That’s a lot of (Red) Bull!

Interesting message from Dr. Steve Chaney PhD on Energy Drinks.
Dr. Chaney is a Professor of BioChemistry and Biophysics and Nutrition at the University of North Carolina where he also runs an active cancer research lab.

This week I am focusing on energy drinks – especially
when consumed by children, adolescents and college-age
adults. My attention was drawn to this issue by a
recent review published in the journal Pediatrics
(Seifert et al, Pediatrics, 127: 511-528, 2011).

Energy drinks are the fastest growing segment of the US
beverage market, and half of all the energy drinks sold
in the United States are consumed by children,
adolescents and young adults (19-25 years old).

“What’s the problem with energy drinks?” you might ask.

To begin with they are sweetened beverages and, as
such, contribute to the obesity epidemic in this

However, a more pressing concern is the caffeine
content of these beverages which can range from 70 mg
to over 160 mg per serving – that’s 3 to 5 times
greater than the caffeine content of a typical cola

And natural ingredients such as guarana, kola nut and
yerbe mate are no better. For example, each gram of
guarana supplies 40 to 80 mg of caffeine, and the
biological potency of caffeine from guarana may be
greater than the same amount of caffeine in a cola
drink because it has a much longer half-life in the

The large amount of caffeine in energy drinks is
allowed only because of a loophole in our regulatory

The FDA limits the amount of caffeine that can be added
to soft drinks because they are regulated as foods.
Energy drink manufacturers get around those
restrictions by classifying their drinks as dietary

And, of course, the problem isn’t just the amount of
caffeine in a single energy drink, it is that many
children, adolescents and young adults drink more than
one energy drink a day – in addition to soft drinks,
coffee and other caffeine containing foods and

Adolescents in the US consume an average of 70-80
mg/day of caffeine, and some consume up to 800 mg/day.

That much caffeine can be a problem!

For adults 12.5 – 100 mg/day has mostly beneficial
effects such as improved exercise endurance, alertness,
reaction time and mood – especially if the individual
is sleep deprived.

However, caffeine intakes of 135 – 400 mg/day can lead
to anxiety, jitteriness and insomnia. And daily intakes
above that can cause tremors, irregular heart beat,
palpitations and nausea.

But that’s just the average adult. Some adults and many
children experience the adverse effects of caffeine at
much lower doses.

That’s a real concern because 28% of 12-14 year olds,
31% of 12-17 year olds, 34% of 18-21 year olds and 51%
of college students report consuming one or more energy
drinks on a daily basis. And to make matters even worse
54% of the college students regularly mix energy drinks
with alcoholic beverages.

The health risks of high caffeine intake are not
trivial. Poison control centers in the US and several
other countries are reporting an upswing of children,
adolescents and young adults admitted with seizures,
agitation, psychotic conditions, tachycardia, cardiac
dysrhythmias, high blood pressure, heart failure and
even death due to overconsumption of energy drinks.

The message is simple:

Energy drinks have all of the disadvantages of soft
drinks AND they have a much higher caffeine content.

While caffeine can serve as a simple pick-me-up if
consumed in moderation, it can have serious health
consequences if consumed in excess.

A word to the wise would be to add up the total amount
of caffeine you – and especially your children – are
consuming on a daily basis. If your total caffeine
consumption exceeds 100 mg/day (50-70 mg/day for
children depending on their age), you might want to
consider reducing your intake of energy drinks.

To Your Health!
Dr. Stephen G Chaney


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