Energy Drinks: Health Risks and It Danger to Human Life

Energy drink advertisements can be found on the walls of sporting events and on the jerseys of top athletes. Models, music events, and video games are all sponsored by beverage companies. Red Bull, the market's most popular beverage, has its own television show and magazine. The makers of these drinks claim that their concoctions will strengthen your immune system, improve your performance, and make you feel more energized.

It's no surprise that 30 to 50 percent of adolescents and young adults report purchasing energy drinks. According to a study conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8% of young people consume energy drinks on a weekly basis, 20% believe energy drinks are safe for teenagers, and 13% believe energy drinks are a type of sports drink. Energy drinks and shots, which are marketed to young adults, are expected to grow in popularity in the United States, with sales expected to reach $21 billion by 2017.

But, particularly for teenagers and young adults, are they safe to consume?

The simple answer, according to Stephanie Nguyen Lai, M.D., of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, is "no." Energy drinks, she claims, are high in sugar, sodium, and caffeine, often twice that of coffee and eight times that of a soda. They're a bad choice for anyone, let alone a growing adolescent's body.

"As a parent, it's critical to speak with your adolescent and explain the risks associated with these products," Dr. Lai advises. "Caffeine is a drug that should not be given to children, especially in such large amounts." Furthermore, when mixed with alcohol, as many young people do, these drinks become especially dangerous."

Caffeine is hidden in energy drinks.

Because the energy drink industry is not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration, the caffeine content of popular energy drinks varies greatly. Some drinks, ironically, do not even list the caffeine content on the label. Instead, they claim it's part of their "proprietary blend," which they keep under wraps.

Energy drink manufacturers also claim that their drinks are "natural dietary supplements," and thus are exempt from FDA regulations. As a result, many people don't realize how much caffeine they're getting from an energy drink, and it's probably a lot more than you think. Caffeine levels in a typical 16-ounce energy drink range from 150 to 280 milligrams, with larger cans containing up to 500 milligrams. This is in stark contrast to the FDA's regulation of sodas. A 12-ounce can of soda, on the other hand, contains about 35 milligrams of caffeine.

Many energy drinks also include guarana, a South American plant that contains a stronger form of caffeine. Guaranine, a guarana derivative, contains 40 to 80 milligrams of caffeine per gram. These energy drinks may contain far more caffeine than stated on the label due to these additives.

Caffeine's Negative Side Effects

If you've tried to break your caffeine addiction, you're aware that too much caffeine has a slew of negative side effects. Caffeine overdose has the following side effects:

  1. Amplified heart rate
  2. High blood pressure
  3. Heart palpitations
  4. Insomnia
  5. Dehydration
  6. Restiveness

Withdrawing from caffeine causes headaches, extreme fatigue, anxiety, tremors, and irritability.

Other energy-boosting ingredients in energy drinks include taurine, ginseng, vitamin B, carnitine, and bitter orange. However, according to Dr. Lai, these ingredients have not been thoroughly vetted.

"Unfortunately, the safety and effects of consuming these additives on a daily basis are unknown," she says.

Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks

Dr. Lai is most concerned about products that combine energy drinks with alcohol, according to her. Many of them come in packaging that looks like non-alcoholic energy drinks. Although you must be over the age of 21 to purchase the drinks, teenagers can often obtain them through friends or with the use of forged identification. Teenagers are also increasingly mixing energy drinks with hard liquor to create their own cocktails.

"When high-caffeine energy drinks are mixed with alcohol, it may give teenagers the impression that they aren't as drunk as they are." And when teens experience fewer negative effects from alcohol, they are more likely to consume more," says Dr. Lai. "This issue first surfaced in 2010, when several young adults were admitted to the hospital at Washington State University due to excessive consumption of alcoholic energy drinks."

When you mix the two liquids together, you're more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving and binge drinking. People who mixed energy drinks and alcohol were four times more likely than those who drank alcohol alone to believe they could drive home safely, according to a study published in the Advances in Nutrition journal in 2015. In addition, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that mixing the two beverages was linked to binge drinking in teenagers.

A similar study published in 2015 by the University of Toronto discovered a link between alcoholic energy drinks and adolescent brain damage. Teenagers who had a traumatic brain injury within the previous year were at least twice as likely to have consumed energy drinks mixed with alcohol than teens who had a traumatic brain injury more than a year ago, according to researchers.

The Final Word

Caffeine and other stimulant substances found in energy drinks have no place in the diets of children and adolescents, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Adults are subject to the same health warnings as children. If you're an adult who still needs a caffeine boost, avoid energy drinks. If you're trying to completely eliminate caffeine from your diet, try reducing your caffeine intake on a weekly basis. Try half-decaf, then decaf coffee before moving on to a non-caffeinated beverage like herbal tea.

 

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