Energy drinks are beverages that are promoted to help improve coping with stress, improve physical attributes, and to energize the body. The contents of energy drinks aren’t the same. Some have nutrients such as sugar, and others have varying amounts of caffeine, taurine, ginseng, guarana and bitter orange. The amount of caffeine in most energy drinks in the United States is unknown. The U.S. has the highest sales of energy drinks in the world. They’re sold in many forms from powder, to ready-to-drink packages, and shots. According to an editorial in Infectious Diseases in Children, Dr. Bhargavi B. Kota and Sandrine N. Defeu state that approximately 1/3 of adolescents drink energy drinks and about 5,000 poison control calls were received in one year (2010-2011).

Red Bull and SoBe No Fear contain approximately 10 mg/oz. of caffeine. Among 10 energy drinks studied, only four had labels warning that the product wasn’t recommended for children and pregnant women. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, adolescents shouldn’t exceed more than 100 mg of caffeine a day. Unfortunately, some energy drinks contain more than 500 mg of caffeine per container. This is the equivalent of 14 cans of some types of soda. Because the amount of caffeine in these drinks are generally not reported on the labels, teens aren’t aware of the excess intake.

Caffeine toxicity is a concern for children and adolescents. Caffeine can interfere with the development of the neurological and cardiovascular systems. Children can become addicted to caffeine. As with adults, caffeine can cause restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, headaches, upset stomachs, muscle tremors, and anxiety. Large doses of caffeine can cause a massive release of hormones with increased heart rate and can be fatal from heart arrhythmias.

Most energy drinks contain sugars in the form of sucrose, glucose, or high fructose corn syrup. Two cans of energy drinks could contain approximately 120 to 180 mg of sugar, which exceeds the daily recommended amount of sugar intake five times. Also, energy drinks have high sodium levels, and several energy drinks may have up to 340 mg per 8 oz. serving, which can result in high blood pressure, kidney failure, and increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

Research done on the positive effects of energy drinks haven’t shown any positive effects such as improved physical performance, improved immune system, or improved memory. Caffeine, the most abundant ingredient in energy drinks, is a drug, and this drug, when taken in excess, can have fatal consequences. Children, adolescents and their parents should be aware of the lack of good effects from energy drinks and their potential harm.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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