Complementary and alternative medicine doctor urges restraint on energy drinks

Energy drinks can cause a host of health problems, warns one CAM physician.

According to Patrick D. Massey, M.D., Ph.D., medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for Alexian Brothers Hospital Network:

Energy drinks contain caffeine and sugar but can also contain herbs and other dietary supplements. Ginseng, taurine and guarana are common additions to many energy drinks. What are these supplements, and are they safe?

Ginseng is an herb common to Oriental medicine. It grows in Asia as well as the U.S. Contrary to its reputation, it does not give you energy. It helps the body handle stress and is classified as an adaptogen.

Taurine is an amino acid that was discovered in the bile of an ox. It is important for the absorption and processing of dietary fat and vitamins. Limited research has suggested that taurine may counteract the effects of drinking on the liver, promote heart health, prevent weight gain and diabetes.

Guarana is a berry that grows in South America. It contains a number of caffeine-like compounds, and the effects of guarana, positive and negative, are similar to those of caffeine.

In most energy drinks, the amount of ginseng, taurine and even guarana is negligible compared to the quantity required to have a significant clinical effect. Most of the buzz is the result of the combination of caffeine and sugar and the concentrations of both can be substantial.

You will not lose weight with energy drinks because they have a lot of sugar, may make diabetes worse and contribute to obesity. The caffeine can cause insomnia and make high blood pressure worse. For some people, caffeine may also can cause stomach pain, tremors, blurred vision, headaches and concentration difficulties.

Sugar and caffeine provide "energy," but that kind of boost is not the healthy lift we need. But more importantly, simply because something is advertised as "natural," or as providing "energy," does not necessarily make it healthy.