By Rebecca Brown
March 24, 2011

We drink them for a pick-me-up during a sluggish day or right before we head to the gym. Find out what's inside energy drinks and if they're harmful to your health.

Common Ingredients

1. Taurine

This naturally found amino acid is typically offered as a dietary supplement, but it's also found in fish and meat. Some sources suggest that you can take up to 3,000 milligrams of this supplement a day, however you should always be weary of consuming high doses. So far, the attitudes towards this acid are inconclusive, yet positive. "Taurine's effective role in energy drinks alone requires more study, as it's usually one of several ingredients that commonly tout a variety of claims, from decreasing sleepiness to improving concentration, mood and memory," says Marisa Moore, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

2. Caffeine

This stimulant has been at the center of heated debates for years. The results are always mixed: Caffeine may protect against ovarian cancer, but it also raises the risk of a miscarriage. A study of energy drinks conducted at the University of Vienna, Austria, found that combining caffeine and taurine improves mental performance of drinkers. That being said, caffeine can become addictive when taken regularly and should be consumed cautiously.

The Bottom Line: Are They Safe?

Energy drinks contain so many different herbs and supplements that they create a murky broth with unknown effects. Ginseng and ginkgo biloba, which are also common ingredients, can affect other medications you're taking. "Gingko biloba may increase the risk of bleeding, which is a real caution for those who take blood thinners or who have a surgery or dental procedure scheduled," says Moore.

The best thing to do is limit your consumption of these drinks, or even better, go au naturel. "If you feel the need for energy to fuel a workout or something during snack time, try a banana, granola bar or other whole grain energy bar," adds Moore.

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