The most popular dietary supplement outside of a multi-vitamins are energy drinks. Red Bull. Monster. 5-Hour Energy. NOS. Full Throttle and many others. According to some research there are over 500 different energy drinks on the market. I bring up the topic of energy drinks because they are particularly popular among teens and young people and some research has shown that energy drink companies are marketing to this group. The biggest concern connected with energy drinks is the potential for caffeine intoxication and other side effects including seizures, mania and even sudden death. To understand the popularity of these beverages in the United States you only need to know that in 2012 the energy drink market was valued at $12.5 billion and young adults are considered the core market.
WHAT IS AN ENERGY DRINK?
Energy drinks typically contain caffeine, taurine, sugars and sweeteners and herbal ingredients that are combined to give an “energy boost”. These drinks are distinctly different from sports drinks and vitamin waters. According to the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) Position Statement and Recommendations for the Use of Energy Drinks by Young Athletes, “An energy drink is a beverage marketed to both athletes and the general public as a quick and easy means of relieving fatigue and improving performance” usually using very high concentrations of caffeine and carbohydrates. Energy drinks differ from sports drinks because sports drinks are designed to provide rehydration (and basic carbohydrate replacement) during or after athletic activity, containing a 6% - 8% carbohydrate solution and a combination of electrolytes formulated for maximum absorption.
Caffeine is typically the main active ingredient in any energy drink, containing 70-80mg per 8 ounce serving; energy shots can be even more concentrated. To give you an idea, a typical energy drink contains about 3 times as much caffeine as a cola-based soft drink. The concern with energy drinks is that although the amount of caffeine (added as pure caffeine) may be listed on the ingredient label, the actual amount of caffeine in any given drink is hard to calculate. This calculation is difficult because most of these drinks include additional ingredients that contain caffeine, not reflected on the ingredient label. Some typical additives are guarana, kola nut, yerba mate, cocoa, green tea, synephrine, and yohimbine among others.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) Position Stand: Energy Drinks (2013) has published several tables that can easily help you understand the ingredient list of several common energy drinks in the United States as well as the purported effect of many of the ingredients found in energy drinks.
TEEN AND ADOLESCENT CONSUMPTION OF ENERGY DRINKS
According to some study data teens consume 60 – 70 mg/day of caffeine, mostly from soft drinks. Caffeine consumption has ranged as high as 800 mg/day in some studies and energy drinks are becoming more and more popular. Some research shows that drink makers are even marketing to younger consumers. These companies are savvy and use sporting events and athlete sponsorships, along with key product placement on social media sites and in video games to connect with your kids. Consumption rates vary, with one study finding that 28% - 34% of 12 to 24 year-olds regularly consume energy drinks, College students were particularly prone to consuming energy drinks habitually to improve energy (usually due to a lack of sleep).
HEALTH CONCERNS RELATED TO ENERGY DRINKS
Energy drinks can pose a risk to anyone who consumes them, with the most commonly reported symptoms centering around caffeine toxicity. Energy drinks are not regulated by the FDA because they are considered dietary supplements (unlike soda which is limited to 71 mg caffeine per 12 oz. soda). The FDA is currently responsible for investigating “Adverse Event” reports related to energy drinks and energy shots. Currently there are reports regarding Monster, Rockstar, Red Bull, and 5-Hour Energy that you can view HERE.
The top 10 side effects associated with energy drinks according to a study by the Medical Journal of Australia are listed below. These results are based on analysis of 7 years of phone calls to their poison control center.
- Palpitations/tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
- Gastrointestional upset
- Chest pan/ischemia
- Dizziness/syncope (fainting)
- Paraesthesia (altered sensation)
- Respiratory distress
Of these, the most concerning are the cardiac symptoms. There is a concern that caffeine toxicity in children with a cardiac condition (known or unknown) could ultimately lead to death due to sudden cardiac arrest. Cardiac events could be especially of concern in children with ADHD, an eating disorder or those with diabetes. There is some research (although controversial) that suggests calcium deposition in the bone is decreased in adolescents because caffeine interferes with intestinal calcium absorption. I bring this up because the adolescent years are the period of the most significant bone development
An additional concern, particularly for college age adults is the combination of alcohol and energy drinks. Doing so often gives individuals a false sense of sobriety, leading to poor decision-making. This topic is beyond the scope of this post, but if you’d like more information check out this article to learn more about the warning issued by the American Medical Association.
POSITION STATEMENTS AND OTHER RESOURCES REGARDING ENERGY DRINKS
Listed in this section are current position statements and other articles regarding the consumption of energy drinks with a particular focus on teen and adolescent consumption as sources allow. I have used these sources to help inform this blog post, but I encourage you to read the full articles and position statements to gain a fuller understanding of the topic.
Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate (2011) Pediartics, 127 (6)
Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults (2011) Pediatrics, 127 (6)
Submitted by Heather L. Clemons, MS, MBA, ATC