Energy Drinks & Teen Health Risks

energy drinksEnergy drinks were created to do exactly what the name implies—give you an extra burst of energy. However, most of that “energy” comes from two main ingredients: sugar and caffeine.[1] A typical energy drink can contain up to 80 milligrams of caffeine; however, they often have other ingredients that increases stamina and boost performance.1

Most energy drinks have ephedrine in them, which is a stimulant that works on the central nervous system.1 It is common in weight-loss products, too, with concerns about its effects on the heart.1 In 2001, two California high school students fainted after ingesting energy drinks that contained ephedrine.1 Taurine is also commonly added to energy drinks, and it is a natural amino acid that helps to regulate the heart beat and muscle contractions.1 Other common ingredients include: ginseng, a root believed to boost energy levels; B-vitamins, that convert sugar into energy; guarana seed, a stimulant from a small shrub; and creatine, an organic acid that helps supply energy for muscle contractions.1 While it may look like energy drinks are a soft drink and nutritional supplement, any boost generated from them is purely from the sugar and caffeine.1

Caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine, which is a brain chemical that is involved with sleep.1 When it is blocked, neurons in the brain begin to fire, believing the body is in an emergency.1 The pituitary gland initiates the body’s fight-or-flight response by releasing adrenaline, which makes the heart beat faster and the eyes dilate.1 This also causes the liver to release extra sugar in the bloodstream for energy.1 Consuming too much of an energy drink can lead to heart palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia.1 They can actually become addictive.1

In fact, a new report states that energy drink consumption among teens may be linked with poor mental health and substance use.[2] Researchers from the University of Waterloo and Dalhousie University found that teens who are prone to depression, smoke marijuana, and/or drink alcohol are more likely to consume energy drinks compared with their peers.2

“While it remains unclear why these associations exist, the trend is a concern because of the high rate of consumption among teenagers,” said researcher Sunday Azagba. “These drinks appeal to young people because of their temporary benefits like increased alertness, improved mood, and enhanced mental and physical energy.”2

In recent years, energy drink sales have skyrocketed.2

“Given the negative effects of excessive caffeine consumption, as well as the coincident occurrence of the use of energy drinks and other negative behaviors in teens, the trends we are seeing are more than cause for concern,” said Azagba. “In our opinion, at the very least steps should be taken to limit teens’ access to energy drinks, to increase public awareness and education about the potential harms of these drinks, and to minimize the amount of caffeine available in each unit.”2

Caffeine is also a diuretic, and it causes the kidneys to remove extra fluid into the urine, leaving less in the body.1 Therefore, having an energy drink while exercising is dangerous, as the combination of a diuretic and sweating can leave a person severely dehydrated.1

Also, many teens like to mix energy drinks with alcohol to make a high-energy cocktail.1 Alcohol is a depressant, which can make a person unaware of how much they are actually drinking.1 The combination can make a person feel alert and sober, even when they are actually drunk—a cause for destruction.1 In 1991, two people in Sweden who drank alcohol with an energy drink actually died of dehydration.1

Sleep, exercise, a healthy diet, and, if needed, an intake of caffeine in careful moderation can provide your body with the energy it needs.

[1] Watson, S. (2006, October 4). How do energy drinks work?  HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved March 7, 2014 from http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/energy-drink.htm

[2] University of Waterloo. (2014, March 6). Energy drinks linked to teen health risks. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 7, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140306095358.htm

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