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Energy Drinks Popular With Teens Pose Potential Health Risks

Although the consumption of caffeine in general is not considered hazardous to your health, exercising moderation in caffeine intake is a healthy choice.

Energy drinks are still a relatively new trend, so the health risks will not become apparent until chronic use (or abuse) manifests itself with dangerous side effects and in some cases death. The potential danger lies in how youth are lulled into thinking there is great value in drinking multiple cans a day, guzzling quickly or even mixing with alcohol.

Clever marketing campaigns tell them it is OK, but it isn't. If consuming energy drinks can worsen or cause liver and kidney failure, heart and blood pressure problems, seizures and drastic mood changes, doesn’t it stand to reason that there’s a better way to get going?

Popular energy drinks including Rock Star, Red Bull and Monster Energy provide no value to health, are loaded with caffeine and are potentially dangerous to children, teens and young adults. In fact, a new report recently published in the online journal Pediatrics pinpointed that nearly half of 5,448 caffeine overdoses in the United State reported in 2007 occurred among people under the age of 19.

The report also noted that an 8-ounce energy drink may contain hundreds of milligrams of caffeine, making a simple generic cup of coffee’s 100 milligrams of caffeine content pale in comparison. While an 8-ounce serving of Mountain Dew contains 28 milligrams of caffeine, an equal size of Red Bull packs almost three times the amount at 77 milligrams. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently limits caffeine drinks to 71 milligrams per 12-ounce serving, energy drink manufacturers circumvent the rule by labeling their products “natural.”

In addition to posing serious health risks to otherwise healthy young people, according to Dr. Steven E. Lipshultz, chairman of pediatrics at the University of Miami, the health risks associated with the consumption of energy drinks increase for children having certain health issues. Those who suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, mood disorders or heart, kidney and liver diseases may have adverse affects that may include heart palpitations, seizures, cardiac arrest or even death.

Regarding the many varieties of energy drinks available to consumers, Lipshultz stated, “It’s a set of products that are totally unregulated and have no therapeutic benefit.” And young consumers take advantage of the readily available drinks, as surveys suggest that 30 to 50 percent of young people consume energy drinks.

According to Patrice Radden, a California spokeswoman for Austria-based Red Bull, “Red Bull Energy Drink is available in over 160 countries because health authorities across the world have concluded that Red Bull Energy Drink is safe to consume.” She also added that “Last year alone, over 4 billion cans and bottles were consumed across the world.”

But just how safe are they? In addition to containing stimulants such as caffeine, taurine and guarana, many energy drink manufacturers add other ingredients such as such as sugar and herbal supplements, the effects of which haven’t been well-studied according to the report's authors. They also noted that some ingredients can interfere with medications, such as those taken for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and antidepressants. In addition, safe levels of energy drinks in general have not yet been established for children and teens. Even worse, many young people who consume energy drinks mix them with alcohol, adding to potential health risks.

The researchers reviewed previous research and surveys on energy drink use in children and adolescents. Findings showed that on average, U.S. teens consume about 60 to 70 milligrams of caffeine each day, with some consuming up to 800 milligrams daily. The authors noted that although most of the caffeine comes from soda, energy drinks are becoming increasingly popular. Among those countries that track adverse events associated with energy drink consumptions, there have been reports of incidents of agitation, liver damage, kidney failure, psychosis and even a heart attack in a 23-year-old.

The report's authors pointed out that although caffeine can improve attention, it can also increase blood pressure as well as cause sleep disturbances in children. Lipshultz noted that because energy drinks are consumed differently than coffee, the effects can be more intense. He explained, “They’re usually served chilled or iced. They might chug a couple of these after physical activity, or it’s something you might take while studying.” He then added, “You might take a couple at a time; it’s unusual to take a hot cup of coffee and rapidly ingest multiple cups. It’s a little bit different.

“Until research establishes energy-drink safety in children and adolescents, regulation, as with tobacco, alcohol and prescription medications is prudent.”

Although the consumption of caffeine in general is not considered hazardous to your health, exercising moderation in caffeine intake is a healthy choice. Take action by setting an example for young people in choosing to consume more healthy beverages. In addition, promote getting hearts pumping with some healthy exercise instead of opting for caffeine to do it instead.

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