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Popularity of energy drinks doesn’t prove safety

By Margie Mansure (

Article Published: Dec. 6, 2012 | Modified: Dec. 6, 2012

Energy drinks claim to improve energy, stamina, athletic performance and concentration and even help with weight loss.

While the amount of caffeine in two servings a day is considered safe for adults, pediatricians and other health experts are concerned about the popularity among young consumers. Half of this fastest growing U.S. beverage is sold to consumers less than 25 years of age. Sales increased 17 percent last year to about $9 billion, according to Beverage Digest.

They contain a variety of ingredients, including caffeine, taurine, vitamins, herbal supplements, and sugar or sweeteners. Caffeine is the main active ingredient, with many drinks containing 70 to 80 milligrams per eight-ounce serving, about three times the concentration in cola drinks. Caffeine is much higher in “energy shots,” which are only two to three ounces. 5-hour Energy has 208 milligrams, Coke’s NOS PowerShot has 125 milligrams, and Rockstar Energy Shot has 200 milligrams. A 12-ounce can of Coke, by comparison, contains 35 mg of caffeine.

Energy drinks and shots often contain additional amounts of caffeine through additives, including guarana, kola nut, yerba mate and cocoa. Garana is a plant that contains caffeine. Each gram of guarana can contain 40 to 80 milligrams of caffeine.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits caffeine content in soft drinks, which are categorized as food, there is no such regulation of energy drinks or shots, which are classified as dietary supplements.

There is little data about whether high caffeine levels are safe for young teenagers to whom energy drinks are frequently marketed. There has been little research done on how the multiple ingredients added to energy drinks may interact together.

Energy drink marketing strategies include sporting event and athlete sponsorships, alcohol-alternative promotion and product placement in media, including Facebook and video games oriented to children, adolescents, and young adults.

According to a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, energy drinks have no therapeutic benefit. These drinks may put some children at risk for serious adverse health effects. Ingredients vary, are understudied and are not regulated. Youth-aimed marketing and risk-taking adolescent developmental tendencies combine to increase overdose potential.

According to a WebMD article, energy drinks may be especially dangerous during sports. The jolt of caffeine may interfere with something called coronary flow reserve, which is the ability of the arteries around the heart to dilate during intense exercise, a problem that may contribute to heart attacks and abnormal heart rhythms in athletes.

“The caffeine makes these arteries more likely to spasm and actually shut,” said Dr. John P. Higgins, assistant professor of medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Higgins recently reviewed the medical literature on energy drinks for a paper published in November 2010 in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings. He reports that caffeine and taurine, which are commonly combined in energy drinks, also makes the heart pound harder than caffeine would alone.
Here are a few common-sense tips to naturally boost energy levels:

Eat a healthy diet, avoiding large amounts of sugar and fat.Eat breakfast.Listen to your body, and eat healthy meals and snacks when you are hungry.If you have a sedentary job, take short exercise breaks.Exercise regularly.Take measures in your life to control stress.Most importantly, get enough sleep.

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. For more information, email or call (828) 264-3061

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