America is in an energy crisis. Between coffee, soda, and caffeinated foods, if it provides a jolt of energy to this sleep-deprived nation, Americans will consume it. Once a mainstay of college kids trying to power through their finals week, energy drinks are now popular among all groups of people.

5-Hour Energy is a name brand energy drink that has gained a national following in recent years. Its small (2-ounce) bottle size makes it an attractive alternative to some drinks that weigh in at more than 16 ounces.

Are 5-Hour Energy Shots Safe for People with Diabetes?

Some energy beverages on the market contain more than 25 grams of sugar. For a person trying to control their blood sugar, these drinks are off limits.

The 5-Hour Energy shot drinks are sugar free and contain only 4 calories. For individuals watching their sugar intake or calorie consumption, this may be ideal. People with diabetes may be interested in this energy drink for that reason.

The Problem with Artificial Sweeteners

For decades, “sugar free” items were promoted to people with metabolic syndrome and either pre-diabetes or diabetes because they do not affect blood sugar the way traditional sugar sources do. When a person who does not have diabetes eats something with simple sugars, blood sugar levels increase and then level off slowly and evenly within two hours. When a person with diabetes eats something with simple sugars, on the other hand, their blood sugar level increases and does not decrease as it should. Instead, it remains elevated.

Artificial Sweeteners May Raise Diabetes Risk, but Still Promote Weight Loss

It was thought that sugar-free items did not have the same effect on blood sugar because they contain artificial sweeteners. Recent research, however, calls that assumption into question.

A study published in Nature found that artificial sweeteners might actually increase blood sugar problems. The artificial sweeteners may alter a person’s gut bacteria over time. The bacteria induce glucose intolerance in both people with and without diabetes. This research, though limited, suggests that sugar-free foods may not be suitable for people who need to closely monitor and care for their blood sugar levels. 

The Problem with Caffeine

Sugar isn’t the only concern for people with diabetes. The high caffeine content of 5-Hour Energy shots might also cause blood sugar problems.

Coffee’s Effect on Diabetes

A study in Diabetes Cares found that people with diabetes who consumed caffeine with carbohydrates had abnormal glucose and insulin responses compared to people without diabetes. The caffeine was given as an isolated additive. It was not given in the form of coffee, which contains compounds that may change the response. This study was also small. However, the high levels of caffeine in energy drinks may cause the same glucose response in people with diabetes.

5-Hour Energy contains “as much caffeine as a cup of the leading premium coffee.” Caffeine content in a cup of coffee can fluctuate, however, based on the brand, brew time, and number of scoops. If you have diabetes, one to two cups of coffee may be all that is necessary to cause a problem with your blood insulin levels.

Drinking too much caffeine may cause other problems as well, since it is a nervous system stimulant. Consuming large quantities of caffeine in a short period of time may lead to an overdose. Side effects include:

  • nervousness
  • upset stomach
  • irritability
  • jittery feelings
  • fast heartbeat
  • anxiety
  • stomach pain

Other Ingredients

The 5-Hour Energy shot contains a variety of additional vitamins and amino acids. While unlikely, it’s possible these ingredients could interact with medications you’re taking. Be sure to confirm with your pharmacist that the shot is safe to take with your medications.

The Bottom Line

Every person responds to caffeine and artificial sweeteners differently. For some people with diabetes, 5-Hour Energy drinks can be consumed with zero unintended side effects or problems. However, the high quantity of caffeine or the artificial sweeteners may be too much for you.

It’s a good idea to speak with your doctor or dietitian before you use any energy drinks. The two of you can talk about the possible complications and side effects, and you can weigh those with your desire to experience a boost from caffeine.

Your doctor can also help you understand what you should do in the event these shots do affect your blood sugar level and you become ill. You may not have an issue with the shot the first time you drink one, but at some point in the future it may cause a problem. Use the shots as rarely as you can.