Dangers of Energy Drink Consumption among Teenagers and Children
The use of energy drinks have increased exponential in recent years. Marketing has associated the use of the beverages (or shots) with performance weight management, and in the case of the Five Hour Energy ads, the two o’clock crash. Whether real or perceived, many consumers associate the beverages with an improved degree of alertness, increased ability to focus on tasks and the potential to increase the intensity of physical activity. Others use energy drinks to improve their focus and concentration during cognitively challenging tasks like studying or testing, to replace sleep or as an additive to alcohol to counteract the ‘downer effects’. Many energy drinks on the market contain proprietary blends that are potent in their neurostimulant content and many contain various herbal compounds with the potential for synergistic effects. Demographics including teenagers are easily swayed by the constant barrage of advertisements that imply energy beverages will improve their level of excitation, making life more engaging. The beverages do not come with an ingredient UL and pose the risk of stimulant overdose. Caffeine contents above 400 mg alone have been associated with negative outcomes, worsened by young age, smaller body size, and limited exposure.
Recent news concerning the death of a 14-year-old girl who consumed two energy drinks (containing 320 mg of caffeine each) is one of the most current examples of this potential risk. The same company was implicated in a handful of other deaths as well but judgment has yet to be rendered related to these accusations. This occurrence (or similar incidents) does not directly imply that energy drink manufacturers provide an inherently dangerous product; they simply need to be consumed responsibly and in moderation, just like anything else. Current labels do provide some warning to customers to use the product with caution, usually recommending the consumption of only one beverage every four hours, or limiting total intake to three cans per day. It also states that the product is not recommended for children, people sensitive to caffeine, pregnant women or women who are nursing (in very small print). The aforementioned girl actually had a known hereditary genetic disorder, Ehrlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is characterized by the loosening of joints and the easy damaging of vascular tissues. Medical advisors have stated that she should not have been using energy drinks of any kind with this type of health issue. Awareness and proper label reading was noted as ample means to have averted this tragic event.
In a recent case study published in the open access journal Biomed Central Research Notes, investigators examined a young boy who stated he was feeling heart palpitations, presumably as a result of energy drink consumption. He had been consuming energy drinks on a regular basis while studying for long durations in preparation for his General Certificate of Education (GCE) exam. A medical examination revealed the presentation of notable sinus tachycardia and high blood pressure in the subject; measures which returned back to normal after discontinuing his pattern of energy drink consumption. The investigators stated that many energy drink users simply believe that they are a good source of immediate energy, and are unaware of the potentially harmful effects. They conclude by advocating that specific warning labels should be presented on energy drinks to include recommendations for daily caffeine consumption as well as a clear explanation of the danger associated with excess intake.
In reality, improving awareness via improved labeling or other means may be the greatest tool for preventing excess consumption of energy drinks, but unfortunately it contradicts the sale of the product. Teens and younger adults are particularly susceptible to the beverages and advertising. Additionally, many hypertensive adults consume the beverage unknowingly adding to their condition. Of particular interest with the hypertensive exerciser, these drinks have been shown to increase central hypertension inhibiting the normal beneficial effects of exercise on the disease. As seen in any scenario knowledge is critical to making informed decisions, and once again moderation seems to be the prudent pathway with this type of product.
Biomed Central Research Notes, 2012