Should you be afraid of this Monster Energy Drink? Science and Safety Behind Caffe Monster Energy Coffee

Monster Energy hit US markets in 2002 and helped establish the energy drink stereotype: “energy drinks are dangerous concoctions with high amounts of caffeine and sugar”. It’s hard to deny this stereotype is still applicable, however, there are a growing number of caffeinated beverages which don’t fit this mold. What happens when one of the energy drink companies responsible for the Energy Drink Boom comes out with one of these not-quite-an-energy-drink alternatives?

I declared myself a biochemistry/chemistry major in 2003 – right at the beginning of the Energy Drink Boom. Fascinated by these drinks and all the fears surrounding their use, I’ve applied my education (and basically all my free time) toward understanding the science behind energy drinks and their ingredients. After 10+ years in this field, I believe parents have a right to be concerned about energy drinks, but that concern needs the right context to do anybody any good. How concerned should we be about the safety of Caffe Monster Energy Coffee?

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Energy Drink Safety from 3 Different Food Science Lenses [YouTube]

How can we talk about the safety of energy drinks in the context of food science? How do Food Packaging, Food Chemistry, and Food Microbiology all impact the safety of a caffeinated beverage?
The following is a presentation given by GreenEyedGuide for the Food Science and Consumer Studies department at California State University – Long Beach in March 2018.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

[1] Hello everyone and thank you so much for having me today. Who here likes coffee? Who here likes prizes? Great, because today I’m talking about caffeine in general. Statistically, only 10% of you in here are energy drink consumers, most of you like coffee. So even if you don’t like energy drinks, I encourage you to think of questions and play along with the pop quizzes I have in here, because if you do, you’ll get a prize. Even if you guess wrong, you’ll get a prize. Even if people laugh at your question or you ask a question other people know the answer to, you’ll get a prize. Why? Because we’re scientists, and science is nothing if not the pursuit of questions, right? And if you don’t want to ask your question out loud, you can write your question anonymously on one of these sheets of paper and I’ll answer it that way – but no prize for you.

Okay, here we go!

[2] Think of the last time you woke up EXHAUSTED. Any new parents in here, perhaps? Any Ph.D. students? Regardless, we’ve all had those days. Your alarm goes off, you start moving around and you feel it. In your eyes, all over your body – you’re exhausted! And right then and there, part of you knows that this day is going to be awful because your day is just getting started.

This was my life throughout high school.

I was a straight-A student with all honors and advanced placement classes. I did gymnastics 20 hours a week and competed nation-wide. I helped my mom (a single working mom) take care of my 3 siblings. I constantly got 5 hours of sleep or less and fell asleep in class.

That doesn’t sound THAT special, we all struggle to balance our commitments in life, but at that time, when I was in high school, Starbucks didn’t exist. Energy drinks didn’t exist. Coffee wasn’t cool, it was for old people like college students. If you wanted caffeine you drank Mountain Dew.

A wondrous thing happened when I decided to mashup my love for nutrition and chemistry and became a Biochem major – that was the same year Monster Energy was invented. Anyone know what year that was? (I’m revealing my age but I don’t care) While people everywhere were asking questions and trying these new “energy drink” things, I was learning about the ingredients and what they do in my classes. I was fascinated from the very beginning, and I’ve never stopped studying them.

[3] The reason I find energy drinks so fascinating is that they are not one product, like studying coffee, or tea or milk – caffeinated beverages lie on a spectrum. When people talk about energy drinks, they’re usually talking about a very narrow band on this spectrum which creates a few complications. And when I say complications, I mean – things I get to geek out over:

1)How do you create an effective energy drink ban when this Starbucks Doubleshot has the same main ingredients as the wannabe coffees from Rockstar and Monster?

2)How do we use reports of hospitalizations involving energy drinks if we don’t know what brand of energy drink?

3)How can we as food scientists come up with a caffeinated beverage for people who don’t like the taste of plain coffee or tea and want a portable ready to drink source of caffeine that isn’t going to kill them?

[4] The Science of Energy Drinks is a pretty broad topic, and I could talk for hours. I could, and I have written a book about energy drinks because I have so much to say. But let’s narrow our focus to some of the IFT Core Sciences. Where are my future packaging engineers in here? Let’s start with caffeine safety and food packaging.

[5] I’m going to ask you for permission to combine packaging with serving size and servings per container. This isn’t really the same as food packaging and food grade films, etc., but for the moment, let’s talk about how food is packaged when we say “food packaging”.

Here we have a jumbo muffin, multivitamins that look like candy, a bottle of Patron, and a steak. At what point does the packaging change whether or not something is healthy? What happens when a muffin is packaged in a way where the consumer is going to eat the whole thing and it turns out that one muffin was 6 servings? What happens when a vitamin looks so good and has cartoons on the bottle so that a kid wants to eat a whole bunch of them?

[6] This same question applies to caffeinated drinks too. At what point does the way something is packaged affect its safety? To answer that, we need to know more about caffeine consumption.

[7] POP QUIZ!!!

Does anyone want to guess how much caffeine you’re allowed to have a day if you’re under 18?

The American Academy of Pediatrics says those under 18 should avoid caffeine but since it’s in chocolate and soda, they should not consume more than 100 milligrams of caffeine a day.

Does anyone want to guess how much caffeine you can have per day if you’re a healthy adult? Several organizations, including Health Canada, the EFSA, and the FDA agree 400 milligrams is the max.

So right away we see the caffeine crisis in America isn’t as bad as one might think. We’re actually don’t ok – I’m sure there are some people who are outliers, but as a population in general, we’re doing okay.

This graph is the most accurate representation we have for Caffeine Consumption, from any source, excluding medication, in the US.

This figure comes from a study published in 2012. When I read it, I loved it so much, I wrote an email to the author. She wrote me back – it was awesome.

In this study, they surveyed ~42,000 people from all age groups and demographics. They made sure their sample was representative of the US population. They asked people how much caffeine they consumed, and they did something no other study has ever done before or since.

When I read research articles about “Caffeine in the Military” they ask how many energy drinks did you consume. They don’t ask which ones, they don’t distinguish sports beverage from energy shot from coffee or tea.

In this study, they got specific. They got the specific brands and flavors of energy drinks, coffee, tea, energy shots, sports beverages, chocolate beverages. Then they used the Caffeine Informer database to calculate exactly how much caffeine was in that brand, that size, that flavor.

[8] If you have time, I highly recommend reading this paper – it gets so much better. They broke down how much caffeine each age group consumes a day, right, that’s what we saw on the last slide, but they also broke down how much caffeine comes from where. We can look at the biggest sources of caffeine for each age group, and how people change their caffeine habits over time.

[9] For example, here’s a look at how caffeine habits change from teen years to college years. For college-age people, soda is still the #1 contributor. And tea is still #2! But look at how much coffee has grown.

Energy drinks are still in last place! And these two age groups have the highest energy drink consumption across the whole age range. It never gets better (or worse?) than 10% of the age group.

[10] But back to our point here about caffeine and packaging – when we talk about caffeine safety, we absolutely have to talk about serving size, servings per container, and Volumetrics, or energy density.

Here, by energy, I don’t mean the fuzzy “energy = lack of fatigue” terms we use to talk about energy drinks, and I’m not talking about physiological energy as ATP. Volumetrics normally means the number of Calories in a given unit. So here we’re talking about caffeine per oz.

Now that you know a healthy adult can only have 400 mg caffeine per day, you know that concentrated forms of caffeine can be inherently more dangerous. Take this Redline and this giant Monster can (technically 4 servings per container). If you’re the kind of person that has trouble nursing your caffeine, then the Redline is going to be inherently more dangerous than this big giant can.

With a hot coffee, it has built-in speed control. You can’t shotgun a coffee, that’s not how coffee works. Also, it’s usually too hot or too iced to chug. Since there’s physically more fluid, you have more time for that caffeine to kick in before you finish the whole thing. This is why I don’t like energy shots. If you’ve never had a shot before and don’t know your limits, you could take the shot, think, “Hmmm, I don’t feel it, I should take another one”…and then by the time the caffeine kicks in, it’s too late.

These are things we have to consider when we talk about caffeine safety.

[11] Let’s look at another IFT Core Science. Where are my future food chemists? This was my specialty – as a Biochem major, I learned a lot about how ingredients react in the body. I know how ingredients affect metabolism like fatty acid oxidation, glycolysis, etc. Sometimes this is too much biochem for some of my fellow food scientists, so for today, let’s talk about chemistry as in the reactions that happen in the food.

[12] When it comes to Food Chemistry and caffeine safety, the big question is this – when do safe ingredients become unsafe when combined? In other words, what is it about Monster that makes it more dangerous than a cup of coffee? What about if we compare it to this V8+Energy? What about this Starbucks drink that has added stereotypical energy drink ingredients such as taurine, guarana, and ginseng? How do we know where to draw that line and say a caffeinated beverage is not safe?

[13] Hey look, another pop quiz!

Assuming you drank the whole container, which drink has the most caffeine?

Surprising, right? The Starbucks coffee has way more than the Monster, and Also surprising that this juice-looking Bai drink has about the same amount of caffeine as Red Bull. If you want to ban energy drinks, how do you handle products like this V8?

The reason I’m showing you these amounts is there are two conflicting proposals:

1)Energy drinks are dangerous because of the high amounts of caffeine;

2)Energy drinks are more dangerous than coffee because of ingredient interactions.

It looks like the first theory (the high amounts of caffeine) isn’t inherently true. Anytime there’s a news article about energy drinks, what brands do they show? Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar – the big three. But we can see Red Bull is “weak sauce” compared to Monster and this coffee.

What about the second theory, the one about ingredient interactions?

[14]. Do Ingredient Interactions make energy drinks more dangerous than coffee? Yes, for three reasons:

1)Energy drinks are sometimes combined with alcohol, which has led to dangerous and high levels of blood alcohol contents. Normally, when you’ve had too much to drink, you pass out. Your body literally prevents you from drinking more alcohol by putting you to sleep. But what if you didn’t fall asleep? Then you’d stay awake long enough to drink that much more alcohol.

2)This isn’t really an ingredient interaction but energy drinks can contain multiple sources of caffeine: caffeine, guarana, yerba mate, guayusa, green tea extract… These different forms of caffeine aren’t interacting with each other, but they are all increasing the total amount of caffeine you are consuming, and that’s the dangerous part – the total caffeine consumption. When energy drinks first came out, they were not disclosing the total amount of caffeine from all sources. Red Bull paved the way for this labeling, and other energy drinks (though still not all of them) follow suit.

3)Getting caffeine from a carbonated source it will feel stronger than if you got the same amount of caffeine without the carbonation. You know how people get tipsy faster off champagne than beer? The bubbles irritate the stomach lining slightly, and caffeine and alcohol are two substances which are absorbed in the stomach – everything else has to wait till it gets to the small intestine.

By a show of hands, did anyone feel like something is missing from this list? Among the reasons I mentioned why energy drinks ARE more dangerous, I did not mention heart arrthymias.

[15] Last year, a teen in South Carolina died from a caffeine overdose. Among the things he drank that day:

  • Mountain Dew
  • McDonald’s latte
  • Undisclosed energy drink

The energy drink was the last thing he consumed. We don’t know how much caffeine was in that drink, or what other ingredients were in it. Which means we can’t talk about ingredient interactions. We’re missing some critical data, but several news articles that reported his death referred to this article published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. According to the press, this research article found, “energy drink consumers could be at higher risk of abnormal heart beats and dangerous changes in blood pressure.”

Unfortunately, the scientists who wrote this paper would disagree with that statement.

[16] This study was randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, but they only used 18 people in their mid-20s. That’s not a big sample size, but the other big problem is that they used 320 mg caffeine. The EFSA says you can have how much per day? (400 mg), and only 200 mg at a time. So this is more caffeine than you’re supposed to have at a time.

In this study, there was no difference in heart rate or blood pressure between the two groups at any time. The did find a small but statistically different change in something called a QTc, but even the authors are saying this shouldn’t be alarming and that the risk may be negligible.

Where does that leave us in our big question on ingredient interactions?

[17]. Do Ingredient Interactions make energy drinks more dangerous than coffee? No, for three reasons:

1.A review of multiple studies on the effects of caffeine on heart arrhythmias found moderate caffeine is okay for people with heart arrhythmias. There is no scientific evidence that caffeine causes heart arrhythmias in those with a healthy heart. Nor is there any evidence that drinking caffeinated beverages long-term will cause an arrhythmia to develop. However, some people could be unaware that they have an arrhythmia or that they are prone to developing one based on their genetics, which is why caffeine should always be consumed in moderation.

  1. The EFSA determined it’s unlikely there is any interaction between caffeine, taurine, and glucuronolactone.
  1. Many energy drinks feature caffeine, B-vitamins, and a bunch of other ingredients which aren’t in large enough doses to do anything, physiologically.

[18] When it comes to food chemistry and caffeine safety, at this point, we have more evidence that there are NO interactions in energy drinks than evidence to the contrary. This question may be impossible to answer as new energy drinks come out with different combinations of ingredients. In order to challenge or improve our understanding of ingredient interactions, we shouldn’t talk about people who get sick from energy drinks without talking about the total caffeine content or the other ingredients present.

[19] Let’s talk about one more IFT Core Science before we wrap up. Are there any future food microbiologists in here?

[20] Food Micro was never my favorite part of food science. I know enough to geek out when the CDC publishes their report on foodborne illness outbreaks, and when food has been in the “temperature danger zone” too long… but I still struggle with which food preservatives inhibit yeast and mold or what to use when the water activity and pH are high enough for your drink to become a hospitable environment for undesirable microbes.

But there are two things I can tell you two things that you should remember:

1)I’ve been on the Quality Audit team for almost 5 years – it was my job to review specifications of ingredients suppliers, review audit reports, review food micro testing regimens and HACCP plans and flow charts and testing results and use all that information to complete a risk assessment for that ingredient. I’ve seen things that scare me. I’ve read audit reports that make me glad I didn’t have time to eat lunch. I’ve talked to ingredient suppliers who clearly have no idea what they’re doing, and some who are even reluctant to test because “this is what we’ve always done”.

2)Red Bull has been more transparent than any other energy drink brand in opening up their facility and inviting inspections of their manufacturing and advertising practices. I trust Red Bull’s manufacturing more than Monster or Rockstar and WAY more than some of the “natural energy” drinks I see that are only sold online.

With all supplements, in fact, with all online food and supplements, I encourage consumers to look for red flags, to exercise caution. Natural doesn’t always mean safe.

[21] If I had to boil down all my research, all my thoughts about caffeinated beverages, it would come down to two phrases:

1)Not All Energy Drinks – There are SO many caffeine-containing drinks out there that look nothing like their energy drink forefathers. Generalizing energy drinks is like calling sandals, Uggs, and stilettos all “shoes”. Some of them are functional and convenient, some of them are all looks no function, some will hurt you the moment you try them if you don’t know what you’re in for

2)The best way to approach caffeine safety is through the 5 Levels of Fatigue

[22] With this system I have helped bartenders cut back from 4 Monsters a day to half a can a day. I have helped my family, friends, and strangers on the internet avoid caffeine toxicity, dependence, and tolerance.

Here’s how it works:

[23] At Fatigue Level 0, you need no caffeine – you’re feeling great, awake, alert, alive. Maybe you just aced a final. Maybe that person you’ve been crushing on smiled at you. Maybe your favorite team just made the playoffs. This is your baseline.

[24] Fatigue Level 1. Dehydration causes fatigue. If you’re feeling tired, whether it’s 5 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon, your first task is to drink water.

It doesn’t have to be plain water. Put some cucumbers in it, get carbonated water, add regular MIO, whatever, just don’t reach for caffeine. Not yet.

[25] Fatigue Level 2. At this point, you have ruled out dehydration. Time to get some help. There are plenty of energy drinks with less than 100 mg per container, and with caffeine from a natural source. Here are some of my favorite examples.

For best results, you’re looking for something with natural caffeine, something NON-carbonated, and something with no sugar. You can put plain black coffee in this level, just watch your serving size (think small/tall, not Grande).

Carbonation and sugar do not belong in Fatigue Level 2.

[26] Fatigue Level 3. Struggle City, population = you.

For best results, do not exceed 200 mg. That’s the limit for a single serving anyways.

You STILL don’t want anything carbonated – not yet.

Instead of carbonation, look for something with at least some juice content. That juice should give you a teeny bit of sugar, and drinks with juice are almost never carbonated. We don’t want carbonation yet.

[27] Fatigue Level 4. out of 5. This is it. This is “Fall Asleep Standing” mode. This is “need to pull an all-nighter” or double-shift time.

Do. Not. Consume Fatigue Level 4 on a daily basis. Why? Because this is for emergencies only. What would happen if you had a fire drill at your school or work every day? You’d start ignoring it. And so it goes if you have this much caffeine every day. If you want the caffeine to work, you must not consume this caffeine on a regular basis.

Because it’s an emergency, it’s okay to go above the 200 mg – at – a time limit. This is also the point where we introduce carbonation. Why? Caffeine gets in through the stomach, and when there’s carbonation involved, it gets in that much easier.

So if you had two energy drinks, each with 100 mg caffeine – the carbonated one is going to feel stronger. This is why the 5 levels of fatigue is a scale. There are incremental increases based on ingredients like sugar and caffeine.

[28] Level 5 is sleep. There comes a point where no amount of caffeine can save you. There comes a point where you must give in and get some rest. When you hear stories about people who can drink coffee right before bed or fall asleep while drinking an energy drink, either they have a genetic polymorphism where they can metabolize caffeine so quickly that it doesn’t affect them, OR it’s because they have reached their limit. It’s extremely difficult to ask for help, to accept our limitations. But if we’re going to stay healthy, we have to acknowledge when we reach that point.

[29] I am on a quest to learn as much as I can to help me answer the question, “Are energy drinks safe?” If you would like to learn more about some of the caffeinated drinks I’ve mentioned today, some of the research I’ve cited my book, a particular ingredient, please save this page in your favorites and let’s connect on social media.

[30] Thank you all. Who has questions?

 

8 Facts for Caffeine Awareness Month [infographic]

March is Caffeine Awareness Month! To commemorate this occasion, I’ve assembled the information (all of it with reference citations) every caffeine consumer should know.

March is caffeine awareness month

This infographic was prepared by food scientist and biochemist Danielle Robertson Rath, founder of GreenEyedGuide.com and author of “Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks”. This infographic is possible thanks to the generous support of CaffeineInformer.com. Thanks also goes to Dr. Clay Jones.

REFERENCES:

 

Science Behind Energy Drink Ingredient Interactions

A few people believe that caffeine-ingredient interactions are what make energy drinks inherently more dangerous than coffee. Using the ingredients in this drink’s “energy blend”, let’s review the research available on energy drink ingredient interactions. Read more

What I Learned After 10 Years of Researching Energy Drinks – GreenEyedGuide Presentation for Cal Poly Pomona

Does Taurine really come from bull sperm? How much caffeine do 18-year-olds drink in the US? Are energy drinks worse for your heart than coffee? How have energy drinks changed our caffeine habits from 20 years ago?

With 10+ years of researching the energy drinks and their ingredients, food scientist and biochemist GreenEyedGuide answers all those questions and more. This presentation was shared at the All Club All Student Conference at Cal Poly Pomona, hosted by CPP Food Science Society January 11, 2018.

Contents

Background and Methodology
Common Ingredient Misconceptions
Caffeine Consumption in the USA
Common Energy Drink Misconceptions
5 Levels of Fatigue

Full Transcript

How many of you, students, teachers, everyone – how many of you have had those nights where you just cannot fall asleep. Maybe you can’t stop thinking about something; maybe you can’t get comfortable; maybe there’s light and noise – for whatever reason, you can’t fall asleep.

Now think about the last time you woke up exhausted. Your alarm goes off, you get up, start moving around and you just feel it, in your eyes, all over your body – you’re exhausted. And right then and there, part of you knows that this day is going to be awful, because it’s the beginning of the day, and you’re not going to have a chance to sleep for several hours.

This was my life throughout high school.

I was a straight-A student with all honors and advanced placement classes. I did gymnastics 20 hours a week and competed nation-wide. Also, I helped my mom (a single working mom) take care of my 3 siblings. I constantly got 5 hours of sleep or less and fell asleep in class.

Starbucks didn’t exist. Energy drinks didn’t exist. Can you imagine such a world?

My story isn’t that special – here in this room, there are hundreds of you who struggle to balance work, school, family, etc.

What makes my story special, however, is that I started studying biochemistry the very same year Monster Energy hit US Markets. From the moment an energy drink was put into my hands, I knew I wanted to study the science behind it.

Some say it’s hard to be a woman in a science field. For me, personally, it’s been more difficult to be a scientist for something which people have already made up their minds.

When I tell people I research energy drinks. Can you imagine what they say? I usually get 1 of 3 responses:

  • Energy drinks, like how bad they are? Do you talk about how they’re like poison?
  • You study energy drinks? Why? Aren’t there enough teenagers on YouTube who review energy drinks? Why don’t you study something that matters?
  • Wow, energy drinks. What did you learn?

I’ve learned so much, sometimes I think I need a pensive. As scientists, we often find ourselves at odds with fear and misconceptions. With energy drinks, there are misconceptions about the ingredients, misconceptions around the products themselves, and even misconceptions about how much caffeine our great nation consumes.

What makes my work different from that of a dietitian or any other food scientist? My focus has always been very specific: energy drinks and their ingredients. My research includes a comprehensive literature review of the top 20 energy drink ingredients. For each ingredient, I reviewed clinical trials, studies on proposed biological mechanisms, interactions between ingredients – anything and everything that helped me understand what the ingredient would do in the human body.

I did this literature review while I was earning my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and master’s degree in food science. My education gave me a solid foundation for me to put what I was reading into context.

I also reviewed regulatory documents from the US and other countries. In the US, there is no legal definition for the term “energy drink”, but groups like the American Beverage Association offer some guidance documents to help fill the gap. I also learned from the Warning Letters the FDA issued to manufacturers of supplements and caffeinated beverages.

I studied proceedings from the Mayo Clinic, regulations from Health Canada, and the Official Scientific Opinions of the Scientific Committee on Food, and European Food Safety Authority.

So, what have I learned…

Let’s start with my all-time favorite ingredient misconception…

Red Bull sold 13 BILLION Dollars of product in 2015. I don’t know how this taurine myth got started, but it doesn’t make cents – it’s not economical.

The name *TAURINE* does come from Bos taurus, the genus and species of ox.

Taurine was first isolated from ox bile in 1822. (Bile is a fluid made by the liver that aids digestion)

TAURINE IS ALREADY INSIDE YOU! We get taurine from high protein food like meat. Also, the human body makes taurine from amino acids cysteine and methionine.

Why do we need taurine?

Imagine you need to get from point A to point B. You normally walk, but it’s pouring rain, and you’re wearing your nice clothes. Taurine is like a taxi that can deliver you to your destination safely, so you don’t get soaked. This is how Taurine helps with fat absorption.

The fat molecules in the food you eat can’t be metabolized if they can’t be absorbed, and your body is mostly water. So how do they get to the place they need to be without getting soaked? Taurine links with a bile salt so it’s part-water-soluble and part-fat-soluble. The fat-soluble part is like the inside of the taxicab – Hop in, let’s go get digested.

Taurine has another important job – protecting the heart. Taurine helps your body restore the ideal balance of sodium and potassium, reducing water retention and relieving uncomfortable bloating.

It also helps regulate the levels of calcium ions inside heart muscle cells, protecting the heart from calcium imbalances that can lead to heart muscle damage.

This is why taurine is prescribed for congestive heart failure and, coincidence or not, the amount prescribed is about the same amount found in one of the leading brands of energy drinks.

Another ingredient misconception involves Ginkgo. In Chinese medicine, ginkgo is associated with health benefits ranging from memory to anxiety to tinnitus.

I’m sorry, but the cake is a lie.

One of the most comprehensive studies on ginkgo involves 3,000 people over 8 years, where ginkgo was consumed at 120 mg a day. But ginkgo didn’t reduce the incidence of dementia or Alzheimer’s. So, does ginkgo help with memory over the short term? For every well-conceived study suggesting gingko has an effect, there’s another one, just as well conceived, that shows no significant difference.

If I were to ask you what the #1 energy drink ingredient is – the most used ingredient in all energy drinks, would you guess caffeine? It’s Vitamin B12. There are more energy products with B12 than caffeine.

Why? B12 must do some pretty amazing things in the body then… I mean there are those B12 shots, right? B12 must be like an energy super-hero….

As it turns out, B12 makes a great wingman.

As you drink your tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, think about all the cells from your mouth down your esophagus and your GI tract. Those cells go through a lot of wear and tear, and Folate’s job is to help DNA synthesis so those cells can be repaired or regenerated. But folate would be stuck without B12.

As folate goes through this cycle, it comes to a point where it’s stuck with its hands full. This is like when you’re holding two coffees and you’re trying to pull open a door. B12 comes along and helps folate get unstuck so it can go back to work.

None of this has to do with energy though.

B12 is also Biotin’s wingman. Boring Basic Biotin only knows one dance move it takes a carbon dioxide molecule from one place and adds it onto another place.

In this reaction down here at the corner, Biotin makes a molecule that’s 3 carbons long 4 carbons long. B12 reorganizes that molecule and poof – it can enter the Krebs cycle, the massive wheel of energy in the body.

So yes, B12 helps, but look at all the reactions involving B2, B3, B5… those are the real heroes when it comes to energy.

If you’re not a fan of energy drinks, I respect that, but there’s a far greater issue.

We have misconceptions about how much caffeine we drink as a society. If I asked you how many milligrams of caffeine you have every day, would you know the number? Probably not. Who cares, I know how many cups of coffee, isn’t that enough? No. Here’s why.

This figure comes from a study published in 2012. When I read it, I loved it so much, I wrote an email to the author. She wrote me back – it was awesome.

In this study, they surveyed ~42,000 people from all age groups and demographics. They made sure their sample was representative of the US population. They asked people how much caffeine they consumed, and they did something no other study has ever done before or since.

When I read research articles about “Caffeine in the Military” they ask how many energy drinks did you consume. They don’t ask which ones, they don’t distinguish sports beverage from energy shot from coffee or tea.

In this study, they got specific. They got the specific brands and flavors of energy drinks, coffee, tea, energy shots, sports beverages, chocolate beverages. Then they used the Caffeine Informer database to calculate exactly how much caffeine was in that brand, that size, that flavor.

This graph is the most accurate representation we have for Caffeine Consumption, from any source, excluding medication, in the US.

Two things to keep in mind – The American Academy of Pediatrics says those under 18 should not consume more than 100 milligrams of caffeine a day. If you’re a healthy adult, several organizations from several different countries agree 400 milligrams is the max.

So right away we see the caffeine crisis in America isn’t as bad as one might think.

This paper I love so much gets even better. For each age group, we now know where that age group gets their caffeine. These numbers are not exclusive. If you’re a 17-year-old and sometimes you drink soda, sometimes you drink tea, this graph counts all those occasions.

For tweens and teens, we see the biggest contribution to caffeine is soda. 77% of this age group get their caffeine from soda.

Second is tea, then coffee, then energy drinks are last.

What happens when this group reaches adulthood? What do you think the #1 category is going to be?

For college-age people, soda is still the #1 contributor. And tea is still #2! But look at how much coffee has grown.

Energy drinks are still in last place! And these two age groups have the highest energy drink consumption across the whole age range. It never gets better (or worse?) than 10% of the age group.

As people get older, they drink less soda and more coffee. We see this trend through the whole age range. The seniors and super-seniors are primarily coffee drinkers and tea drinkers.

Here’s a study I would love to run. People who are under 21 have never lived in world without Red Bull. I would love to know whether this coffee and soda trend applies to energy drinks that look like soda versus energy drinks that look like coffee.

As people get older, they drink less soda and more coffee. We see this trend through the whole age range. The seniors and super-seniors are primarily coffee drinkers and tea drinkers.

Here’s a study I would love to run. People who are under 21 have never lived in world without Red Bull. I would love to know whether this coffee and soda trend applies to energy drinks that look like soda versus energy drinks that look like coffee.

Assuming you drank the whole container, which drink has the most caffeine?

Surprising, right? Also surprising that this juice drink here has about the same amount of caffeine as Red Bull. True, one’s natural caffeine, one’s not, so let’s look at Red Bull and V8. Would parents freak out if they caught their kids drinking V8?

You already know the caffeine amount in the coffee, so how does that compare to a monster energy, a “pre-workout” drink, and a coffee flavored protein drink? The protein drink has more caffeine than the Monster. Again, how many parents would freak out about their kids drinking this? How many would even realize how much caffeine is in here? It looks like a Muscle Milk competitor. If you’re a student-athlete and you drink 2 of those Muscle Milk drinks a day, then switch it with this thinking they’re the same, we could have a problem.

This is why this is so important – if we continue to say things like “all energy drinks are dangerous concoctions of chemicals, caffeine, and sugar”, we are missing out on a potentially life-saving opportunity to bring the focus to overall caffeine consumption.

“But Danielle, surely caffeine from an energy drink is worse than caffeine from coffee, right?”

Last year, a teen in South Carolina died from a caffeine overdose. Among the things he drank that day:

  • Mountain Dew
  • McDonald’s latte
  • Undisclosed energy drink

The energy drink was the last thing he consumed. We don’t know how much caffeine was in that drink, or what other ingredients were in it. Which means we can’t talk about ingredient interactions. We’re missing some critical data, but this article states that a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found energy drink consumers could be at higher risk of abnormal heart beats and dangerous changes in blood pressure.

Any paper proving energy drinks are worse than coffee would be a major game changer, so I took a look at the study myself.

This study was double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, and cross-over. They did find that 2 hours after consuming an energy drink, participants had QT prolongation of ~10 milliseconds. A prolongation of 60 ms is a marker for life-threatening arrhythmias.

However, they stated pretty clearly that there was no difference in heart rate or blood pressure at any point between placebo and energy drink groups. How does “no difference” get translated into “dangerous changes in blood pressure”?

This quote is from the authors of that study. This was randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, and cross-over – which is like gold standard as far as trials. BUT they only included 18 people, people in their mid-20s. If you haven’t hit 30 yet, let me tell ya, your metabolism gets a lot different.

Also, they used 320 milligrams of caffeine, which is over 150% the recommended limit per serving. Healthy adults are only supposed to have 200 milligrams of caffeine at a time.

This isn’t the only study to get misinterpreted. There’s a study in Pediatrics which I can’t stand because it’s constantly misquoted. When that study came out in 2012, headlines all over the place said, “energy drink consumption is on the rise in teens”.

Know why it’s on the rise? Because this study looked at caffeine consumption starting in 1990. So yes, energy drink consumption is on the rise…. FROM ZERO.

If you read the actual paper, the authors state mean caffeine intake has not increased among children and adolescents in recent years. We’re not drinking more caffeine, we’re just getting it from different places. Which brings me back to my point.

“If there’s a kid out there anywhere who thinks they can avoid all energy drinks but consume as many Mountain Dews, McDonald’s Caffe Lattes or Starbucks Grande coffees in one day as they want, we have failed.”

So how do we protect ourselves and our youth from the dangers of caffeine? I give you the 5 Levels of Fatigue. Ladies and Gentlemen, with this system I have helped bartenders cut back from 4 Monsters a day to half a can a day. I have helped my family, friends, and strangers on the internet avoid caffeine toxicity, dependence, and tolerance.

Here’s how it works:

Ever have one of those days where you’re just… amped. Maybe you just aced a final. Maybe that person you’ve been crushing on smiled at you. Maybe your favorite team just made the playoffs.

At Fatigue Level 0, you need no caffeine – you’re feeling great, awake, alert, alive.

Fatigue Level 1. Dehydration causes fatigue. If you’re feeling tired, whether it’s 5 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon, your first task is to drink water.

It doesn’t have to be plain water. Put some cucumbers in it, get carbonated water, add regular MIO, whatever, just don’t reach for caffeine. Not yet.

Fatigue Level 2. At this point, you have ruled out dehydration. Time to get some help. There are plenty of energy drinks with less than 100 mg per container, and with caffeine from a natural source. Here are some of my favorite examples.

For best results, you’re looking for something with natural caffeine, something NON-carbonated, and something with no sugar.

Carbonation and sugar do not belong in Fatigue Level 2.

Fatigue Level 3. Struggle City, population = you.

For best results, do not exceed 200 mg. That’s the limit for a single serving anyways.

You STILL don’t want anything carbonated – not yet.

Instead of carbonation, look for something with at least some juice content. That juice should give you a teeny bit of sugar, and drinks with juice are almost never carbonated. We don’t want carbonation yet.

Fatigue Level 4. out of 5. This is it. This is “Fall Asleep Standing” mode. This is “need to pull an all-nighter” or double-shift time.

Do. Not. Consume Fatigue Level 4 on a daily basis. Why? Because this is for emergencies only. What would happen if you had a fire drill at your school or work every day? You’d start ignoring it. And so it goes if you have this much caffeine every day. If you want the caffeine to work, you must not consume this caffeine on a regular basis.

Because it’s an emergency, it’s okay to go above the 200 mg – at – a time limit. This is also the point where we introduce carbonation. Why?

Ever wonder why champagne makes you drunk faster than beer or wine? It’s all about the bubbles. The bubbles irritate your stomach slightly, making it easier for your stomach to absorb 3 things – aspirin. Alcohol. Caffeine. Please do not consume all 3 at once.

Everything else has to wait until it gets to your small intestine to be absorbed. Caffeine gets in through the stomach, and when there’s carbonation involved, it gets in that much easier.

So if you had two energy drinks, each with 100 mg caffeine – the carbonated one is going to feel stronger. This is why the 5 levels of fatigue is a scale. There are incremental increases based on ingredients like sugar and caffeine.

Level 5 is sleep. There comes a point where no amount of caffeine can save you. There comes a point where you must give in and get some rest. When you hear stories about people who fall asleep while drinking an energy drink, it’s because they did not have the courage to admit to themselves when they’ve reached their limit. It’s extremely difficult to ask for help, to accept our limitations. But if we’re going to stay healthy, we have to acknowledge when we reach that point.

I am on a mission to promote safe caffeine consumption. If you would like to learn more about my campaign, what I do, my book, a particular drink, a particular ingredient, save this page in your favorites.

If you want to be an advocate for safe caffeine consumption, there are 3 things you can do:

  1. Don’t judge – If you’re a coffee drinker, don’t judge someone holding an energy drink. Maybe their drink isn’t as strong as you think. Maybe they could use your help, not your criticism if they’re always at Fatigue Level 4.
  2. Don’t mix caffeine and alcohol. Ever. Caffeine makes you feel like you’re not drunk (and isn’t that the fun part?) Your reflexes are still impaired and worse – if you’ve had too much alcohol, you won’t pass out when you’ve had too much. This is your body’s way of protecting you. Don’t break that protection.
  3. Don’t be boring. Caffeinated drinks are a spectrum. You wouldn’t wear the same color every single day, unless you’re Batman or Black Widow, so don’t drink the same caffeine every single day. Follow the 5 Levels of Fatigue

Thank you all.