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Are Energy Drinks All They're Cracked Up to Be?

I'm not a huge TV watcher but that's not through choice -- I'd like to have the time to watch more!

Still, when I have the misfortune to have to watch commercials due to not DVR'ing my shows, I often see commercials for energy drinks.

These commercials tend to talk about things like "that 2:30 p.m. feeling" where moms, office workers, heavy machinery operators and even judges seem to almost fall asleep on the job -- until they partake from a small container of an energy drink that promises them hours of high octane, high energy work that can save their day.

I usually fob these off as nothing more than highly caffeinated drinks that are generally advertised by fit, sexy young people who seem to regularly succeed in life due to swigging down a few ounces of some kind of miracle potion.

According to a New York Times article, energy drinks are the fastest growing segment of beverages sold in the U.S. and sales hit 10 billion dollars in 2012.

Because many energy drinks tout their products as "scientifically engineered" or "scientifically made", they give the impression that there is somehow a medical benefit from drinking these beverages.

Researchers looked into their claims to see if the claims of health benefits and energy boosts were really true.

It turns out that if you're skeptical, you probably have a right to be. It really seems to be caffeine and sugar that causes the energy boost - something than can be found in a cheap cup of coffee rather than the highly overpriced cans of energy drinks that promise alertness.

But another additive used in many energy drinks is called taurine. Taurine is an amino acid found in animals and dairy (so vegetarians/vegans take note) but it can also be found in kosher and vegetarian supplements at GNC for about $6.50 per 50 tablets.

To veer away from any negative side effects of certain ingredients, manufacturers focus on the vitamins and minerals in energy drinks and inform consumers of their "sugar-free" status.

For those energy drinks that do have sugar, this can also be lauded as an obvious way to gain energy and fast. And the drinks aren't cheap, costing up to four dollars per can.

It's believed that these energy drinks started in Japan, especially with a drink called Lipovitan D, that contained caffeine, taurine and vitamins, and sold more than 34 million units without a single study that showed whether the drink was beneficial (or harmful).

And in America, the likes of Red Bull, Monster, 5-Hour Energy and Rockstar are sold more by hype and peer review (of young people) without research that shows whether they work or not, or points out any dangers involved.

Once an energy drink becomes a trend, it's hard to stop sales. And since there is such innuendo in commercials that these are health drinks, it drives sales upwards, even if they are filled with sugar or chemicals nobody has heard of.

In an EmpowHER article about energy drinks, Joanne Sgro stated that according to the Mayo Clinic, “Little is known about the effects of heavy or long-term taurine use. It's also important to remember that other ingredients in energy drinks, such as high amounts of caffeine or sugar, can be harmful. For example, too much caffeine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, interrupt your sleep, and cause nervousness and irritability.”

For better energy, there are better choices.

One is making the effort to get a solid eight hours of sleep per night. Take exercise and instead of eating meals laden with sleep-inducing carbs, lunches like salads, fruits and lean proteins can increase activity levels (and a quick lunchtime walk will also help). You may find you don't have any need for bottles of energy drinks with listed ingredients that are often impossible to understand.

Buyer beware: Read the ingredients on any of these drinks and always consider natural alternatives.

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