Energy Drinks are not the benign products you think they are
As we have traveled the country speaking to groups about dietary supplements, we have learned that nearly everyone is under the belief that energy drinks are harmless benign substances.
Last year, there were more than 20,000 emergency room visits attributable to the ingestion of energy drinks – following a 2011 government report that expressed real concern about the emerging problem posed by energy drinks and shots. Recently, a South Carolina high school student collapsed and died after consuming a very high dose of caffeine in a short time: coffee, soft drinks and an energy drink. The coroner reported that the student died from a caffeine-induced lethal cardiac arrhythmia. Today in the U.S., the energy drink business is a multibillion dollar industry (estimated to reach $61 billion by 2020), and most of these products have been marketed directly to children and adolescents. When these drinks are combined with other drugs and alcohol, the adverse events can become even more severe. Over the last decade, the number of ER visits related to energy drink consumption has more than doubled.
Energy drink consumption has increased dramatically among the general population, but particularly among young people. There is a lack of population-based studies to examine the prevalence of adverse events from energy drinks, particularly among young people. With this in mind, scientists from the University of Waterloo in Canada conducted a study with a large sample of youth and young adults. “Respondents reported prior consumption of energy drinks as well as adverse outcomes, concurrent activities associated with the outcomes and whether medical attention was sought or considered. Adverse events from coffee were also assessed for comparison.”
Results: “Of the 2055 respondents, 1516 (73.8%) reported having ever consumed an energy drink, and 1741 (84.7%) reported having ever consumed coffee.
Overall, 55.4% of respondents who had ever consumed an energy drink reported that they had experienced at least 1 adverse event, including:
- Fast heartbeat (24.7%),
- Difficulty sleeping (24.1%),
- Headache (18.3%),
- Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea (5.1%),
- Chest pain (3.6%) and
- Seizures (0.2%).
- 3.1% had sought or had considered seeking medical help for an adverse event.
The prevalence of reported adverse events was significantly greater among energy drink consumers than among coffee consumers. As was the proportion who reported seeking or considering seeking medical help for adverse events.
Interpretation: More than half of youth and young adults who had consumed energy drinks reported adverse outcomes, some serious enough to warrant seeking medical help. The adverse outcomes were consistent with the physiologic effects of caffeine but were significantly more prevalent than with other sources of caffeine such as coffee, consistent with data from national adverse event databases.
Caffeine has powerful effects on many of our vital organs – particularly the cardiac and nervous systems. After drinking an energy drink, heart rate increases, blood vessels stiffen and your blood may become thicker; all changes that can precipitate a heart attack or stroke in those who are at risk. A recent study suggests that the other ingredients, such as taurine, may significantly increase heart rate and blood pressure, as well as risk for heart rhythm problems independent of caffeine content. These drinks can also cause periods of anxiety, changes in sleep patterns and mood swings – particularly in children and adolescents. Energy drinks have also been associated with serious complications including seizures, stoke and sudden cardiac death.
Before you consume your next energy beverage of choice, please think about some of the health issues that might arise, and don’t scoff and think that “this can never happen to me”.