Energy Drinks: Increasing Cortisol, Sleeplessness & Weight Gain

by Dr Minkoff December 17, 2023 5 min read

Energy Drinks: Increasing Cortisol, Sleeplessness & Weight Gain

As I’m seeing the effects of these more and more, let's talk about: Energy drinks.

The effect that energy drinks and high levels of caffeine have on our bodies, our health, our sleep, our stress levels, our mood, our anxiety levels and our hormones is much more than most people think.

When continued over time, these can have a very significant impact on our long-term health and our body’s ability to function at optimal levels, not to mention our ability to lose fat and gain muscle.

And considering many people who drink these are in their teens or twenties, when their bodies are still developing, the damage they do there can be far worse, leading to acute or even chronic health conditions in the future.

It may seem small, but due to their prevalence and availability now, it’s very important.

So let’s dive in.

ENERGY DRINKS DON’T GIVE US ENERGY

Over the last decade more and more so-called “energy” drinks have been released, promising higher mental alertness, long-lasting energy and much more.

And this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Many of them are actually some of the most harmful substances we can legally put in our bodies.

Truly.

A story, not my own, was someone who had been buying his niece a specific kind of energy drink weekly since she’d been staying with him.

She had been drinking it for some time before arriving at her aunt and uncle’s house and “needed” it because she was “always so tired.”

So he was in line at the grocery store with a six-pack of this drink when the person in front of him in line noticed it in his hands.

He told him he was a cardiac specialist and pointed to the six-pack saying he’d just had a teenage girl in the ER two nights before after drinking two of that exact brand of energy drink.

That shook the man and he put it back, telling his niece he wasn’t going to buy her anymore and what the doctor had said.

A few weeks later she was no longer “tired all the time.” And she possibly escaped something much more serious.

HOW ENERGY DRINKS ACTUALLY WORK

First, they don't give us energy.

Sure, they’re loaded with sugar, so that’s an energy source.

But a very short-lived one.

And as it’s a high amount of very processed sugar, it raises cortisol levels very high, which then sap our energy until we get our next “fix.”

This is because these drinks operate by ransacking our adrenaline stores, forcing our body to produce more adrenaline and cortisol to keep us awake, alert and active.

Until we get the let down or we crash.

A coffee or two in the morning gives us a little caffeine, comparatively. But these drinks give us high amounts of caffeine, taurine and other stimulants our bodies were never meant to consume.

And they can’t handle them.

They’re toxic for our bodies and raise cortisol levels, set our nerves on edge, prevent deep sleep and cause weight gain and long-term health issues.

At first, most people consistently drinking energy drinks can become very lethargic after they wear off and before the next one. And many can remain fairly slim, often not eating as much as they normally would.

But after a while, with the affect it has on their cortisol levels, adrenal glands and insulin, which then affects our neurotransmitter levels, they can start to feel lethargic all the time, while at the same time having trouble sleeping well at night. 

They can begin to feel more anxious or depressed and can start over-eating, craving sugary foods that lead to weight gain.

Due to lack of sleep, and often a poor diet, their body isn't getting what it needs to fully recover from the day’s activity.

Stress levels rise, they’re too tired to get work done, anxiety levels rise, depression can set in, and they can start having aches in their body they didn’t have before.

This is high cortisol levels, hormones out of balance and an inability to get deep sleep that allows for daily recovery, leaving micro-injuries from daily activity piling up internally.

It also strips our B vitamins, leaving us with very low levels of vitamin B1, which can cause constant mental chatter or a mind that just won’t “turn off.”

And they can be quite addictive.

COMING OFF OF ENERGY DRINKS

When coming off energy drinks we can first experience very low energy levels, and even body aches. Even more than we had before we came off if we already had these.

But this isn’t our energy levels going down further. This is the false sense of energy going away and the numbness to how our body actually feels coming off.

During this time, protein is key, along with vitamin replenishment for cellular repair.

If one has been drinking energy drinks daily for months or years, this recovery period can take a few weeks on its own, if not months.

During this time it’s important to keep levels of sugar low and prioritize fats and high protein.

This is because most people on continuous energy drinks can start to become insulin resistant due to the high amounts of processed sugars, and we need to get them through this.

Good, deep sleep is also essential, as this is when the body is able to use the protein to recover, and when hormones are able to start balancing again.

Magnesium is also very good during this time as it helps calm the nervous system, while these energy drinks have been depleting magnesium levels in the body.

Combined with daily walks, our energy levels can start to rise again, we become more alert — without the drink to “help” us, sleep evens out, mood evens out, and our overall health begins to rise again.

If you have been drinking energy drinks on a regular basis, I’d highly recommend you stop, and take some time for recovery.

With proper nutrition and sleep you’ll have more than enough energy and mental clarity. And you’ll also have much higher levels of health and longevity.

I highly recommend it.

REFERENCES:

Effects of energy drinks and caffeine on health:

  1. Clauson, K. A., Shields, K. M., McQueen, C. E., & Persad, N. (2008). Safety issues associated with commercially available energy drinks. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, 48(3), e55-e63. doi: 10.1331/JAPhA.2008.07055
  2. Heckman, M. A., Sherry, K., & de Mejia, E. G. (2010). Energy drinks: An assessment of their market size, consumer demographics, ingredient profile, functionality, and regulations in the United States. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 9(3), 303-317. doi: 10.1111/j.1541-4337.2010.00111.x
  3. Seifert, S. M., Schaechter, J. L., Hershorin, E. R., & Lipshultz, S. E. (2011). Health effects of energy drinks on children, adolescents, and young adults. Pediatrics, 127(3), 511-528. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-3592

Effects of caffeine on cortisol levels and stress:

  1. Lovallo, W. R., & al'Absi, M. (2019). Caffeine and stress: Implications for risk in cardiovascular disease. Journal of Caffeine and Adenosine Research, 9(4), 125-131. doi: 10.1089/caff.2019.0005
  2. Lovallo, W. R., Farag, N. H., Vincent, A. S., Thomas, T. L., & Wilson, M. F. (2006). Cortisol responses to mental stress, exercise, and meals following caffeine intake in men and women. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 83(3), 441-447. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2006.03.002

Effects of energy drinks on sleep:

  1. Arnedt, J. T., Wilde, G. J. S., Munt, P. W., & MacLean, A. W. (2001). How do prolonged wakefulness and alcohol compare in the decrements they produce on a simulated driving task? Accident Analysis and Prevention, 33(3), 337-344. doi: 10.1016/S0001-4575(00)00053-5
  2. Drake, C., Roehrs, T., Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013). Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 9(11), 1195-1200. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.3170


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