Two research papers, each published separately, suggest that concerns over levels of caffeine and sugar in energy drinks, and their effects on young people who drink them, are mounting.
Energy drinks are beverages that claim to “make you more alert and give you energy.” Most have ingredients like caffeine, sugar, taurine, vitamins and herbs. They can be found anywhere you buy beverages beside the pop, juices and sports drinks.
The amount of caffeine in energy drinks is more than what is recommended for children. Most government public health agencies say that children under 12 years of age should have less than 85 mg of caffeine per day depending on their age. This means that one energy drink can easily put children over their caffeine limits.
Energy Drinks have previously been found to cause irreversible damage to tooth enamel and detrimentally affect the contraction of the heart. A study published in the issue of General Dentistry, the peer-reviewed clinical journal of the Academy of General Dentistry, found that an alarming increase in the consumption of sports and energy drinks, especially among adolescents, is causing irreversible damage to teeth–specifically, the high acidity levels in the drinks erode tooth enamel, the glossy outer layer of the tooth.
The FDA says they are powerless to change formulation of energy drinks. “We have no guidance or regulations that govern the formulation of energy drinks,” said FDA spokeswoman Susan Cruzan. The agency does not have the authority to do that.Cruzan said. “Under current law, the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that its products are safe and such products do not require FDA premarket review or approval.”
“There’s a tremendous amount of caffeine in these drinks,” Jeanna Marraffa, a clinical toxicologist at the Upstate New York Poison Center told USA TODAY. “I would say: know what’s in these products, have a sense of how much you’re consuming and realize they are not safe. Certainly you can have toxic effects from them.”
Patrice Radden, a spokeswoman for Red Bull, said the company is confident in the safety of its products and does not see the need for warning labels.
Noting that caffeine levels in energy drinks are up to three times higher than in other caffeinated drinks including coffee or cola, Dorner said known side-effects included a rapid heart rate, palpitations, a rise in blood pressure “and in the most severe cases, seizures or sudden death”.
Manufactured by the chemical industry, synthetic caffeine is big business in many drinks that contain the drug.
NATURAL CAFFEINE: Natural, real caffeine comes from various plant species. Caffeine content within these plants will vary throughout the year depending on weather, soil conditions, time of year harvested, etc. So caffeine content is impossible and impractical to determine for labeling on products like coffee or tea. They have constantly changing amounts. Naturally caffeinated products will not have caffeine as an ingredient or measurement on the label.
SYNTHETIC CAFFEINE: The first sign the caffeine in your drink is synthetic is it is listed on the label & has an exact measurement. This is the cheapest & most common added caffeine source. The processes & compounds may vary between chemical companies, but they are all disturbing.
FORTIFIED CAFFEINE: Still usually synthetic, caffeine can be obtained from the coffee decaffeination industry, although it is substantially pricier & rarely used. This will also note caffeine on the label with a measurement. Caffeine supplies from this industry use methylene chloride, formaldehyde or ethyl acetone for it’s removal. There is no such thing as removing the caffeine with just water.
Two Studies Expose Dangers
The first study – a study of 10-35 year olds Danes’ intake of energy drinks conducted by the National Food Institute of Denmark – shows that when children aged 10-14 consume energy drinks, one in five consumes too much caffeine.
Indeed, when their caffeine intake from other sources such as cola and chocolate is included, every second child, and more than one in three adolescents aged 15-17 consume too much caffeine, said the report.
The Danish report also found that 42% of energy drink consumers have experienced adverse effects such as insomnia, restlessness and heart palpitations.
The report also suggests that 10-14 year olds have ‘limited knowledge’ of the ingredients in energy drinks, the side effects of drinking them and the recommendation that children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should not consume energy drinks.
“It seems as if there has been a change in the perception of the types of drinks that people consider normal to drink,” said Matthiessen. “Among younger consumers energy drinks now have the same status as soft drinks had previously.”
“Both the use of and attitudes towards energy drinks give us reason to be concerned that the intake will increase in the coming years and we therefore suggest that more information will be made available about energy drinks aimed at children and adolescents as well as their parents.”
Sugar and caffeine?
A second study, published in the Journal of Caffeine Research, adds to the debate on caffeine and energy drinks by evaluating whether the effects of caffeine differ with or without sugar.
The results the research show that the physiological responses to caffeine with and without sugar ‘varied widely’ between individuals.
Elaine Rush and her colleagues from Aukland University measured the heart rate and carbon dioxide production (as a measure of respiration) of individuals for 30 minutes before and after they consumed a defined quantity of sugar, caffeine, or sugar and caffeine.
The team said that the wide range of responses may be due to the effects of caffeine phenotype, physical activity level, habitual intake and metabolic responses, including markers of de novo lipogenesis — adding that further research is needed.
About the Author
Natasha Longo has a master’s degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.