful examination periods.
Often, numerous stimulants are combined in energy drinks, and the interactions of these stimulants may not be fully understood. Some common inclusions are yerba mate, guarana, and ginseng, along with amino acids such as taurine and carnitine. Other stimulant ingredients are inositol, creatine, and glucuronolactone. Many of these substances are naturally created in the human body through metabolic processes, although not in the high volume used in energy drinks. Sugars such as maltodextrin help to contribute to the feeling of a rush after consuming a drink.
Although they are called “energy drinks,” these beverages are not suitable for athletes. Drinks specifically formulated for sports should be used instead, as energy drinks can destabilize the electrolyte balance in the body, leading to serious health problems. These beverages are also sometimes combined with alcohol, which can be a dangerous combination, as the drinker may feel more alert than he or she actually is, leading to potential errors in judgment.
Consuming an energy drink now and then is probably fine, as the beverages are not inherently unhealthy. However, excessive consumption is not advisable. People who experience health problems such as dizziness, heart palpitations, and a general feeling of malaise after consuming energy drinks should avoid them, and consult a doctor if the symptoms continue.