Energy drinks and adolescents: Boost or bust?
How are unmarked energy drinks changing the way teens consume caffeine? What’s actually IN an energy drink in the first place? Here, we explore how the new energy drink industry is targeting youngest consumers to create lifelong habits that keep us hooked. At the end, we invite your questions or comments about energy drinks and how we’re using them.
The energy drink industry
In 2013, the energy drink industry was a $20 billion enterprise in 2013 and expected to rush upwards of $21.5 billion by 2017. At a time when soda sales are slipping, the 60% growth from 2008-2012 is cause for alarm, since many of the products specifically target teenage boys. But what’s the main point of an energy drink? What is it that manufacturers are REALLY trying to sell?
They’re Going To Pump You Up
The whole point of an energy drink is to give you a little boost. However, most people do not realize many energy drinks from the tiny 5-Hour Energy bottle to the giant cans Monster or Rockstar actually contain multiple servings. Most people just chug the 2 to 4 serving container and wait for the buzz.
The problem is that a single serving can contain half of the recommended daily amount of caffeine. In other words, a large can of energy drink contains at least double the recommended amount of caffeine. Currently, makers of these products are not required to list caffeine content on their labels.
If The Caffeine Doesn’t Get Ya…
Perhaps energy drinks wouldn’t be so dangerous if they relied solely on caffeine. However, most energy drinks contain other substances to help jack you up. Some possible ingredients found in the energy drinks of today include:
- Artificial Sweeteners: Even the experts disagree about their safety.
- B Vitamins: While necessary for the body, when found in energy drinks they are just fluff. In fact, excess B-6 can cause nerve damage.
- Carnitine: Naturally produced by the body but supplementation can lead to heart disease.
- Gingko Biloba: Another herb which has very specific uses, dosing, and warnings.
- Ginseng: A natural herbal stimulant with medicinal qualities that is not recommend for youth.
- Guarana: Contains three stimulants including caffeine.
- Sugar: Aids in increasing energy but many drinks contain 2-4 times the daily recommended amount.
- Taurine: A natural protein only considered safe for adults.
Any one of these substances may not be bad on their own. However, when combined in massive quantities in energy drinks, these ingredients can be deadly when overused. And, the potential for overuse is very real. Because there is no public information campaign to inform us of their contents, energy drinks may contain ingredients which interact with medications. Further, the long term effects of these ingredients are not yet known. Several deaths have been already been reported.
Catch ‘Em While They’re Young
One of the potential dangers of energy drinks is the age of their users. Elementary school students are experimenting with energy drinks to get a buzz. Children and teenagers do not understand the effects of excessive amounts of caffeine. Since children have smaller bodies than adults, a single energy drink can cause death, strokes, or seizures.
Researchers and pediatricians are also concerned early energy drink use may lead to early substance abuse. By the time students reach college,some are used to the effects of caffeine. The increased demands of university life and adulthood lead students to move on to prescription or illicit stimulants to obtain the same effect as caffeine.
Since energy drinks contain substances that interfere with many drugs, and as students mix them with prescriptions or illegal drugs, they create a new cocktail in their bodies. The new energy drink and drug cocktails can increase serotonin to dangerous levels. How can you tell if kids are using caffeine? Check out this list of symptoms here.
But the caffeine isn’t the only problem! Additionally, prescription drugs which increase serotonin to the point of serotonin syndrome, a deadly condition, are required to be labeled. However, since energy drinks are not regulated by the FDA, they are not required to carry the same warning despite carrying a similar risk on their own and especially in combination with other substances.
Reviewing The Evidence
Enough deaths attributed to energy drinks have been reported that the Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the reports. One unfortunate reality is that more teens will have to die before these products will finally be regulated. The FDA already regulates the amount of caffeine in carbonated beverages. However, energy drinks are not considered beverages and fall into the unregulated supplement category.
Currently, two U.S. Senators have petitioned the FDA to regulate energy drinks like soda but the agency has yet to act. As they sit in the cooler next to popular sodas they appear safe and until they are moved to the liquor case, it is up to individual parents to decide if these products are appropriate for their teens. However, should you suspect your teen has had an adverse reaction to an energy drink you can submit a report to the FDA’s MedWatch.
We’re not clear about future implications
Although reports of teenage deaths directly linked to energy drinks may be anecdotal at this point, it is clear these beverages do contain substances which are not suitable for children and likely not safe for teenagers. Teenagers who are under pressure to perform in sports or at school may turn to energy drinks innocently enough but since the effects of the ingredients on a developing body are not fully known it is best to steer your teens away from using them.
Let us know more
If your teenager is already struggling with dependency on energy drinks or other drugs it is imperative to seek treatment. Early intervention gives teens the best chance to kick the habit. Here, we invite your questions, comments, or experience in the section below. In fact, we try to respond to all legitimate queries with a personal and prompt reply.