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The highs and lows of high-energy drinks

High-energy drinks, those fashionable energy-blasting cocktails of caffeine and functional ingredients, can be dangerous to young people, according to a recent article published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The research, which focused on children, teens and young adults, was a systematic review of information from sources that included scientific studies, articles, case reports and government agency reports.

As well as the caffeine kick, these beverages contain ingredients such as B vitamins, amino acids, guarana and ginseng, allowing them to be classed as nutritional supplements and thus evading U.S. Food and Drug Administration control of caffeine levels. They are trendily marketed to a young audience, emphasizing a boost in energy, stamina, athletic performance and weight loss. While many of the individual ingredients can be beneficial to health, the lack of research regarding safety of dosages and the effects of long-term use of the combined ingredients raises alarm bells with various governments’ education and health authorities. Meanwhile, the attempt to ban certain brands has added to their allure, making them particularly attractive to risk takers.

Caffeine can be beneficial in small amounts (approximately up to 50 milligrams daily for children and 100 mg for adults), but higher consumption (300 mg and upward) can contribute to stress and anxiety and interfere with metabolism, and has been linked to seizures, mania and stroke. Young children, adolescents and even young adults, especially those with renal or kidney disease, seizures, diabetes, mood and behavioral disorders such as attention deficit or hyperactivity issues, are susceptible to the effects of high doses of caffeine. Males are thought to experience a greater “rush” from caffeine than females.

Although high-caffeine energy drinks can provide a welcome boost on isolated occasions, the concern is that glamorous marketing to easily influenced populations promotes regular high consumption, which can lead to:

–Chronic caffeine overdosing and all its related problems. The actual caffeine content may easily be higher than that stated on the label, as caffeine in additives such as guarana is typically not counted.

–Adverse effects from the interaction of ingredients in the drinks with certain medications such as aspirin, decongestants, stimulants, antidepressants and antianxiety drugs.

–The promotion of unhealthy lifestyles that may include high stress, poor sleep, poor diet and eating disorders, with all the medical implications these entail.

–Potential worsening of behavior in those with mood and/or behavioral problems such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Cases of serious illness and even death related to high-caffeine energy drink consumption have been reported by the media, although these tend to have resulted from relatively high consumption combined with little or no food and often just before or after exercising.

Given the uncertainties of the long-term effects of high-energy drink consumption, together with the potential for caffeine overdose, we suggest that the general population consume such beverages with caution. Those at risk as mentioned above should abstain. When exercising, stick to a glucose and electrolyte replacement sports drink if the exercise was very strenuous, or plain water if not.


Sources: Pediatrics (pediatrics.aappubli, Science Daily (, American Psychological Association (

Julie Godfrey is a nutritional therapy practitioner and full member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). For more information, see or e-mail

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