|Dr. Rafai Bukhari|
What’s in the can?
Energy drinks contain 70 to 80 milligrams of caffeine per eight ounces, roughly three times the amount of caffeine found in soda. In addition to the high caffeine content, additives like guarana, kola nut, yerba mate and cocoa boost the drink’s caffeinated punch even more.
“The ingredients in energy drinks are understudied and unregulated,” says Rafai Bukhari, M.D. of Potomac Family Medicine. The picture becomes more complicated because, unlike soft drinks, the manufacturers of energy drinks are not required to list the caffeine content from these ingredients. Because energy drinks do not fall under the category of food, the FDA has no oversight over the product.
Like caffeine, the sugar content in energy drinks varies widely and can come in the form of sucrose, glucose or high fructose corn syrup. “Combining sugar and caffeine will increase a person’s heart rate,” says Dr. Bukhari. Not to mention sugar’s adverse role in weight gain and dental hygiene.
The drink’s popularity amongst teens and the manufacturer’s marketing efforts toward a younger crowd cause Dr. Bukhari great concern. “Caffeine has no nutritional benefit.” Its effects on adolescents—cycles of withdrawal and stimulation—can have a long-term impact on children’s health and wellbeing. “Kids can get hooked on energy drinks and their tolerance for caffeine can increase.” According to Dr. Bukhari, teens can go through the same withdrawal symptoms, such as headache and drowsiness, as adults.
Who should avoid energy drinks?
While there’s no recommended limit for the amount of caffeine a person can consume, Dr. Bukhari cautions that adolescents should avoid caffeine entirely. Energy drinks have been linked to adverse effects in children and teens with seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, ADHD or other mood and behavioral disorders.
If your youngster downs energy drinks, look for these warning signs of an adverse reaction:
- Racing heart
- Skipping heartbeat
- Feeling jittery or anxious
- Extended dizzy spells
Know that caffeine is a diuretic. Combined with strenuous workouts or drinking alcohol (another diuretic), energy drinks can lead to serious dehydration and loss of water-soluble nutrients. Energy drinks can be especially dangerous when combined with other components. It is recommended that you:
- Don’t consume large quantities or drink large amounts too fast
- Don’t mix energy drinks with alcohol
- Don’t mix energy drinks with strenuous workouts
- Don’t drink energy drinks on an empty stomach
With kids striving to be the best in sports and academics, in addition to often over-packed schedules, turning to caffeinated beverages offers a promise of improved energy, stamina, athletic performance and concentration. But Dr. Bukhari points to the root cause of needing that energy drink: a lack of sleep.
“Ask your kids why they need energy drinks. They may not be getting enough sleep or are involved in too many activities,” explains Dr. Bukhari. Make sleep a priority and encourage cat naps in replacement of caffeine.
“Drinking caffeine is the thing to do these days,” says Dr. Bukhari. “But know this: energy drinks don’t make you faster or smarter.” That, says Dr. Bukhari, comes from hard work.
By: Anne Gill and Rafai Bukhari, M.D.
Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics and Brown University, Health Education