Are Energy Supplements Bad For You? Here’s What You Should Know About the Risks

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For many, tireless workweeks, school exams and homework, and the wish to maintain some semblance of a social life can only mean one thing: a lack of sleep. Although coffee and its caffeine is the go-to drug for most, others are beginning to catch onto a dangerous new fad without understanding the potential for long-term side effects to their health, which involves using energy supplements to provide a much-needed boost in alertness.

"It's like crack," Christopher Balgobin of Fairview Clinics in Minnesota told WCCO. "The tough part about some of them that are out there is that they contain both vasodilators and central nervous system or cardiac stimulants," dietician Christina Meyer-Jax told WCCO. "When you combo those two together, that can cause a really heavy load on your heart and your blood pressure."

Read more: 6 Coffee Substitutes for the Discerning Coffee Addict

Ignore the advertising: popping pills for energy might not be as good a deal as the supplement companies want you to think.Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press/Getty Images
Ignore the advertising: popping pills for energy might not be as good a deal as the supplement companies want you to think.  St. Paul Pioneer Press/Getty Images

Livestrong reported on the several severe side effects that may occur after using energy supplements — and it should seriously cause you to reconsider popping another one before heading into work. For starters, energy pills can cause headaches, insomnia and an increase in heart rate (which won't be anything other than uncomfortable if you work a desk job or are sitting through a midterm). 

What's more, most of these supplements are yet to have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which means they haven't been tested and/or backed by a reputable source other than the company producing it for its consumers. "When drugs are used for reasons besides those that are approved, you're flying blind," Lisa Schwartz, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, told Women's Health. "A lot of these drugs are so new, the risk of serious complications isn't yet clear. They should be used only under a doctor's supervision."

However, no two supplements are made the same. Some pills might not be as dangerous as others, so long as the ingredients they comprise are natural and come in low doses. According to WebMD, energy supplement ingredients like ginseng may actually improve mood and energy, while guarana can ease mental strain in young adults. 

Of course, there isn't any way of really telling whether the pills you're taking for energy actually contain the ingredients (and their respective amounts) listed in their labels if they aren't FDA approved and regulated yet. So, take anything you're reading on the back of those labels with a grain of salt. If you're considering looking for an energy boost from something other than coffee, try these options — some are healthier than others, but all are likely much safer than consuming anything containing ingredients you might not even be aware of.