Energy Drink Zip Brings Dangers

By Connie Bobik

May 17, 2012 - Energy drinks are the fastest growing beverage category in the U.S. since 2006, as more than 600 varieties have been introduced to the market.

You can find them in grocery stores, convenient stores and vending machines. They tout increased energy, alertness and concentration. No wonder they are popular to help you make it through work, study for an exam or increase athletic performance.

Millions are consumed daily, with children, adolescents and young adults making up 30 to 50 percent of consumers.

However, people drink them without any thought to the potential risks, believing they must be safe because the makers claim the beverages contain herbal and “natural” ingredients.

In truth, energy drinks are full of caffeine and sugar. Caffeine, which is the major ingredient, is also found in coffee and colas. The difference is in the concentration.

The FDA limits the amount of caffeine in a 12 oz. can of soda to 71 mg. Since energy drinks are considered nutritional supplements, they are not subject to FDA regulations. As a result, they may contain 75 to 400 mg. of caffeine per container or more.

One energy drink may be equivalent to three to nine cans of cola or three cups of coffee. Coupled with the amounts of caffeine often found in foods, a person might be at risk for caffeine intoxication.

Energy drinks also contain excessive amounts of sugar. One energy drink is equivalent to one cup of coffee with seven teaspoons of sugar or more. That adds calories, contributes to obesity and can increase the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

In 2009, there were more than 13,000 visits to emergency rooms – 50 percent by college age students - related to side effects from energy drinks. That’s a tenfold increase over 2005.

The side effects can be dangerous and the more consumption, the greater the risk.

The effects include elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, jitters, anxiety, headaches, interrupted sleep patterns, heart palpitations, seizures, strokes, cardiac arrhythmias and even sudden death.

Individuals with heart disease, seizures, diabetes, high blood pressure, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and pregnant women should avoid energy drinks.

Here are some other dangers:

  • Heightened risk of alcohol dependence when alcohol and energy drinks are taken together.
  • Risk of dehydration when consumed during exercise or athletics.
  • Dependency on a caffeine “boost.”
  • Erosion of dental enamel.

It’s critical to remember that energy drinks should be consumed in moderation. Read the label carefully, understand the risks and keep them away from children.

Connie Bobik is an associate professor of nursing and director of Brevard Community College’s Nursing program on the Cocoa Campus.