Monday, March 21, 2011

Energy Drinks: Healthy or Hazardous?

Energy drinks are the fastest growing segment of the beverage market today and in 2011 sales are expected to top $9 billion. These drinks are being marketed and sold to adolescents and young adults and are now being linked to causing serious health conditions in some people. Thirty to fifty percent of young adults and adolescents consume these wildly popular drinks that contain ingredients that claim to boost energy, performance, stamina, concentration and even weight loss. The big gun of energy drinks is caffeine---a stimulant that raises blood pressure, as well as heart rate. In small doses, around 300 milligrams, it has been shown to be a performance enhancer. In high doses it can cause irritability, increased heart rate, jitteriness, anxiety, insomnia, tremors, heart palpitations, upset stomach and nervousness. More caffeine is added in many of these products from other sources like guarana, kola nut, yerba mate, cocoa and tea. Other common ingredients you might see on the ingredient list are B vitamins, taurine, ginseng, yohimbine, L-Carnitine and tryptophan. Some of these additives may have potentially dangerous health effects and also interfere with prescription, as well as over the counter drugs, like aspirin.

Because energy drinks are classified as a dietary supplement, manufacturers can say just about anything they want about what they claim to do---even if they have no evidence to prove it. They are not regulated for safety, nor do they have any warnings on their labels. Therein lies the primary issue that I have with these drinks. In my opinion, consumers have a right to know exactly what is contained in any product that they choose to eat or drink. Recently, Consumer Lab ran a test on the 5 Hour energy shot that advertises it’s “no caffeine content” and found one shot contained 207 mg. of caffeine—more than an average cup of Joe from Starbucks! Because these drinks are unregulated, anyone choosing to drink them should exercise caution----know what you are putting into your body and think about how it might affect you. On February 14th, reported that an 18 year old high school senior had a seizure and was hospitalized for five days after drinking two large NOS energy drinks. Read the full article here:
Most adults can tolerate modest amounts of caffeine (150-300 mg. per day) with no adverse effects, but its effects on children and adolescents, especially in high doses and in conjunction with other stimulants, have not been studied enough. The additive effects of many of these ingredients, along with over consumption, make the synergistic combination even more unpredictable. Simply put: the sum is more dangerous than its parts. Why then are these beverage makers not held to a limit on total caffeine dose like over-the-counter designated caffeine stimulants are (for instance, No Doz) or even soda?

Many countries are reviewing the reported adverse events associated with consuming these drinks and developing labeling regulations and other legal restrictions to protect the public’s health. In Norway, energy drinks can only be sold in pharmacies. Other countries have banned the sale of these drinks altogether……….what do you think the United States should do to regulate these drinks?

If you would like to learn more about the health effects of energy drinks on children, adolescents and young adults, log on to for a recently published and comprehensive review article (February 15, 2011) by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Kim Larson, RD, CD
Sports Nutrition Consultant

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