By Manuela Peitz

Everywhere you turn you see them.

People sipping on energy drinks - at the office, on the bus, the train, walking in the street and in restaurants.

Oh, and on the sports field of course.

Energy or sports drinks have become hip and for some people a necessity.

It used to be that people relied on a good old cup of coffee to give them a jolt.

And as children we were given packets of glucose powder and oranges during sports events at school to revive us.

But since Lucozade, Powerade, Energade, Red Bull and Play arrived, people have turned to these supposedly healthier options to give them a boost.

In South Africa, three percent of the population consume energy drinks daily, most of them between 15 and 30 years old.

But just how healthy are these drinks?

What was their original purpose?

And why have some countries banned them from shop shelves?

Energy drinks are supposed to do just what the name implies - give you a burst of energy when your mind and body are tired and need replenishment.

They are supposed to replace the nutrients that are used up when you have been very active.

Drinking energy drinks all day at the office when you sit at your desk can be bad for your health as they were designed as a replacement.

Most of the "energy" comes from two main ingredients, sugar and caffeine.

A typical energy drink can contain up to 80mg of caffeine, about the same amount as a large cup of brewed coffee.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa recommends no more than 300mg of caffeine per day (four cups of coffee or eight cups of tea).

The first energy drink was produced in Japan where, in 1962, pharmaceutical company Taisho released its Lipovitan D drink.

It was designed to help employees work hard for long hours.

Lipovitan D contains taurine, the same ingredient found in many of today's energy drinks.

Sports drinks contain mainly water, to which carbohydrates like glucose and fructose, electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, and caffeine are added.

Caffeine stimulates performance and prevents fatigue, making you feel more alert and mildly euphoric.

Sports drinks with caffeine became very popular with sports people, especially after the 2004 ban on caffeine in sport was lifted.

But there are also negative side effects - too much caffeine can cause nervousness, sleeplessness, abnormal heart rhythms, an upset stomach and irritability

Unnecessary use may also lead to weight gain, as the body stores unused energy as fat.

Caffeine is also a diuretic that causes you to pee more, leaving less fluid in the body.

Contrary to popular belief, drinking an energy drink while you're exercising can actually be dangerous because the combination of the diuretic effect and sweating can severely dehydrate you.

Ayesha Seedat, a dietician at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, warns people to read the labels of energy drinks, as some of the ingredients can have dangerous side effects.

"Some energy drinks contain Ginko Biloba - this ingredient increases the risk of bleeding, hence caution should be exercised for those who take blood-thinning medication, or those who have a surgery or dental procedure scheduled."

Energy drinks are generally safe, but should be consumed in moderation.

Like cigarettes, over time caffeine can become addictive.

Another worrying trend in clubs is the mixing of alcohol and energy drinks to give dancers more energy on the dance floor.

A Brazilian study also found that men who drank such cocktails felt alert and sober, even though they were actually drunk - the energy drink masked the alcohol's effect.

Both alcohol and energy drinks dehydrate you, and excess can lead to heart failure and death.

"Alcohol generally contains empty calories not required by the body, and so by combining it with energy drinks, piles on even more calories," Seedat says.

"Generally, drinking too much alcohol increases health dangers.

"Other serious effects are heart muscle damage, heart rhythm disturbances and sudden cardiac death.

"It may also contribute to the development of obesity, diabetes and liver disease." - Daily Voice