Formulate user Susan wrote in with some questions about energy drinks and hair loss:
Hi Formulate team! Okay, so lately I've been seeing some stuff on TikTok about hair loss and energy drinks. And I LOVE energy drinks. I work a stressful job, and I literally run on Red Bull. It keeps me alive. Seriously, it's the stuff that flows through my veins. So I'd like to know if there's any truth to the idea that there's a connection between drinking energy drinks and hair loss. I love my Red Bull, but I also love my hair! My fingers are crossed that this isn't actually anything serious. Let me know!
Thanks for writing, Susan! To answer your questions, we spoke with two dietitians: Kaytee Hadley, MS, RDN, IFMCP, CPT "The Anti-IBS Dietitian", founder of Holistic Health and Wellness, and Kimberly Gomer MS, RD/LDN, a private practice dietitian.
We'll have to start with some bad news. Due to their ingredients, neither of the dietitians we spoke to were big fans of energy drinks.
"Energy drinks are touted to increase exercise performance, cognitive abilities, and of course, good times - but the reality is much more dire," says Kaytee. "Energy drinks are loaded with sugar (50-60 grams and beyond), and have up to 500 mg of caffeine per can. That's as much sugar as a venti Pumpkin Spice Latte and about 3x the caffeine!"
Beyond sugar and caffeine, there are other ingredients lurking in energy drinks that may be cause for concern. "Most energy drinks contain large amounts of B vitamins, says Kimberly. "It seems that more vitamins may equal more health but that is not always true. Many energy drinks have very high levels of B3 (niacin) and B6. When consumed in excess, these may cause digestive issues, skin issues, liver toxicity, nerve damage, and even blurred vision. Some of the energy drinks contain over 200% of the recommended daily limit of niacin in one serving and many people drink several cans in a day."
Kimberly continues, "Another ingredient found in many energy drinks is taurine. Taurine is an amino acid that supports our nervous system and helps regulate the number of minerals and water in the blood. Too much taurine, especially combined with large doses of caffeine (an ingredient found in all energy drinks) may have negative effects on the brain. This is a particular concern for the adolescent brain and young folks are big consumers of these products."
There hasn't been any research specifically examining the relationship between hair loss and energy drink consumption. However, one study did find a potential connection. "A recent study of over 1,000 men aged 18-45 years old showed an association between drinking sugar-sweetened beverages (including energy drinks) and higher risk of male pattern hair loss, says Kaytee. "This study was the first of its kind to examine this relationship, so more research is needed, but the findings are enough to think twice before downing a sugary drink."
"The study examined over 1,000 men in 31 different provinces in China aged 18-45, says Kimberly. "The 592 subjects who experienced hair loss not only drank energy drinks but also used alcohol and other sugar-sweetened drinks, fast food, and fewer vegetables. Some also smoked. The energy drinks were a part of the unhealthy habits, but we can't point them as the sole reason for the hair loss."
Because the subjects in the study engaged in multiple behaviors that could contribute to hair loss, there's no way to pinpoint which specific behavior caused the hair loss to occur. We don't know if it was a single behavior, or a combination of behaviors. It's also complicated by the fact that some of the subjects smoked, and research shows that smoking often contributes to hair loss. So for those subjects, it may be that the hair loss they experienced is best explained by smoking, rather than energy drink consumption.
Fortunately, that's not all the research we have. "Another journal, 'Nutrients', published a study that pointed to all sweetened drinks as unhealthy and a possible contributor to hair loss, especially in men", says Kimberly. "Men who drink excessive amounts of sugary and caffeinated drinks may be at risk for losing their hair. 12 sugary drinks per week on average seems to leave men at risk for anxiety and possibly hair loss."
Even with this second study in mind, there's still no firm evidence that shows if energy drinks do or do not contribute to hair loss. However, it does indicate that there's a possibility. Still, we don't want to confuse something that's possible with something that's likely - more research is needed to really see if there's a link or not.
If you want to ditch energy drinks altogether, our dietitians have some suggestions.
Kaytee says that there are plenty of alternatives to energy drinks. Her first suggestion is probably the most underrated: "One of the first signs of dehydration is fatigue and brain fog, so drinking good old-fashioned water is a first step to boost energy."
She continues, "Electrolyte powders are a good energy drink alternative for athletes and anyone who sweats regularly. The loss of electrolytes through sweat can make you feel sluggish. Matcha green tea has l-theanine, an amino acid that induces a feeling of calmness which is a great counterbalance to the caffeine in it."
Kimberly recommends that folks who live off of energy drinks don't go cold turkey. Instead, she suggests that they slowly taper off, and look to other, more nutrient-dense sources to get energy. "I always recommend to my clients to begin by reducing the amount of energy drinks and other sugary drinks. If they have consumed an excessive amount, they may have withdrawal symptoms when eliminating or reducing sugar and caffeine. They can replace those drinks with healthier alternatives such as water, sparkling water, and herbal teas. Getting natural sugars from fruits will provide stable energy without the crash of caffeine. Eating whole foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans/legumes, nuts and seeds provides the vitamins and minerals for optimal health and energy."
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