Ask Dr. Taz: Do Energy Drinks Really Work?

Q: I often need a pick-me-up. Do energy drinks really work?
Nikki Paulus, Banning, CA

A: Will a dose of caffeine and sugar—the getup-and-go ingredients in most energy drinks—give you a jolt? Yes, temporarily, and having one occasionally is fine. But you shouldn’t be relying on chemical stimulants to keep you up every day (especially when there are better, caffeine-free energy boosters out there).

For one, they can cause a steep rise and fall in insulin levels, triggering inflammation, potential hormone imbalances, and moodiness. That boost you get from a caffeine-sugar fix is usually followed by plummeting blood sugar—which will have you reaching for another lift.

Even if you’re not caffeine-sensitive, you can easily overdo it. Most of these drinks contain anywhere from 70 to 200 mg of caffeine per serving (equivalent to one to two 1-ounce espressos), which can trigger heart palpitations, the jitters, and insomnia. That sets you up for needing a fix the next day, too. One popular brand has 62 g of sugar—the same as nearly two candy bars!

If you reach for an energy drink daily, talk with your doctor about finding the cause of your fatigue. For an occasional lift, take a brisk walk or eat a piece of fruit. In Ayurveda, dates are a natural energy booster. Add some to your favorite smoothie recipe for your own healthier energy drink.

TASNEEM BHATIA, MD, is medical director and founder of the Atlanta Center for Holistic & Integrative Medicine.