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Energy drinks have become popular, especially with young adults.
Marketing campaigns proclaiming improved performance and concentration feed the popularity of these products. Just the word “energy” in the name gets people interested. And the companies often sponsor extreme sport events that appeal to teens and young adults.
Yet the highly caffeinated drinks are prompting calls to poison centers and trips to emergency rooms when people consume too many in a short period and suffer a caffeine overdose. The term comes from U.S. National Library of Medicine, which lists the symptoms as nausea, trouble breathing, rapid or irregular heart rates, confusion, hallucinations and tremors.
In the first three months of 2015, the American Poison Control Centers received 742 reports involving energy drinks. Of those, 452 were ages 18 and younger. Poison control centers, the American Association of Pediatrics and the Journal of American Medical Association all have published warnings on energy drinks.
While athletes who use energy drinks perceive they are doing better, research shows the opposite. Conrad Woolsey, an assistant professor of health and human performance at Oklahoma State University, found athletes actually made significantly more errors in their athletic performance due to being hyper-focused and/or over-aroused. Energy drinks can inhibit peak performance and regular use of them results in more time feeling tired, anxious and depressed, Woolsey found.
Energy drinks are flavored beverages containing caffeine and other additives, such as vitamins, taurine, carnitine, sugars and guarana, a plant that naturally contains concentrated caffeine. While they provide a temporary boost in energy, there is no good scientific research that shows that energy drinks have a known benefit. Most of their ingredients are not regulated nor well studied.
Caffeine is safe in moderation for most adults, but excess caffeine can be toxic for children, teens and people with high blood pressure, irregular or fast heart rates and seizure disorders as well as mood or behavioral issues.
Labeling and regulation of energy drinks and energy shots is inconsistent because manufacturers can choose to label their product as a beverage or as a liquid dietary supplement. As a beverage, cola and other soft drinks have a maximum caffeine limit of 0.02 percent, or about 71 milligrams in a 12-ounce serving. But some energy drinks and shots are labeled as a dietary supplement and do not fall under this regulation. As a supplement, there also is no requirement for product inspection.
The caffeine content of energy drinks varies. It can be less than an average cup of coffee, which is 100-170 milligrams of caffeine in eight ounces. Consumer Reports magazine calculated the caffeine content of several energy drinks. While Rockstar Energy Drink Double Strength had 80 milligrams in eight ounces, 5-Hour Energy had 242 milligrams in a 1.9-ounce bottle. That’s three times more caffeine in less than two ounces. Eight ounces of 5-Hour Energy has almost 1,000 milligrams.
Energy drinks mixed with alcohol can be dangerous because people may drink more than they realize and continue to drink more because the caffeine keeps them awake longer and can mask the feeling of intoxication.
Caffeine is a stimulant that can perk us up, but it can also be toxic. Heavy daily caffeine use, more than 500 to 600 milligrams a day, can cause insomnia, nervousness, irritability, stomach upset, rapid heart beats and muscle tremors.
Most energy drinks contain relatively low levels of caffeine, similar to soft drinks, coffee or tea products. Having a single energy drink in a day appears to have little risk. The greatest concern is for children and teens that drink several in a short period.
Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is tolerated by healthy adults. Pregnant women should limit their daily caffeine to no more than 200 milligrams. Children should have no more than 100 milligrams per day. Individuals who are sensitive to caffeine or have high heart rates or irregular heart rates should avoid caffeinated beverages. For information on caffeine levels in drinks, go to www.caffeineinformer.com.
If you suspect that you or a friend may be suffering from a caffeine overdose, call the American Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222 for emergency support.
By Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health in Duluth.