By Margaret Hennessy, MD, pediatrician with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group in Racine.
Today, many teens and young adults are using energy drinks without realizing the safety concerns. Truthfully, many adults are using them, too. Some may even think of them as a safe way to boost their energy level.
Here are some important issues that you need to be aware of before you or let your child grab that energy drink off the shelf:
- Energy drinks are not the same as sport drinks. Energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine, but sport drinks do not. Both can contain lots of sugar. Neither has been shown to enhance athletic performance in teens. Even sport drinks are not needed for most teen athletes. Water is still the best option for re-hydration during most sports.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics put out a policy statement in 2011 declaring that energy drinks are not for children and teens. While caffeine is not recommended for teens, the maximum amount should not be above 100 mg of caffeine per day. That is the amount of one cup of coffee.
- Energy drinks are considered dietary supplements and, therefore, are not regulated. Most energy drink labels do not state how much caffeine is in them. Interestingly, soda is considered to be “food" and so is regulated by the FDA; the caffeine content of soda is regulated to be less than 71 mg of caffeine per 12 oz drink.
- The caffeine levels in one energy drink can exceed the amount of caffeine in 14 cans of soda. That’s equivalent to five cups of coffee.
- Energy drinks can also contain other ingredients such as guarana that also contain caffeine and increase how long the caffeine stays in your body.
- High doses of caffeine can cause seizures, mania, stroke and heart dysrhythmias (abnormal heart beats). It can increase the toxicity in children with heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, epilepsy, diabetes, mood disorders, and hyperthyroidism (when your thyroid makes too much hormone). High doses of caffeine can increase your heart rate and increase your blood pressure. These side effects can also be serious for children on stimulants for ADHD and children with eating disorders who are high risk for abnormal heart activity. These side effects could be deadly in a child.
- There is also a risk of tooth decay related to sipping energy drinks. The high acid level in these drinks makes it rough on teeth and causes demineralization of the teeth.
- There is some concern with decreased calcium absorption on the gut with these drinks. This effect is even more important if the teen is skipping milk and drinking the energy drink instead. That is really a problem during the teen years when the bones are building. The peak of bone development is in the teen years.
- Caffeine intake in the daytime does impact sleep at night. While the acute effects of caffeine may wear off soon after ingesting the beverage, the impact that the caffeine has on sleep can be felt up to 12 hours later in the day.
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