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Effects of Energy Drinks on Adolescents
By: Joan Knoll, BPS Licensed Registered Dietitian
Many teenagers and even young children enjoy getting a boost from Energy Drinks such as Red Bull,
Monster, Amp, NOS, Full Throttle, Rock Star, and many others. These contain caffeine, sugars and
sweeteners, herbal supplements, and other ingredients and they are distinct from sports drinks and
vitamin waters. Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorizes energy drinks as
‘nutritional supplements’, these drinks are allowed to bypass the 71 mg of caffeine per 12 ounce limit
which is regulated in sodas. Consequently, these drinks may contain 2.5 to 5 times more caffeine than a
regular soda. The high concentration of caffeine in energy drinks can produce physical complications
such as abnormal heart rhythms, rapid heart rate, dizziness, muscle twitching, insomnia, hallucinations,
inability to concentrate, nausea and vomiting, and tooth decay. Furthermore, there has been an
increase in emergency room visits from the consumption of energy drinks due to heart palpitations,
dehydration, anxiety, seizures, acute mania and strokes. Several teen deaths, some involving only one,
two, or three energy drinks, have been investigated by the FDA.
In addition, the health community is concerned about the consumption of energy drinks particularly
when they are ingested with alcohol. Again, deaths have occurred in teenagers and young adults who
have mixed alcohol with energy drinks. Several studies indicate that people get more intoxicated and
engage in riskier behavior when they drink the combination beverages than when they drink alcohol
alone. This is due to the fact that caffeine masks the effects of alcohol, thereby deceiving drinkers into
believing they can keep drinking alcohol well past the point of intoxication.
Finally, research also suggests that energy drinks are associated with another health issue – risk taking.
Among researchers, this is referred to as “toxic junk”, a hybrid of aggressive and risky behaviors
including substance abuse, unprotected sex, and violence. Researchers emphasize that this observation
does not mean the energy drinks cause bad behavior. Instead, the findings may suggest that
consumption of energy drinks may be a red flag for parents that their children are more likely to take
risks with their health and safety.
In summary, energy drinks have no therapeutic benefit in a child’s diet and many ingredients are
understudied and not regulated. In addition, they have no nutritional value and are loaded with
caffeine and sugar. The best sources of fluid are water, nonfat or low fat milk, and small amounts of
100% fruit or vegetable juice. Keep soda pop, fruit punch, diet drinks, and even flavored water to a
minimum in your child’s diet.