Samantha Sharpe is exhausted. She’s been cleaning for a couple hours, and now she’s tired out. When she’s done, she’ll have to go look after her three kids. In desperate need of a pick-me-up, she cracks open a can of energy drink. Immediately, she feels better, but as the drink slips down, something feels off.
Sharpe, out of Leicester in the U.K., was no different than most parents across the world, working to support her young family. But the demands of keeping up with work and home drove her to drinking up to six energy drinks each day. And after four years of the habit, it caught up with her in the most terrifying away.
It’s perhaps no wonder that Sharpe felt that she needed a boost. After all, keeping house for her three kids was already a full-time job, before she even started work as a cleaner. And for those of us who are feeling a bit run down, an energy drink can provide just that lift that we need to get through a tough hour.
So Sharpe turned to energy drinks to get through the tough times, but by 2014 she was downing up to six energy drinks a day. That started to take its toll after a while, and the mom had to endure several health scares over that period. Finally, in February 2018 she went through a moment that changed her life.
Throughout our lives, there will be times when we’re pushed to our physical and mental limits. Some of us will be able to cope with those challenges through sheer perseverance, but that’s not the case with everyone. It will turn out that we all have different energy levels when push comes to shove.
So for the people who feel drained after a particular period, an energy drink can give them the boost that they need. These beverages can be found in supermarkets across the world, having been introduced to consumers more than 50 years ago. And they’re popular, with many brands to choose from on the shelves.
Whether it’s Red Bull or Monster Energy, these products find a ready market in individuals who want to keep their energy up. Much like a cup of coffee in the morning, a can may be just the indulgence that you need when you’re flagging. But what are these drinks actually composed of?
For starters, even national health authorities find “energy drink” tough to define. So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that Sharpe didn’t realize that it would be possible to become addicted to the contents of her can. Despite the slipperiness of the definition, there are still a few things that can be said about these drinks.
Generally, energy drinks do not contain any alcohol, but they do include substances such as caffeine, the amino acid taurine and some vitamins. They’ll have some other stuff packed in too. First seen in Japan in the 1960s, they became visible in Europe in the 1980s and gradually grew in popularity.
Despite the drinks’ non-alcoholic nature, it’s pretty common for youngsters particularly to add them to booze. In the U.K., many clubs and pubs put jugs, or “goldfish bowls, of vodka and Red Bull on sale. And these drinks are marketed to the public in ways just as energetic as the boosts that they promise.
Indeed, the energy-drink brands pump up their popular appeal by sponsoring franchises in extreme sports. This helps them appear “edgy” and “energetic,” and of course introduces the idea of the drinks being just a little bit dangerous. Which is more than a little bit ironic when Sharpe’s case is considered.
The marketing push has been effective, as the sales results show. Estimates put the global total at about $12 billion in 2012. And in the EU, nearly a third of grown-ups and more than two-thirds of adolescents enjoy imbibing energy drinks. However, while the demand is certainly there, these products can pose a threat to your health too.
Drinking too much of them can bring on an overdose of caffeine. This can sometimes lead to high blood pressure and heart palpitations, sickness and in the most extreme cases can even kill you. But that’s not the end of the dangers that energy drinks can pose to your health.
Alongside caffeine overdose, energy drinks can cause problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. On top of that, the health of your teeth could be affected too. Meanwhile, pregnant women are advised to steer clear of these products, because drinking them can put their unborn babies’ lives at risk.
Regarding the potential health issues, a doctor named John Higgins revealed a bit more during an interview with news network CNN. He plied his trade as a cardiologist, operating out of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Given his area of expertise, Dr. Higgins focused on what happens to your heart after consuming an energy drink.
“Energy drinks not only have been shown to raise stress levels, increase heart rate [and] increase blood pressure,” Higgins said in May 2019. “They’ve also been shown to make the blood a little bit thicker.” After that, he spoke about some of the ingredients that you’d find in these products, raising a worrying point.
Higgins continued, “There’s been several cases described of people that have gone into cardiac arrest after consuming more than one energy beverage. [But] when they’ve done further analysis on these individuals, they haven’t been able to find anything abnormal, other than the very high levels of caffeine and taurine in the toxicology.”
Having said this, Higgins felt the need to share the details of a particular incident. The cardiologist looked back on a situation where a young man had consumed a high number of energy drinks, leading to a cardiac arrest. Yet when the physicians took a closer look at him, they were greeted by a shocking sight.
Higgins recalled, “In one case, a young 28-year-old who drunk [sic] eight cans of an energy drink actually went into cardiac arrest. And they found the arteries of his heart were completely locked up. When they were able to open them up, all the testing revealed nothing wrong with this person other than he had high levels of caffeine and taurine.”
Because of these the apparent risks, a number of supermarket chains in the United Kingdom made a bold decision in March 2018. Shops such as Tesco, Asda and the Co-op enforced a ban on the sale of energy drinks to customers below the age of 16. But they weren’t the only stores, though.
Indeed, British retailer Boots got in on the action as well, becoming the first non-supermarket store to use the rule. “Helping our customers to live healthier lives has always been our core purpose,” a company representative told BBC News in March 2018. “We have listened to the growing public concern about young people consuming these high-sugar and highly caffeinated drinks.”
However, while this ban might be considered to be a positive for youngsters, it ultimately didn’t help the older consumers of energy drinks. Sharpe was one of them, as she drank the products throughout the day every day. And that habit would go on to have a detrimental effect on her health.
Sharpe’s taste for energy drinks really came to the fore back in 2014, during her stint as a cleaner. The mom looked back on that period of her life when she sat down with U.K. website Leicestershire Live in May 2019. As it turned out, her busy schedule had played a significant role in getting her hooked.
“I have three children and I work, so it was daily life that pushed me to drinking the energy drinks,” Sharpe explained. “I work in the evenings so it got me through the day. It woke me up and got me a bit hyper. I also had eight months off work, which didn’t help how many I was drinking.”
Having made that admission, Sharpe then touched upon how she had been feeling at that time. As she had continued to down several cans throughout the day, the Leicester resident had noted some worrying signs. According to her, the drinks had appeared to have been having an adverse effect on her body and mood.
Sharpe said, “It got to the point where I was drinking five energy drinks a day. The drinks made my heart beat faster, which would cause palpitations. Then after [that], I would crash when I needed another one, causing my heart rate to drop to 20 beats per minute. It would give me headaches.”
“I’d be grumpy, and I’d need another one to keep me going,” Sharpe continued. “I wouldn’t sleep, and I had an overwhelming feeling of doom when trying to sleep. It’s something I haven’t experienced before, which made me want another one. And I’d have the shakes. I felt like an addict to the stuff.”
But that wasn’t the worst of it, though. While heart palpitations can be incredibly scary, Sharpe had to contend with another terrifying issue at her house. In the end, it led to a significant day in her life back in February 2018, some four years after the addiction took hold.
“My family warned me [about the energy drinks] but I didn’t listen,” Sharpe told Leicestershire Live. “I went to the doctor over a year ago because I kept blacking out at home. I had a first degree heart blockage and it then extended to second degree.” At that stage, she underwent an important procedure.
Sharpe added, “In February last year at Glenfield Hospital, I had a pacemaker fitted directly into the heart to help my heart function. The pacemaker had to go through a vein in my leg. It was not a nice experience and my kids had to see me in and out of hospital.”
Although Sharpe was convinced that the energy drinks were to blame for her condition, one expert wasn’t so sure. Aseem Malhotra, who works as a cardiologist for the NHS, looked over her case while talking to U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail in May 2019. And in his opinion, there had to be another cause behind the heart problem.
“I see a lot of patients who have palpitations and anxiety attacks which have been caused by energy drinks,” Dr. Malhotra said. “But I’m not aware of any way drinking them can lead to a pacemaker. The solution is to stop drinking them. There’s no known link to irreversible heart damage. This is likely to be a coincidence.”
Sharpe’s physicians weren’t entirely sure either, but they believed that the energy drinks didn’t aid the situation. Despite the doubts, there were a couple of other issues that could be traced back to her addiction. Indeed, the mom was close to developing type 2 diabetes as a result of all the sugar in her system.
Alongside that, Sharpe had to contend with kidney stones as well, adding to her woes. As for her old drinking habits, the parent told Leicestershire Live, “My sister, who is a nurse, said the addiction is worse than that of heroin. Which I can understand because I needed it to help me [stay] awake.”
Meanwhile, Sharpe’s health showed major signs of improvement once the pacemaker was in place. The problems that she endured became a thing of the past, as her life at home returned to normal. After the procedure, though, the Leicester resident couldn’t help but try one last energy drink, with concerning results.
“[I have a] new lease of life,” Sharpe revealed. “I don’t black out anymore and I can’t feel my heart messing up anymore. My heart used to skip beats. But I do have to go back to the doctors every six months, and I have to have the pacemaker replaced every ten years.”
Sharpe added, “I know I shouldn’t drink it anymore, but I have had one energy drink since [my operation]. And I could feel my heart racing, my kidneys hurting and a headache coming on. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’” With that in mind, she then made one final point on the matter.
After Sharpe’s pacemaker was fitted, she wanted to spread the word about the dangers of energy drinks. Using her plight as an example, the mother was desperate to warn others away from the products, including kids. Because, you see, while the ban was in place at that point, it didn’t stop parents from purchasing them instead.
“People do not realize how badly [the energy drinks] affect you,” Sharpe explained. “I have gone up to people previously who are buying the drinks and told them what happened to me. It breaks my heart when I see kids doing it. There is an age limit, but I still see mums buying it for their children.”
From there, Sharpe concluded her interview with Leicestershire Live by bringing an intriguing suggestion to the table, rounding things off. She said, “The effects of energy drinks need to be advertised more. I think everyone knows they aren’t good for you – but no one has ever said why they aren’t.”