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Energy and Sports Drinks: Any Better Than Soda?

By NW Staff

Remember when water was the drink of choice for athletes and just about anyone who needed to quench their thirst? These days, water is quickly being replaced with a variety of energy drinks, flavored waters and sports drinks - and they're being consumed at all hours of the day, not just after a workout or during an athletic competition.

Energy Drinks

One of the major health concerns with energy drinks is their caffeine content: up to 80 mg of caffeine per serving. According to Brown University, that's more than twice the caffeine in a can of Mountain Dew and more than three times the caffeine in a can of Coca Cola Classic. Too much caffeine can elevate the heart rate, increase blood pressure, and lead to insomnia. (Some manufacturers have now come out with decaffeinated versions, although that hasn't seemed to particularly impact the popularity of the caffeinated varieties.)

A recent study that investigated potential safety issues in energy drinks reveals that most energy drinks also contain some combination of natural products such as guarana, taurine and ginseng. And let's not forget about sugar, one of the major ingredients in addition to caffeine. Average sugar content can exceed 35 grams per can, according to the study.1 (Sugar-free versions of some energy drinks are available, but remember, there are plenty of sugarfree sodas out there, and none of them has health benefits, either.)

Perhaps the most telling point appears in the authors' conclusion: "The amounts of guarana, taurine, and ginseng found in popular energy drinks are far below the amounts expected to deliver either therapeutic benefits or adverse events. However, caffeine and sugar are present in amounts known to cause a variety of adverse health effects."

According to Brown University, energy drinks should never be consumed while exercising, as they tend to promote dehydration, which can be dangerous when combined with fluid loss from sweating. They also should not be combined with alcohol (they often are); the former is a stimulant and the latter is a depressant, which can be a bad combination. And again, both tend to promote dehydration.

Sports Drinks and Flavored Waters

If you think sports drinks or flavored, vitamin-infused waters are any better than energy drinks, you may want to think again. Sure, they may not be filled with caffeine, but they definitely still have sugar and other additives, and according to a recent study, those added ingredients may contribute to dental problems.

In fact, studies have shown that the combination of sugar, acidic ingredients and additives in some sports drinks can damage tooth enamel to a larger degree than soda. A recent study presented at the International Association for Dental Research meeting in Miami affirms this, with study results suggesting sports drinks - including Gatorade, Vitamin Water, Life Water, Powerade and Propel Fit - cause softening of the dentin, while some may even "significantly" stain the teeth.2

"Sugar is bad, and acid is bad, but many of these [sports drinks and flavored waters] have both. The combination causes tooth decay," said Kimberly Harms, spokesperson for the American Dental Association.3

References

  1. Clauson KA, Shields KM, McQueen CE, Persad N. Safety issues associated with commercially available energy drinks. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, 2008;48(3):e55-63.
  2. "Sports Drinks May Damage Your Teeth." WebMD Health News, April 3, 2009.
  3. "Study: Sports Drinks May Be Bad for Teeth." CNNhealth.com.
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