Are energy drinks safe?
Darren West, M.D., is an emergency medicine doctor at Banner Ironwood and Banner Goldfield Medical Centers.
Question: My teenage son has recently started buying the energy drinks at the grocery store. Are these drinks safe?
Answer: Energy drinks are definitely becoming more popular among teens, and that can be a problem. Most energy drinks contain three types of ingredients to achieve their effect: caffeine in varying (usually high) doses, “natural” substances such as guarana, which can act like caffeine in the body or have other reported benefits, and sugar.
Of these, we definitely concern ourselves with caffeine and any other ingredient that can have stimulant effects because we really aren’t sure what is a safe amount for adolescents to consume. Caffeine has been known to cause irritability, anxiety, mental confusion, hand and limb tremors, osteoporosis, digestive problems, nausea, insomnia and sleepiness, urinary frequency, headache, palpitations, cardiac arrhythmias, and elevated blood pressure.
The latest trend is for some teens to mix these energy drinks with alcohol or other drinks. This is definitely concerning. When mixing alcohol with energy drinks, the intensity of the response to alcohol diminishes. This can lead to inadvertent increase in alcohol consumption or increased risk of alcohol dependence, which is worrisome.
It is also possible these drinks can impact the heart, especially when mixed with alcohol. The stimulants, like caffeine, in these drinks can increase a teen’s heart rate and raise blood pressure. In some individuals who are susceptible, these drinks can cause heart rhythm problems. Higher doses may be associated with increased risk of these complications.
Regular consumption of these drinks can be a sign of other problems. In fact, studies have shown depressed youth use more caffeine than non-depressed youth. It is also proven caffeine is likely to exacerbate daily anxiety. Daily use of caffeine is associated with clinical dependence, even among those who only drink two to three cups of coffee daily. And, adolescents who met criteria for marijuana or other drug dependence consumed significantly more caffeine than those not dependent on marijuana or other drugs.
Many teenagers live very busy lives. However, the truth is, if they are relying on energy drinks regularly to get through the day, they may be out of balance in areas such as sleep, nutrition, or exercise, or they may be having other serious issues.