Energy drinks are the rage with U.S. adolescences. Children are experimenting with energy drinks for the rush from caffeine, plant-based stimulants and other ingredients, and to stay awake. In 2007, 5448 caffeine overdoses were reported with 46 percent of these cases occurring in children age 19 or younger. U.S. Poison Centers now track toxicity related to energy drinks.
Energy drinks contain caffeine, plant-based stimulants, simple sugars and other additives that provide the stimulant effect. Let's compare a cup of coffee, which contains about 75-100mg of caffeine. In some coffee houses, a cup can contain up to 150mg per 6 oz. Remember that when drinking hot coffee, it enters the body slowly. In contrast, energy drinks can contain 500mg of caffeine per serving. These drinks are cold and imbibed quickly causing an even greater shock to the body. Kids are also trying “energy shots," which are 100-350 mg of caffeine per ounce. A can of soda has around 35-50 mg of caffeine.
To make matters worse, energy drinks contain coffee bean derivatives in the form of guarava, kola nut, yerba mate and cocoa. These ingredients increase the caffeine level of the drink and their level of caffeine is not necessarily included in the drink label's caffeine content. Energy drinks are categorized as nutritional supplements so they can avoid the limit of no more than 71mg of caffeine per 12 fluid oz. as well as safety testing and labeling required by pharmaceuticals (CDC, 2012.)
One common substance added to energy drinks is called Taurine, which will increase blood pressure and heart rate. Other chemicals like Ginseng are added and these can interfere with certain prescription medications like digoxin, warfarin, estrogen and steroids.
The suggested maximum daily caffeine intake for a child is 2.5mg per kg and 100mg for an adolescent. The high risk populations for adverse side effects are children and teens with the following: cardiac problems, ADHD, eating disorders, diabetes, children on prescription medications and alcohol consumption.
To add insult to injury, there are about 25 brands of caffeinated alcoholic beverages also known as CABs. In addition to the caffeine rush, alcohol is added to caffeinated drinks to mask the depressant effect of alcohol. The FDA released a statement that this can pose a public health concern because caffeine can mask some of the sensory cues people might normally rely on to determine if they are intoxicated. These people may continue to drink causing further risk taking behaviors since they may not feel tired, which is normally associated with alcohol consumption.
Too much caffeine can cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, heart palpitations, nervousness, anxiety and sleep disturbance. As with all substances, overdose is possible. Countries like Germany have reported adverse side effects of energy drinks such as seizure, liver and kidney failure, heart failure, cardiac dysrhythmias and sudden death.
More research and tracking is needed to understand the long term effects of energy drinks. The best advice is to discourage usage of these expensive and empty calorie drinks in children and teens especially since there is evidence of problems. These drinks are not a good substitute for sleep. Studies show that sleep is therapeutic and needed for normal bodily functions. Stay well.