Energy drinks are very popular nowadays, especially with teens and athletes - perhaps you’re a fan as well.
A recent study looked at the benefits and risks that come with regular energy drink consumption. In 2003, 16% of teens reported consuming them regularly - however, consumption had risen sharply to 35% by 2008. In fact, one study found that 50% of students drank at least 1-4 of these drinks in a typical month.
A sharp increase in energy drink-related emergency room visits led to demands that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) look into the effects of energy drinks on health.
Currently, the amount of caffeine added to energy drinks is not regulated by the FDA, so labeled amounts are often inaccurate. Also, the claims made by manufacturers on the ability of such drinks to maintain energy levels have not been verified.
The study authors examined the most common ingredients - caffeine, guarana, taurine, ginseng, sugars and B vitamins - and assessed their effects on health.
Levels of caffeine, the main ingredient, vary widely between brands. Energy drinks may contain higher levels of caffeine than indicated on the label.
A typical cup of coffee contains 80-120 milligrams of caffeine, while tea has 50 mg and a 12-ounce cola roughly 65 mg. On the other hand, a 16-ounce Red Bull contains 154 mg while a 24-ounce Wired X505 contains 505 mg. While there is no prescribed safety limit for caffeine, excessive consumption has been linked to high BP, premature birth and even possibly sudden death.
Guarana is a South American plant that contains a caffeine-like compound called guaranine. One gram of guarana is equal to 40 mg of caffeine. In spite of this, guarana is usually not included in the total caffeine tally. And since the FDA has not tested guarana for human consumption, its risks and benefits are almost completely unknown.
Sugar in the form of sucrose, glucose, or high fructose corn syrup ranges from 21 grams to 34 grams in every 8 ounces of a typical energy drink. Teens who consume 2 or 3 drinks daily could be taking in 120-180 mg of sugar - or 4-6 times the maximum recommended daily intake - placing them at risk for obesity and dental problems.
Taurine is a common amino acid that supports brain development and regulates mineral and water levels. The amount of taurine consumed from energy drinks is higher than from a normal diet - as yet there is no evidence that this is unhealthy. In fact, many energy drinks that claim to be healthy contain excess, unregulated amounts of vitamins or minerals you can normally get from your diet.
The problem is, you never really know how much of these ingredients you are consuming, because the quantities are masked behind the term 'proprietary blend' or 'energy blend.'
Ginseng is believed to boost athletic performance, strengthen the immune system and improve mood. According to the study authors, there is not much proof of this - and there isn't enough ginseng in energy drinks anyway.
B vitamins and other additives in energy drinks can improve mood and even fight heart disease and cancer, but again their amounts in energy drinks aren’t enough to have any meaningful effects.
Adolescent consumers have no idea what these ingredients do. They assume that because they can buy it off the shelf, it must be safe for them. In reality, very little is known about the risks and benefits of various additives in energy drinks and how they affect health when consumed over the long term. Not much is known either about how energy drinks and alcohol interact as well as how they affect medications and antidepressants.
Therefore, study authors have urged physicians to be aware of energy drink consumption and suggest educating both teens and their parents on the potential negative health consequences of consuming energy drinks regularly.
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