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Energy drinks: Is the jolt worth the risk?

Marketed to teens and young adults, energy drinks are raising red flags in the medical community due to the high caffeine content.

Energy drinks and energy shots: They’re enjoying a bull market. They make up the fastest-growing segment of the beverage industry, thanks largely to teens and young adults. And as kids head back to school, it’s easy to reach for one of these drinks to help “keep up” with hectic class and study schedules, athletic and extracurricular activities.

But even as they’ve won over the young, these drinks are raising red flags in the medical community. Here’s what you need to know before you—or your kids—reach for one of these drinks.

What’s in them?

Energy drinks (and energy shots) are nonalcoholic beverages that contain stimulants, most notably caffeine. Other ingredients that often make the list: vitamins, herbal supplements and sweeteners. When cocoa, guarana, kola nut and yerba mate are added, they contribute something manufacturers don’t have to list: more caffeine. This means there might be more caffeine in the drinks or shots than the label states.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the stimulants in energy drinks don’t belong in the diets of children and adolescents. Specific health concerns for both kids and adults include:

1. Consuming too much caffeine has been linked to serious health consequences, including stroke and sudden death. It’s also associated with these adverse effects:
  • In kids—potential harm to growing hearts and brains
  • In adolescents—raised blood pressure and problems sleeping
  • In pregnant women—risk for late-stage miscarriages, stillbirths and infants with small birth weights
2. Mixing caffeine with alcohol—common among young adults, who may wrongly think caffeine cancels out alcohol’s effects—has been linked to:
  • Drinking more alcohol than usual at one time.
  • Underestimating how badly one is impaired by the alcohol—which could contribute to higher rates of sexual assault and driving while drunk

Adults (other than pregnant women) can probably safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. A 6-ounce cup of coffee, for example, has 77 to 150 milligrams. But one 8-ounce energy drink could have anywhere from 50 to more than 500 milligrams of caffeine.

Those are some jolting figures worth noting.

To learn more about the effects of energy drinks, visit our home page and type “energy drinks” in the search box.

Additional sources: National Institutes of Health; The Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 305, No.6; U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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