Energy Drinks Do More Than Give You Wings

Energy Drinks Do More Than Give You Wings

Following safe caffeine and ingredient consumption guidelines is key to avoiding potential health risks.

Written by Suzanna Cisneros

Heavy energy drink consumption can lead to serious health consequences like seizures, mania, stroke and death.

Heavy energy drink consumption can lead to serious health consequences like seizures, mania, stroke and death.

Many Americans start the morning off with caffeine. For some that means grabbing a cup of coffee, but for others it means reaching for the ultimate caffeine fix – an energy drink.

According to the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, energy drinks are available in more than 140 countries and are the fastest growing beverage in the U.S. In 2011, sales were expected to top $9 billion. Half of the energy drink market consists of children younger than 12 years old, adolescents 12-18 years old and young adults 19-25 years old.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Michal Pankratz, M.D., Texas Tech Physicians – Pediatrics, said there is a misunderstanding about caffeine, and consumers, especially those under 25, should look at how much caffeine they are drinking daily.

“Many people do not see caffeine as a drug, but it is a natural chemical that can have negative consequences if too much is consumed,” Pankratz said. “Natural things can kill you too. And with caffeine, many are drawn to it, addicted to it and not aware what can happen even if they are combining intake of caffeinated drinks like energy drinks, sodas and coffee throughout the day.”

Heavy consumption of energy drinks has been associated with serious health consequences like seizures, mania, stroke and death. Knowing what is in these concoctions is key to avoiding health risks. Pankratz said they might include diet supplements, yet many energy drinks do not list these or other ingredients on their labels.

“Manufacturers are not required to list the caffeine content from these ingredients which means the actual caffeine dose in a single serving may exceed what is recommended or listed,” Pankratz said.

Caffeine is the main active ingredient in energy drinks. Many of them contain 70 to 80 mg per 8–ounce serving. That’s three times the amount in soda. Energy drinks often contain additional amounts of caffeine through additives like guarana and taurine.

Guarana is a popular energy supplement that has one of the highest concentrations of caffeine in any plant, containing up to 3.6 percent to 5.8 percent caffeine by weight. Coffee only has up to 2 percent.

Taurine is an amino acid found in the brain, retina, heart and blood cells. Although taurine is possibly safe for adults and children when taken in appropriate amounts, there is some concern that too much taurine can worsen the affects of bipolar disorder.

Adolescent and child caffeine consumption should not exceed 100 mg a day, Pankratz said. An 8-ounce can of Red Bull contains 77 mg of caffeine. Adults should limit their daily caffeine intake to 200 to 300 mg, or about two to four cups of brewed coffee a day a day, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“We live in a caffeine-loaded society,” Pankratz said. “Look at the combinations of your caffeine intake. An 8-ounce soda contains 71 mg of caffeine. If you drink five sodas a day, you just went overload on your caffeine consumption. Some people may have coffee in the morning, an energy drink in the afternoon and a soda at dinner and think it is safe. Look at the big picture and see how the caffeine amount exceeds the safe limit your body can take. Adding an additional energy drink is 240 mg of caffeine. That’s almost two and a half times the amount considered safe for an adolescent.”

Diverse Reactions

Pankratz said energy drinks affect adolescents and adults differently. In a study of 26 boys and 26 men, the same dose of caffeine affected blood pressure similarly, but heart rate was significantly lowered in boys, whereas there was no effect on heart rate in men. Boys also exhibited a greater increase in motor activity and speech rates and decreased reaction time than men.

“Caffeine can improve attention, but it can increases blood pressure and lead to sleep problems in children,” Pankratz said. “If you are drinking energy drinks and possibly drinking other caffeinated drinks or alcohol, you may begin to show symptoms you have reached your caffeine limit/toxicity.”

Symptoms of caffeine toxicity can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Jitteriness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pains
  • Headaches

These symptoms can progress into heart arrhythmias, seizures and death. Pankratz said adolescents and young adults should not drink energy drinks to stay awake to study or before they play sports because many of the supplements in these drinks impact the heart.

“We are not seeing a new problem but an increased problem with caffeinated drinks,” Pankratz said. “Pediatricians recommend patients choose not to drink energy drinks. If you are, limit it to one a day and make good decisions based on the facts about caffeine and its possible health issues.”


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The Department of Pediatrics strives to provide the highest standard of medical care for pediatric patients from birth through adolescence, encompassing primary, subspecialty and tertiary care.

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