Energy drinks can give you a boost when you have a particluarly hard session to run (or Monday morning hits you hard), but that fizzy beverage isn’t doing much for your body beyond your temporary pep, according to a review published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.
After reviewing the current studies surrounding the risks tied to energy drinks, researchers concluded that they might be associated with a wide-ranging slew of health problem. You might already know that energy drinks can dramaticlaly effect sleep patterns, make you gain weight, or even spike your blood pressure, but overarching evidence suggests they may lead to substance abuse, mental health problems, a higher diabetes risk, tooth decay, and kidney damage, too.
“The wide range of conditions that energy drinks can negatively impact was quite astounding,” said study author Josiemer Mattei, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The sweet stuff may be to blame, she says. Energy drinks typically contain high amounts of added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. In fact, an average 500-milliliter can contains roughly 54 grams (g) of sugar, the review found, which is well beyond the American Heart Association’s recommendation of no more than 36 g per day for men.
When you down too much sugar, your body will eventually have a hard time responding to it, requiring more and more insulin to help glucose enter your cells. This insulin resistance can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. Plus, consistently high blood sugar levels can damage your nerves and blood vessels over time, which can set the stage for heart disease and kidney problems.
And it’s not entirely surprising that sweetened drinks can pile on the pounds. In one meta-analysis, researchers found that people who ate whatever they wanted typically weighed more when their diet contained more sugar and less when they didn’t consume as much.
Energy drinks also pack a perky punch, with some cans containing as much as 207 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per 58ml, according to the review. While the researchers note that a moderate intake of up to 400 mg per day for adults is considered safe, the health implications can get a little dicey when you start to go overboard. That’s one potential reason why the drinks are associated with anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. One Korean study suggests that caffeine dependency may influence your irritable mood and screw with your sleep, which can be linked to stress and symptoms of depression.
Mattei believes this excess caffeine may also play a role in certain cardiovascular issues, like high blood pressure. However, other stimulants that contribute to the buzz—like gaurana, taurine, and ginseng—may have an influence as well, according to a study from the American Heart Association.
That’s a bit up in the air, though, says Mattei, and further research needs to be done to understand exactly how those ingredients affect your body. The review itself is limited, since there are only a small number of studies surrounding energy drinks, most of them focusing on young, healthy adults at one point in time.
Mattei emphasizes that the current evidence does support that the health risks outweigh any short-term perks you might experience from your energy drink.
Your move, then, is to nix them from you diet altogether. As obvious as it sounds, reaching for water can help, she says. Staying hydrated naturally keeps your body running—no funky ingredients or added sugar necessary. And if you want to wean yourself off of caffeine for good? Here are seven ways to boost your energy without it. (Or try some of these high-energy meals to fuel your run!)