Quick boost energy drinks give an even quicker crash

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Do you reach for an energy drink when you need a boost? You may be letting yourself in for one gigantic let down.

Energetic promises
The energy drink industry is a multi-billion-dollar market mostly unmonitored. Red Bull, Impulse, Dark Dog, Shark, Adrenaline Rush, Red Dragon, Diablo, Rock Star, Pimp Juice, No Fear, Monster and Cocaine: the names are alluring and all promise that mental and physical boost you are crave.

Fattening ingredients
But these drinks are high in caffeine and sugar. In fact, studies have found the caffeine in many energy drinks is two to four times the amount found in a typical soft-drink. That combined with the 25-35 grams of sugar means there are lot of empty calories in energy drinks -- which translates into extra fat.

Other common "energy" ingredients include B-Vitamins and various herbs, most popularly ginseng, ginko biloba, taurine and guarana.

Dangerous ingredients
There is some concern that regular consumption of taurine can signal the body to stop producing this naturally occurring amino acid, leaving you hooked on energy drinks.

Drinks with ephedrine, also known as ephedra (or by its Chines name, Ma huang), should be avoided altogether. This ingredient has been discontinued after the FDA declared it as a potential health hazard.

Guarana, also know as paullinia cupana, is an evergreen vine from Brazil with seven percent more caffeine than coffee, but will all the same side effects. When you get a drink with both coffee and guarana, you are getting a very high dose of caffeine.

Up and down
Energy drinks do deliver a boost -- it just doesn't last very long. As soon as the sugar leaves your bloodstream your energy high disappears leaving you exhausted while the caffeine leaves you feeling jittery and weak.

Dangerous side effects
Other unwelcome side effects include anxiety, hyperactivity, dehydration, insomnia, diarrhea, dizziness and heart irregularities.

This is especially alarming considering their popularity among youth. According to a 2006 survey by Simmons Research, 31 percent of U.S. adolescents consume energy drinks on a regular basis.

Booze doesn't mix

Even more disturbing is the prevalence of mixing energy drinks with alcohol. The combination can result in alcoholic poisoning since the body's natural defense against too much alcohol is to fall asleep. Energy drinks keep you awake and drinking.

Brazilian researchers are the first to study this deadly combination and found there was a huge disconnect between their subjects' perceptions and their measures of their abilities. In other words, drinkers of booze and energy drinks assumed they weren't as drunk as they actually were.

Proceed with caution
If you do want to try energy drinks, it's best to proceed with caution. Drinks marketed as organic or all-natural may still contain high levels of caffeine.

Energy drinks should only be a treat, not routine, says Zorana Rose, a doctor of naturopathic medicine in Toronto. Rose works with clients to find natural alternatives to boost energy and alleviate mental stress, such as Siberian Ginseng, licorice, ginkgo biloba, lemon balm and vitamin C.

Natural solutions
There are alternatives to a "canned solution." Taking a five minute break to walk around the office and drinking lots of water can re-boot your energy at work.

Getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods combined with regular exercise may not come with flashy titles and slogans, but it's still the best way to consistently perform at your best.

You mom was right after all.

Shannon Wilmot is a freelance writer based in Toronto.