- Health experts are sounding the alarm about the health dangers energy drinks can pose to adults and children.
- The high amounts of caffeine in these beverages can vary widely from brand to brand and can cause adverse health effects such as insomnia, digestive problems, and drug interference.
- They can also pose significant risks to people who may have undiagnosed heart conditions.
Energy drinks are more popular than ever.
Dozens of brands in a variety of flavors line store shelves, and their wide availability makes them an affordable choice for anyone who feels they need a quick pick-me-up.
But as popular as these beverages have become, they can also pose significant health risks to adults and children due to the high amounts of caffeine they contain that can vary greatly from one brand to another.
To answer, we set a baseline.
An 8oz cup of green or black tea contains 30-50mg of caffeine (~5mg/oz) while an 8oz coffee may contain 80-100mg of caffeine (~11.25mg/oz).
Some of the biggest branded energy drinks are in the same ballpark as coffee.
An 8.4oz can of Red Bull contains 80mg of caffeine (~9.5mg/oz) and a 500ml can of Monster contains 160mg of caffeine (~9.5mg/oz). These drinks also contain sugar.
However, a newer drink called Prime Energy has substantially more caffeine than its counterparts, coming in at 200mg in a 12oz can (~16.7mg/oz).
That’s between 5-7 times the amount of caffeine in a similar serving of the average soda.
Prime Energy, which was launched by popular YouTube stars Logan Paul and KSI in 2022, has become particularly popular among adolescent and pre-teen kids, raising concerns from school officials, parents and health experts.
The amount of caffeine in these drinks can be extremely dangerous for some people, especially children who may have an undiagnosed heart condition.
In fact, BirminghamLive recently reported that a child suffered a cardiac episode after consuming a can of Prime Energy and had to be rushed to the hospital to have his stomach pumped.
This is one example of why many health experts are working to raise awareness of the dangers energy drinks can pose.
Dr. Neal H. Patel, a family physician at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California, told Healthline that caffeine is the world’s most consumed stimulant. A stimulant does as the name implies: it stimulates the body and mind.
Caffeine has some positive effects, which have led to its global popularity.
Some of those positive effects adults might experience, according to Patel, include:
These effects, however, can provide a false sense of what’s going on in your body. A perception of heightened alertness is not the same as providing fuel to your body.
Although the term energy may be perceived as implying calories, energy drink is a misnomer; Energy drinks often contain little fuel (i.e. carbohydrates) but provide a feeling of energy when the energy drink is consumed due to the stimulants, explained Dr. Dr. Tracy Zaslow, board certified pediatrician and pediatric sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.
While many adults are able to have a healthy relationship with caffeine, there are some risks involved with consuming too much of it, especially in a single serving.
The exact threshold for what constitutes too much caffeine can vary depending on individual factors such as tolerance, sensitivity and overall health, Jordan Hill, a registered dietitian and sports nutrition specialist with Top Nutrition Coaching, told Healthline.
According to Hill, some of the negative effects associated with caffeine include:
- insomnia and sleep disturbances
- nervousness and restlessness
- digestive problems
- increased heart rate and blood pressure
- addiction and withdrawal symptoms
- interference with certain medications and health conditions
While the long-term effects of caffeine on children is one area that could benefit from more research, the expert recommendations are pretty clear.
Pediatricians advise against caffeine for children under 12 and against any use of energy drinks for all children and adolescents. They also suggest limiting caffeine to a maximum of 100 mg (about two 12-ounce cans of cola) per day for ages 12 to 18, Zaslow said.
There are concerns about the effects of caffeine on the developing neurological and cardiovascular systems. Sleep is essential in young adults and adolescents, and caffeine consumption has been shown to disrupt sleep patterns. There’s also the risk of physical dependence, Zaslow added.
The effects of caffeine on children are not limited to purely physical ones.
Any added and external substances introduced into a teen, adolescent, or young adult’s system can negatively impact their emotional and mental development, Patel said.
Zaslow shared with Healthline that caffeine can increase anxiety in those with anxiety disorders.
While some children can tolerate small amounts of caffeine with limited side effects, high amounts of energy drinks come with a variety of potentially negative outcomes.
Some of the short-term risks of caffeine use in children include:
Long-term side effects can include withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and agitation. In very serious and rare cases, death can occur from excessive caffeine consumption, Hill said.
Health experts say talking to your child can be an important first step in helping them make healthy choices about caffeine and helping them understand the various potential risks that different types of beverages can pose.
Energy drinks shouldn’t be confused with sports drinks, advises Zaslow.
Sports drinks are flavored drinks that often contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes (eg, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium), and sometimes vitamins or other nutrients. Energy drinks are beverages that typically contain stimulants, such as caffeine and guarana, with varying amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, sodium and other minerals, Zaslow added.
Hill pointed out that individual responses to caffeine can vary, and some people may be more sensitive to its effects than others.
Paying attention to your body’s response and adjusting your caffeine consumption accordingly can help manage potential accidents and ensure a balanced, healthy relationship with caffeine, she said.
It all comes down to moderation, and if one experiences some of the side effects or thinks they have a problem with caffeine, it’s wise to contact their primary care physician, Patel said.
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