A number of recent deaths possibly linked to energy drinks have alarmed health officials nationwide and raised questions about the safety of highly-caffeinated beverages. Although no clear link has yet been established, US Food and Drug Administration officials say that they are aggressively investigating the death reports.
Meanwhile, some cities, including San Francisco, are asking a major energy-drink maker to provide evidence that their energy beverages are safe for adolescents and adults.
In light of these news reports, MAPI wanted to provide the Ayurvedic perspective on energy drinks. We reached out to Mark Toomey, Ph.D., an Ayurvedic expert and Director of Ayurvedic Programs at The Raj Ayurvedic Spa in Fairfield, Iowa.
The Ayurvedic view on energy drinks
Dr. Toomey explained:
“Caffeine increases Vata dosha. Vata governs all movement in the physiology, such as the activity of digestion and the nervous system. With small amounts of caffeine we can see the increased alertness and the effect it has on elimination.
“But in large amounts this aggravation of Vata dosha can be experienced as insomnia, anxiety, worry, dryness, fatigue (as seen in the caffeine lows) and headaches.
“We have all experienced the benefits of our morning cup of tea or coffee—the energy, the clarity that comes as the caffeine surges through our nervous system and brain. But in a state of balance, the brain and nervous system do quite well without stimulants and operate energetically with sustained, focused energy.”
Natural sources of energy
“To create a brain that is alert and a body that is energetic, one has to have balance,” explains Dr. Toomey. “That is, a balanced diet, lifestyle, daily routine, and digestion. These things are your very best source of an energy boost.”
“Behavioral choices, such as diet and rest, play a big role in our energy levels. For instance, if one has poor sleep or is going to bed late and not getting enough sleep, this will impact the quality of the mind and its ability to perform at a top level.
“If you’re eating heavy fast food because you’re busy and don’t have time to cook a healthy meal, then ama gets created. Ama is a heavy, sticky by-product of undigested food that builds up in the body, causing fatigue and dullness.
“The purpose of Ayurveda is to give us the knowledge to create balance in our lives, to be able to make choices about diet and lifestyle that create health.”
Maintaining healthy choices
At present the energy-drink industry says its products are safe. Even the FDA has suggested that 400 milligrams of caffeine a day from all sources is safe for adults, although some medical experts believe that adults can safely consume more.
However, there is far less data about safe caffeine levels for teenagers. This is perhaps an area for continued research. In addition to caffeine, these drinks are usually made primarily from synthetic chemical sources, or highly-processed and preserved food sources. This alone, from an Ayurvedic perspective, is not considered healthy.
From an Ayurveda perspective, the question isn't only about the safety of these products, but why is someone taking them in the first place? What are the lifestyle choices that promote regularly pushing the body beyond its natural rest cycle?
Ayurveda has a long history of addressing and supporting energy levels naturally, and provides a variety of modalities to support healthy sustained energy, without side effects.
Find out more about boosting your energy, removing toxins and supporting alertness and productivity in our guide to managing fatigue with Ayurveda.
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