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How Do Energy Drinks Affect Your Cortisol?

By Jan Nelson MSN, NP-C, ABAAHP

     What are the effects of caffeine and energy drinks on your adrenal glands? Our fast paced world of “Must go faster and longer with less sleep” tends to push the adrenal glands to the limit.

     Higher caffeine intake throughout the day results in higher cortisol levels. Cortisol is secreted naturally by the adrenals in stressful situations as well. Now combine ongoing stress with stimulant drinks resulting in sustained high levels of cortisol.

     High levels of cortisol may lead to sugar and foods high in carbohydrate cravings promoting weight gain. Abdominal weight gain is typically due to high cortisol levels. This abdominal fat is difficult to lose as long as the adrenals continue to be stressed.


     Caffeine can have several different effects, depending on how much and how often a person takes in on a daily basis. For those who are used to high levels of caffeine, sleep patterns may not be interrupted, however, those who do not use it often may find they are jittery and have trouble sleeping. Caffeine affects more than the levels of cortisol in your body. It also affects the hormones adrenaline, adenosine, and dopamine. It will give you a boost and increase adrenaline, inhibit the adenosine from calming and relaxing you, and cause the dopamine levels to increase to give you a euphoric feeling. When it wears off after about 8 hours or more, it can cause you to crash and feel sad.

     Other consequences of continuous elevated cortisol are decreased immune system, increased osteoporosis risk, fatigue, irritability, confusion, low energy, increased cholesterol/blood sugar/insulin resistance and infections.

     If you enjoy a good cup of coffee in the morning, have one, then switch to a non-stimulant tea. Be careful with the energy drinks, use them with caution and sparingly if the need arises.

Remember, it’s ok to slow down and remove some of the demands from your plate!

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