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Energy Drinks have Detrimental Effects on Brain Health

Energy drinks are widely promoted as products that increase energy and enhance mental alertness and physical performance. Next to multivitamins, energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement consumed. There are two kinds of energy drink products. One is sold in containers similar in size to those of ordinary soft drinks, such as a 16-oz. bottle. The other kind, called “energy shots,” is sold in small containers holding 2 to 2½ oz. of concentrated liquid. Caffeine is a major ingredient in both types of energy drink products—at levels of 70 to 240 mg in a 16-oz. drink and 113 to 200 mg in an energy shot. (For comparison, a 12-oz. can of cola contains about 35 mg of caffeine, and an 8-oz. cup of coffee contains about 100 mg.) Another major ingredient in energy drinks includes artificial and “natural” sweeteners (stevia). Caffeine makes the body think is it under stress, which raises the cortisol level, raises the insulin level, and causes carbohydrates to be deposited as fat.  In the long run, the brain becomes depleted of the major neurotransmitters that contribute to a variety of mental health concerns such as depression, lethargy, ADD, and insomnia.

Neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters are molecules that regulate brain function. They are chemicals which relay messages from nerve to nerve both within the brain and outside the brain. They also relay messages from nerve to muscle, lungs, and intestinal tracts. They can accentuate emotion, thought processes, joy, elation and also fear, anxiety, insomnia and that terrible urge to over indulge in food, alcohol, drugs, etc. In short, neurotransmitters are used all over the body to transmit information and signals.

There are two kinds of neurotransmitters – inhibitory and excitatory. Excitatory neurotransmitters are what stimulate the brain. Those that calm the brain and help create balance are called inhibitory. Inhibitory neurotransmitters balance mood and are easily depleted when the excitatory neurotransmitters are overactive such as when they are being artificially stimulated by caffeine.

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Inhibitory Neurotransmitters

  • SEROTONIN is an inhibitory neurotransmitter – which means that it does not stimulate the brain.  Adequate amounts of serotonin are necessary for a stable mood and to balance any excessive excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitter firing in the brain.  If you use stimulant medications or caffeine in your daily regimen – it can cause a depletion of serotonin over time.  Serotonin also regulates many other processes such as carbohydrate cravings, sleep cycle, pain control and appropriate digestion.  Low serotonin levels are also associated with decreased immune system function.
  • GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is often referred to as “nature’s VALIUM-like substance”.  When GABA is out of range (high or low excretion values), it is likely that an excitatory neurotransmitter is firing too often in the brain.  GABA will be sent out to attempt to balance this stimulating over-firing.
  • DOPAMINE is a special neurotransmitter because it is considered to be both excitatory and inhibitory.  Dopamine helps with depression as well as focus, which you will read about in the excitatory section.

Excitatory Neurotransmitters

  • DOPAMINE is our main focus neurotransmitter.  When dopamine is either elevated or low – we can have focus issues such as not remembering where we put our keys, forgetting what a paragraph said when we just finished reading it or simply daydreaming and not being able to stay on task.  Dopamine is also responsible for our drive or desire to get things done – or motivation.  Stimulants such as medications for ADD/ADHD and caffeine cause dopamine to be pushed into the synapse so that focus is improved.  Unfortunately, stimulating dopamine consistently can cause a depletion of dopamine over time.
  • NOREPINEPHRINE is an excitatory neurotransmitter that is responsible for stimulatory processes in the body.  Norepinephrine helps to make epinephrine as well.  This neurotransmitter can cause anxiety at elevated excretion levels as well as some mood lowering effects.  Low levels of norepinephrine are associated with low energy and decreased focused ability and sleep cycle problems.
  • EPINEPHRINE is an excitatory neurotransmitter that is reflective of stress.  This neurotransmitter will often be elevated when ADHD like symptoms are present.  Long term stress or insomina can cause epinephrine levels to be depleted (low).  Epinephrine also regulates heart rate and blood pressure.

If you believe that your caffeine consumption has become addictive or is the root cause of your mental health imbalances, please know that a simple test can help to determine your neurotransmitter imbalances. Please contact the office here, to begin.

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