Beware of Energy Drinks

teengroupCaffeine is a stimulant found in a multitude of food products ranging from coffee to chocolate. The amount of caffeine found in most foods is not enough to cause anyone harm. However, if taken in large amounts, people can suffer from caffeine poisoning. The number of emergency department visits linked with the use of non-alcohol energy doubled from 2007 to 2011, reaching more than 20,000. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that half of energy drink consumers are children.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates caffeine levels in soft drinks. The limit in a 12-ounce soda is about 71 milligrams. The caffeine levels in most energy drinks significantly exceed that level, because they are labeled dietary supplements. Dietary supplements are not regulated and should not be considered safe. In addition, Consumer Reports says that many energy drinks incorrectly list the amount of caffeine in their product or do not list the amount at all.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) calls consumption of energy drinks a “rising public health problem.” The drinks can cause insomnia, headaches, seizures, fast heartbeat and nervousness.

The FDA is currently investigating reports that 18 people have died after they consumed energy drinks. The most widely publicized incident was that of 14-year-old Anais Fournier. The young girl died from cardiac arrest after drinking two 24-ounce Monster energy drinks in a 24-hour period. The amount of caffeine she consumed is about the same as that found in 14 cans of Coca Cola — and is almost five times the recommended caffeine limit from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Complicating the matter further is that many people are combining energy drinks with drugs and alcohol. Recent studies reported by have found that mixing high levels of caffeine with alcohol is dangerous because: (1) students believe they are less impaired than those who drank only alcohol, (2) students were more likely to have casual sex, and (3) the combination increases the craving for another drink so that the student ends up drinking more overall. According to SAMHSA, about 42 percent of emergency room cases in 2011 involved energy drinks combined with alcohol or drugs such as Adderall or Ritalin.

The issue has even caught the attention of federal lawmakers. Three congressmen have written to makers of energy drinks, asking for information about the products’ ingredients and for studies showing their risks and benefits to youth.

Although popular among youth, there is no value in energy drinks, and parents should discourage their use.

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